Joplin Remembered: Rangeline Road Rebuilds

Published 05/21 2012 03:08PM

Updated 05/22 2012 03:51PM

(Joplin, MO) -- Looking at the Chick-Fil-A store with long lines of customers just a year later, you might never know the store, along with many along Rangeline Road, were wiped out in the Joplin tornado.  

Except for the telltale path the storm cut through the city, downing trees and houses crossing Rangeline devastating businesses, taking lives.

"Just a sight you never expect to see ever," says Chick-Fil-A Owner Operator Rick Starweather. He couldn't believe his eyes. "Really the building was gone."

The Chick-Fil-A store lies just in front of Home Depot where seven people died.

Like many, Starkweather was hit at work and at home. Because Starkweather was driving back in to town a friend ran to his home. He recalls the phone call like it was yesterday.

Starkweather said he could hear his friend running up to the house saying "Your house has been hit, I hear him yelling my son's name, I hear my son answer 'Yeah'! I knew the store had been hit, the house had been hit, but once his I heard that -- his voice -- I was good."

Starkweather knew his son was alive. Now he had to go about repairing his livelihood and that of sixty of his employees. Starkweather said they headed for his store, "So we came in straight down Rangeline."

Because it was Sunday and the store was closed, no employees, no customers were in the store when the walls were ripped down, and the roof ripped off.

The reality was, though, they would not have a place to go to work the next day.

"We had 60employees that no longer had a job. It was a daunting task."

His next question was "What are my people going to do for the three months we are out of work?"

But soon donations flooded in from around the country individuals and Chick-Fil-A stores contributed. Starweather said the response was overwhelming.

"From California, to the East Coast, received funds from other Chick-Fila-A's across the country, from corporate staff who sent money specifically for our employees."

Next began the rebuild.

"We tore the slab up, started over again." said Starweather.

Construction lasted just 9 weeks.

"We actually reopened September first."

Rick Starkweather was born and raised in Joplin. He grew his business and his family here. Starkweather says when the slate has been wiped clean on part of your city the strangest things can bring comfort and hope.

"I remember driving down 20th Street seeing that first wall of Walgreens go up before we even started and literally tears came in to my eyes because there was such destruction. To see anything come out of the ground, I've got goose bumps right now just telling you about it."

Starkweather says their grand opening was emotional.

"We had people who came in that morning in tears."

If you drive Rangeline today, you will see construction crews up and down the road, hear the roaring of saws and the pounding of nail guns.

Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce President Rob O'Brian says businesses on Rangeline and all over Joplin have show the same resolve.

"They were very committed to coming back as quickly as they could."

O'Brian said the people and the business of Joplin are rising to the challenge.

"We would never wish it on anyone else, but sometimes you get tested and I think we have proven that we really are the kind of people we thought we were. We care for our neighbors. We care for our friends. We care for each other and we are going to work together to rebuild this community."

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