A Big Thank You from Communique
By Adam Veile, CEO
Other photos better capture the devastation from the tornado that swept through Jefferson City on May 22, 2109. They focus the buildings reduced to rubble, downed powerlines crisscrossing the street, smashed cars, and acres of destroyed trees. They show wind-blown trash and debris that hours before were the homes and cherished belongings of the people of Jefferson City. In this photo, our building — the one with the green shutters — looks almost unscathed. You can’t tell that the entire east wall is nothing but a pile of bricks.
Still, this is the photo I remember. I remember because it was taken when I was at my lowest point after the tornado. Steve and I had gotten our first good look at the office, which I was sure would be torn down. It had been our office for 35 years. Communique had been located there for as long as I could remember. I visited Dad at work as a kid and went to company Christmas parties with the Stroessers and other families that were an important part of Communique’s long history. I slid down the beautiful banister as a teen and had worked there fifteen years as an adult.
What I remember about this moment is a lump in my throat. That’s me there in the blue t-shirt — I was watching the sidewalk just beyond my feet, rather than looking at the destruction around us, as we walked to get my truck from the side street. We scurried to empty belongings from the building before it was too dangerous to go back in.
While I stared at the sidewalk, I was horrified at the thought that 40 years of accomplishment could be undone in a moment. The great passions of Steve’s professional life were building Communique from a table in his attic to a successful business and preserving the historic properties of Jefferson City. When the tornado hit, Steve had only about a month until (semi)retirement. Retirement should have been a triumphant moment for his efforts and accomplishments. Now our building and many of the other historic buildings in town were crippled. Both of his passions, tens of thousands of hours of hard work, were in literal ruins.
Communique wasn’t finished though, neither the building nor the business, and perhaps the destruction of so many historic buildings only makes the preservation of others more critical.
Beyond the time this photo was taken, I didn’t have much time to think of anything but the task in front of us, but in my quiet moments, I began to feel lucky. Many people had it much worse. Hundreds of people were left without homes. Many of our neighbor’s buildings had to be torn down, but somehow our building was able to stand for months with only three walls. More than feeling lucky, though, I felt inspired to be part of our supportive community. I had the chance to see the absolute best of mankind. The tornado-ravaged areas of Jefferson City had a constant stream of helpers for weeks after the tornado. Kind strangers with shovels, work gloves, chain saws, food. Friends called me, asking how they could be most useful for us or anyone else who needed it. It seemed like everyone within 100 miles, and further in some cases, was desperate to help put Jefferson City back together.
That’s the part that still makes me emotional when I think back on it, not the destruction, but the goodness of so many other people on full display.
While we’ve accomplished a lot through the Jefferson City recovery effort, our town hasn’t had an easy time since the tornado. Some people still don’t have homes. We’ve had historic flooding and now, like everyone else, we have the novel coronavirus to deal with. One thing I learned from the tornado ordeal is that kindness is cumulative. If any one hero had helped us out, it would have meant a lot, but I don’t know that we could have handled the obstacles in front of us. What saved us and others is that a lot of people did what they could.
Perhaps it’s asking a lot after all the effort people have put in, but I hope that you will continue to do what you can to help your neighbors. As someone who’s been on the receiving end of so much kindness, I can tell you that it makes a difference. Even if it seems the world is crumbling sometimes and that you can’t make a dent, I hope you will continue to contribute and have faith that others around you will do the same.
You made a difference for us, and we are forever grateful.
We’d like to thank these folks for helping us evacuate, getting our temporary office running, and making 512 E. Capitol beautiful again. There were also many kind strangers and likely people I’ve left off the list because of the hectic time or faded memories. Your contributions are appreciated, too.
Thank you to:
Hank Stratman, Laura Ward, Mark Hillstrom, Immaculate Conception (Fr. Don Antweiler, Jo Forck, and Mary Flowers), Matt Alsager, T.J. Loethen, Sarah Veile, Valda Stroesser, Gordon Atkins, Andre and Rachel Siebert, Meredith Cox, Michael Stroesser, Steven Houser, Zach Vanderfeltz, Gerardo Cornejo, Travis Massman, Tory Brondel, Missouri Farm Bureau (Eric Bohl and Jordanne McCoy) Missouri Soy (Christine Tew, Ebby Neuner and her daughter), Lou Leonatti, Cary Gampher, Rod Smith, Samco Business Products, Dick Otke Construction, Sandbothe Plumbing, Vanloo Electric, LaBelle Cabinetry and Lighting, Spalding Construction, and Professional Technologies.
I’m also grateful for the Communique family—Sarah, Shawna, Blanche, Lori, Erica, AJ, Steve, Ed, and Kaci — who have had to move a lot of furniture and endure cramped quarters since then, and still turned out great work.