When local FFA members recovered a large framed portrait of a young, blonde-haired girl while volunteering to pick up debris after the Feb. 29 tornado, they knew they had found something special that should be returned to the owner. Now, months later, Harrisburg resident Janis Choisser was finally able to take home a restored and reframed canvas portrait of her granddaughter, Laura Omohundro, thanks to the combined efforts of volunteers, Saline County EMA and Joy's Hallmark in Harrisburg.
"When you lose everything, it's the pictures that you want," Choisser said Tuesday morning when the portrait was returned to her.
Allan Ninness, director of the Saline County EMA, said volunteers brought the item to their emergency operations center and they began searching for its owner. People entering the center were asked if they recognized the young girl in the photo and photocopies of the image were distributed in hopes of finding the owner of the lost portrait.
"Our goal here is to return a very cherished item to back to the family," Ninness said.
Finally, someone suggested posting the photo on the Saline County EMA Facebook page. Less than a month later, Derek McKinnies of Eldorado posted the likely owner's name on the status. This led Saline County EMA to Choisser, who acknowledged the portrait belonged to her. It was recovered more than five miles from her home that was destroyed in the tornado.
"These are the important things," Choisser said. "I'm thrilled to get it back."
Ninness contacted Joy Wilson of Joy's Hallmark about having the image restored and custom-framed by Diana Taylor, and both were eager to get involved in the effort. The store is very emotionally invested in the aftermath of the tornado, as they lost an employee, Mary Osman, to the storm. Another employee was badly injured and lost her home in the tornado, as well.
Ninness is encouraging all Saline County residents to join the EMA's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/SCEMA or by searching "Saline County Emergency Management Agency." The page provides updates on emergency preparedness and disaster information. In addition, Facebook users can be helpful to the agency during a disaster, as the story of Choisser's lost portrait has shown.