Friday through Sunday the towns of Harrisburg and Ridgway conducted two services each in observance of the tragic storm that disrupted lives Feb. 29, 2012.
Harrisburg dedicated the Tornado Memorial to the eight tornado victims: Randall Earl and Donna Mae Rann, Jaylynn Ferrell, Mary Osman, Lynda Hull, Gregory Swierk, Donald R. Smith and R. Blaine Mauney.
On Sunday at Davenport Gym the Harrisburg Ministerial Alliance organized a community worship service.
Friday night members of Ridgway's Catholic Community gathered for a meal and to hear an update on the building of the new St. Kateri Church.
Saturday the Village of Ridgway had a community meal and and showed appreciation for those who have aided in its recovery.
Weather took the lives of eight Harrisburg residents one year ago Friday.
Weather challenged the town again on Friday as sleet and rain soaked the ground surrounding a monument erected to memorialize the victims of the Leap Day Tornado.
Umbrellas came out, the citizens stood their ground and the dedication came off as planned.
Mayor Eric Gregg spoke of the character of his town and praised the volunteers who came to the aid of its citizens.
"I am truly honored to be a part of this great community," he said.
He praised the efforts of all who have worked on the recovery.
"The bar has been set high and in the future we have to agree to reach for that mark," he said.
About a hundred people turned out for the dedication in spite of the inclement weather.
They came together and thanked the Lord.
The people of Harrisburg remembered the lost, grieved their passing and looked to the future Sunday evening at Harrisburg High School.
"The only strength we have is from God," said youngest victim Jaylynn Ferrel's mother Patty Ferrell.
First Baptist Pastor Chris Winkleman said that God can bring good out of evil.
He referred to a text from Ezekial relating the incident of the dry bones.
Acknowledging that God can do anything, Winkleman spoke of the closeness of the community following the storm. He praised the many volunteers who came to Harrisburg and helped with the cleanup and rebuilding.
"Don't we long to see an awakening in Harrisburg? Imagine what it would sound like if the 10,000 people of Harrisburg were in this room. He can do it," said Winkleman.
Sunday's crowd filled the gym about half way.
Ridgway's Catholic community nearly filled St. Joseph Gym Friday for a Stations of the Cross service and an update on the rebuilding of the church — now named St. Kateri Catholic Church.
Since the Feb. 29, 2012, tornado destroyed St. Joseph Church the members have been meeting at St. Joseph Gym for second Sunday 5 p.m. Mass, at St. Mary Church in Shawneetown for Sunday morning mass and alternating between St. Patrick Church in Pond Settlement and St. Joseph Church in Equality for Saturday mass.
Members remarked it was the first time they had attended a Stations of the Cross service in a gymnasium. Stations of the Cross is a service reflecting on the stages leading to Christ's crucifixion and resurrection conducted Friday nights during lent.
The Rev. Steven Beatty said the architect for the new church is Cram and Ferguson with Ethan Anthony as principal architect and Matthew Alderman as project architect. He envisions a church of the cruciform — in the shape of a cross when seen from above — style that incorporates historic design elements with modern elements.
Features he envisions are a connecting hallway to the gym, a narthex social area, a covered drop off entrance, ceilings 30 to 40 feet in height and a steeple higher than 100 feet.
"We're looking for something that will be visible that will bring back that landmark," Beatty said.
The historic altar will be incorporated into the design.
"It survived the tornado. We're not going to stick it in a garage," Beatty said.
Beatty also hopes to incorporate a courtyard area into the design where children might play.
Beatty said the currently has $3.5 million from insurance, savings and about $120,000 donated from outside the county.
"But the main source is going to have to be drawn from pledges," Beatty said.
The pledge drive is called Raise the Bells. The goal is to raise at least an additional $1.2 million from pledges. He said church members will be given pledge cards where they may indicate whether they would like to pledge monthly, quarterly or annually and the amount they would like to pledge. He suggested pledges of 5 percent of income and said he is thinking about forgoing paying a $50 a month cable bill and pledging that amount for the next five years. He said he would like the church to borrow only the amount of money pledged.
Ridgway says 'Thanks'
The Village of Ridgway filled St. Joseph Gym a second time Saturday night for a meal and to show appreciation to the multitudes who came to assist the village in its rescue and recovery.
With Boy Scouts in Gallatin County and Evansville, Ind., fire departments and police, Ameren, Crosswalk Community Action Agency, nurses, doctors, ambulance companies, photographers, videographers, cooks and numerous other groups volunteering, the program involved most in the crowd standing either for recognition or in ovation.
Former Ridgway Police Chief Mike Kitchens read a poem he wrote for the town's tornado experience and state Rep. Brandon Phelps became emotional as he spoke of the death of Jaylynn Ferrell — his daughter's babysitter — who was killed when the tornado struck Harrisburg.
"I got down there, they had just found Jaylynn. She didn't know what hit her. My daughter used to live in those apartments. I just can't imagine. Before anything I saw something I was very proud of and proud to be part of and that's how everybody came together. And I think the sign coming into your town says it the best. 'Ridgway A Community Working Together.' By golly, you took that to a new level," Phelps said.
The Harrisburg Kiwanis video "We Are Here" was shown as well as a slide show of Ridgway damage put together by Mike and Tracy McGuire.
Mayor Becky Mitchell said she could not help but note the irony that the Southern Illinois towns most severely damaged by the tornado have two high school basketball teams — Harrisburg Bulldogs and Gallatin County Hawks — competing Tuesday night at the SIU Arena in the Super Sectional.