A sign next to the front door of the new house on Eggleston Drive read, “Welcome home Parker family,” but a ceremony on Thursday was symbolic of more than a simple homecoming.
Terry and Sandy Parker have lived in the house 25 years. Their children, Jessica and Cody, were raised in the house until April 27, when a tornado took off the roof and siding from the small framed house.
“And in an instant, it was gone,” Sandy said. “We were lucky. God has His hand on my house and other houses around us. There is so much life around here now and it was so bad back then. It was like a war zone.”
Now as she looks across the street and to the sides, Sandy sees her neighbors rebuilding, some from scratch.
“I’m just so tickled that everybody is getting back to normal again,” she said. “It was a whole summer of ‘un-normal.’ It has been a roller coaster of emotions all summer long, and now I’m getting into my house.”
It’s basically the same house as it was before the storm with the exception of having fewer and smaller windows.
“The storm took all of our windows, so we just decided while we were at it, we were going to change some things and I decided I didn’t want a big window in my living room. My husband made the decision about the windows in the other rooms.”
Her husband, Terry, expressed gratitude to everyone who helped them rebuild their home.
“Thank you to everybody for every ounce of effort, labor, donations, everything meant so much to us,” he said. “I didn’t expect all of this, but when it came, it was truly overwhelming.”
Matt Carlson, co-chairman of the Long Term Recovery Organization said the day and the Parkers were symbolic of so many other people in the process of rebuilding.
After the storm when he and others were trying to figure out what to do with the Parker house, Terry made the decision by pointing out they were talking about his home and his neighborhood, and the family was staying.
That was the same reaction Carlson has seen throughout the county.
“This house had a number of different organizations from government, faith-based, nonprofits and construction companies that came together to rebuild this house and you see that in neighborhood after neighborhood after neighborhood,” he said.
Carlson said FEMA reported the response of the people of Bradley County was “the best practice” and “other communities need to see how a community can come together and rebuild, to go from tragedy to triumph. That’s what we’ve done, but we have a really long way to go.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, state and local elected officials, charity organizations and friends gathered at the home of Terry and Sandy Parker to celebrate the whole community of Bradley County and its effort toward recovery six months after the April 27 tornadoes.
But there was also time for a moment of silence as Bradley County Fire Rescue rang a bell nine times, one for each person who died in the spring storms.
Haslam said he remembered the sadness and the tragedy six months ago, but he also remembered the day after, when he saw firsthand what a community looked like when it came together. On that day, he saw a picture of neighbors helping neighbors pull possessions from rubble.
“We’re seeing another chapter of that today when a neighborhood gets rebuilt and a family gets to move into a brand new home on an old site,” the governor said.
He said when tragedy happens, it is local government and local first responders who make the difference, but at the end of the day, government can do only a little — while everyone together can do a whole hot more.
“What you see here today is a result of that,” he said. “The good picture is what you all are doing here. This is how communities come together.”
Carlson said the Parker house was started after South Cleveland Church of God Pastor Chris Moody talked to the family about asking for help. Family members insisted they did not need help. They would rebuild on their own.
Contractor Kent Berry is Terry Parker’s employer and friend who was at the house every day during construction. His leadership, commitment and strength serve as a pillar of hope and inspiration to others, according to Carlson.
Berry said his involvement was based on a Bible scripture that says it is a sin if a man knows to do good and doesn’t. A second scripture bids people to do good to all men while the opportunity exists.
“One of the biggest jobs was to get Terry to shut up, step out of the way and let people help him,” Berry said.
Moody said two words in scripture — “well done” — came to mind as he prayed for blessings on the house and family and the other 554 families displaced by the storm.
The Long-Term Recovery Organization has 95 open cases. Of those, 47 families have found their “new normal.” To date, Whirlpool Cleveland has donated 17 refrigerators, 24 washers, 26 dryers, 15 ranges, two microwaves and two dishwashers.
More than $379,000 has been donated to the disaster relief fund and so far, $219,270 has been committed to construction projects.