The day was also the one-year anniversary of deadly tornadoes which devastated parts of Bradley County and Cleveland in 2011.
Matt Ryerson, president and CEO of United Way of Bradley County Inc. and is an LTRO member, said his son asked him Thursday if “he knew any heroes.” Ryerson answered, “Yes, I will be with 200 or so tomorrow,” as he opened the luncheon.
Matt Carlson, director of Habitat for Humanity and LTRO board member, thanked everyone who came together in the community and the thousands of volunteers who traveled to Bradley County to aid in “so many ways.”
An opening prayer by Beecher Hunter of Life Care Centers of America brought the hands of the people together, much like the community one year ago.
Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency director Troy Spence gave an overview of the history of the storms which killed nine people in Bradley County.
“As calls came in, Bradley County and other first responders had people trapped in 49 locations. Neighbors had to help neighbors both dig out and with medical treatment,” Spence said.
Just hours later, all victims and survivors had been accounted for. That was after the storms which hit across 35 lineal miles of the county.
“It makes me proud to be a part of Bradley County and work with responders such as these,” he said.
Spence said more than 30,000 Volunteer hours were logged from organized groups. Many more hours were not captured as splinter groups aided in response and the numbers continue to grow as recovery remains in the scope of what has to be done to clean up the landscape.
Hundreds of volunteers helped in the Day of Service Saturday which was organized by Cleveland Cleanup and Cleveland Action Network.
“This is why we rebounded as well as we have. At this time, I want to recognize someone who had just gotten married but got out and volunteered and organized a distribution point for survivors,” Spence said.
Teddy Bennett went to work immediately and organized the distribution point for the Dalton Pike area and Blue Springs victims.
“We were unfamiliar with what needed to be done the day after, but these volunteers brought it together. The Matt and Matt (Ryerson and Carlson) team began moving forward with immediate needs. They knew people who could take care of our people,” Spence explained.
“They grabbed the torch and ran with it.”
Spence also recognized Rochelle Mayberry of Lee University’s Leonard Center. Mayberry was instrumental in organizing immediate needs and then continuing the process for victims to recover.
Julie Storrs of Whirlpool Corporation lives in Willbrook, just off Highway 64.
“We lost at least a dozen homes in Willbrook,” she said.
As neighbors were helping neighbors after the storm, shock had set in but then they smelled smoke. The smoke was from someone who had come into their neighborhood to help them.
Bob Armstrong fed the victims and volunteers.
“He also had smiles, gave hugs and words of encouragement,” Storrs said.
The Willbrook neighborhood presented Armstrong a plaque for his commitment to volunteering and helping them through the first days after the storms.
Daniel Murch is a Lee student who hit the ground running. Ryerson quipped that Murch even had an office at the United Way.
“This young man worked with everyone — whether you wanted him to or not,” said Joel Rogers of the Salvation Army.
Murch was honored for his volunteerism.
“We are used to going to help people who have suffered loss,” said Randy Bonner of the Bradley Baptist Association.
“But it happened here. We were fortunate to already have leadership in place,” he said.
Jim Polier, leader for LTRO, was honored for his immediate response.
“Waterville Baptist Church allowed us to have our command center located there. Folks came in from all over the country to help. Jim helped organize the chain saw gangs and others,” Bonner said.
Ryerson also recognized the Black Fox School cafeteria workers as well as Bradley Central High School’s Culinary Arts Department for feeding volunteers.
Overall, FEMA recognized the volunteer response as phenomenal, according to Ryerson.
“We need to let the world see why we are “the City of Spirit,” Ryerson said
The spirit of volunteering and neighbors helping neighbors was noted and models of response are being documented for other communities to use in the event of disaster.
Amy Hicks was also a speaker and survivor.
“We were victims of a sudden impact and victims of sudden impact are hard to treat. This county suffered sudden impact,” she said.
Hicks uses her pets for treating and healing those who need help.
“Thanks to all of the volunteers, we didn’t have to stay in shock,” she said.
Hicks and her husband Wes lived in the Bates Pike area. The 8:40 storm severely damaged their home.
“We thought this was going to be the end of life for us — but it wasn’t. Our home was damaged. Hicks said her heroes were the volunteers with the Hiwassee Chapter of the American Red Cross and Salvation Army.
“Here I was sitting in devastation, eating a meal from the Red Cross. The workers and volunteers continued to be there through the months ahead,” said Hicks.
Hicks said the effort occurred throughout the community.
“We all fear storms in life, but we move forward because life moves forward,” she added.
Mayors Gary Davis and Tom Rowland praised the volunteer efforts of the community.
“It’s an amazing county. Volunteers began digging out and helping across the county,” Davis said.
“That day, more and more we were put to the test,” Rowland said.
The first wave hit the No Pone Valley early in the day.
“There was an amazing response. God does things for a reason. He put us to the test to see how we would respond,” Rowland said.
“You did well — You all passed the test.”