Superintendent offers inspirational address

Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Community Service Award Democrat Photo Jon Horner received the Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce's Community Service Award on Jan. 28. Horner was recognized for the service he has offered the chamber and the Cassville community for over 20 years. Horner served on the chamber board of directors from 1991 to 1993 and from 1997 to 1999. He served as chamber president in 1993 and 1999. Pictured above, from left, are: Michael LeCompte, chamber president; and Horner.

Joplin Superintendent Dr. CJ Huff gave an emotional and inspirational address during the 2012 Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce banquet on Saturday. The event, which was held in the Cassville High School commons area, was attended by 174 local community members.

After Gary Whyte, incoming Cassville Chamber president, welcomed those in attendance and Andy Lambel, Cassville United Methodist Church pastor, gave the opening invocation, Dr Huff offered his special address, "The Story of Joplin Schools."

Dr. Huff began his speech with memories of May 22, 2011. He spoke about his difficult journey home while the tornado was bearing down on Joplin.

Guest speaker Democrat Photo/Lindsay Reed Dr. CJ Huff, Joplin School superintendent, gave an emotional and inspirational address at the Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce's annual banquet on Jan. 28. Dr. Huff spoke about the May 22, 2011, tornado's impact on Joplin and the school district's efforts to help the community.

"There were a lot of miracles that day," said Dr. Huff. "When I left the graduation ceremonies at Missouri Southern State University, they were not talking about a tornado yet.

"I remember I did not hit a single stoplight," said Dr. Huff. "That morning, I had also put a house key on my key chain, and when I reached the house, the front door was locked."

Dr. Huff recalled seeing the wall of rain coming into Joplin as he was nearing his home. He was fortunate to make it inside his home and into the basement where he rode the storm out with his wife. He spoke about the lengthy amount of time it took the tornado to make its way through Joplin.

Beck honored Democrat Photo/Lindsay Reed On Jan. 28, Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce President Michael LeCompte recognized Greg Beck as the chamber's volunteer of the year. Beck serves as the director of The Show and the Christmas Show each year. Although Beck was unable to attend the chamber banquet on Saturday, his mother, Mary, accepted the award on his behalf.

After the tornado had passed, the Huff family decided to try to help their fellow community members, but many of the streets were blocked making it difficult to reach those in need. He said he soon realized he was most needed in his role as Joplin Schools superintendent.

Within the first 24 hours after the tornado devastated Joplin, the school district established an emergency operations center, began utilizing school buses as emergency vehicles, opened undamaged schools as emergency shelters, opened a central distribution center, cancelled classes for the remainder of the year and created a communications team.

Dr. Huff spoke about working to locate the district's students and staff members. The district used its auto-dialer system, Facebook, radio and television advertising, email, text messages and door-to-door efforts to find students and staff members.

Beautiful business Democrat Photo/Lindsay Reed Whitley Pharmacy received one of the Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce's Business Beautification Awards this year. The business renovated an adjacent building and more than doubled its store showroom in 2011. Pictured above, are Blake and Debbie Whitley, pharmacy owners.

The tornado hit Joplin on Sunday. All staff members were accounted for by Wednesday, and all students were located by Saturday.

The tornado damaged or destroyed nearly a dozen Joplin schools, but the district worked to ensure it began classes on time in August. This was achieved through daily meetings with staff members and construction agencies.

During the summer, the district offered a summer school program to get children off the streets and give parents an opportunity to meet with FEMA, insurance adjusters and other individuals. The district also organized a team to attend the funerals of all students, staff members and family members of students and staff members.

Restaurant honored for improvements Democrat Photo/Lindsay Reed The Cassville Area Chamber of Commerce presented Sonic with a 2011 Business Beautification Award on Jan. 28. In June of 2011, Sonic completed an interior and exterior renovation, added public restrooms and new drive-up ordering stalls. The restaurant has extended its patio area and created more outdoor seating. Pictured above, from left, are: Brent Johnson; Heather Manwarren, restaurant manager; and Staci Johnson.

Other family support services organized by the district included: the Adopt-an-Eagle Program; open enrollment for students relocated outside the district; a child trauma center; crisis and trauma training for staff members; expanded counseling services; winter camp; and the Bright Futures Initiative, which utilizes community resources to assist students in need.

Dr. Huff ended his address with several inspirational lessons he learned in the tornado's aftermath:

* The relationships developed today are the relationships that may be needed to survive tomorrow.

* Find something to celebrate every day. Short-term wins become a symbol of progress and hope.

* The work that is done to develop system-wide leadership capacity pays dividends in a crisis. Anyone can step up as a leader.

* If you have hired well, never underestimate the ability of the leadership team.

After Dr. Huff's speech, Michael LeCompte, outgoing chamber president, recognized Sonic and Whitley Pharmacy as the winners of the 2011 Business Beautification Awards.

Greg Beck was recognized as the recipient of the Volunteer of the Year Award. Mary Beck accepted the award on behalf of her son, who was unable to attend the banquet.

The Community Service Award was presented to Jon Horner, who has served as chamber president, chamber board member and on a variety of chamber committees. Horner is also a member of several other local organizations, including the Cassville Rotary Club.

Outgoing and incoming board members were also recognized during the banquet. Those leaving the board include: LeCompte, Stacy Runnels, Dr. Chip Kammerlohr, Blake Whitley and Jan Massey. New board members are: Guila Norris, Joel Curren, Kelly Mills and Coy Dalton.

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