SEYMOUR — Two years, 10 months and nine days ago, the community began picking up the pieces of an EF-2 tornado that impacted the lone school building in Seymour. On Wednesday, the culmination of the efforts that followed the devastating 2017 tornado were presented to that same community.
When the tornado hit on the night of March 6, 2017, volunteers and first responders came to help immediately. Before sunrise the next morning, debris that had scattered about town were collected by the neighbors and citizens of Seymour, with help from volunteers filtering across the region.
What ensued was a collection of short-term and long-term fixes spurred by the community and school district leaders. A former elderly care center owned by the Seymour Industrial Development Corporation, of which Dale Housh is president, was provided and retrofitted to make classroom space while the school was closed. Students eventually went to school there for some time while their school was repaired.
Meanwhile, the Seymour Community School Board members went to work with their administrators and superintendent to negotiate with their insurance company and work to rebuild and repair their damaged school building.
The old two-story school building was kept, though it received some repair and renovation work. Additionally, two new gyms were built, as well as a new foyer and a weight room. All students were back within the school building by April 2018. The school began hosting athletic events in its gymnasium in the fall.
In all, the project cost $14 million, Breon said. About $10 million of was covered by the school’s insurance company. The school had another $2 million from a general obligation bond that citizens of Seymour had already passed for renovations before the tornado. They also had at their disposal a $1.5 million bond against future one-cent state sales tax revenues and $500,000 cash on hand.
That funded what was opened to the community with a formal celebration Wednesday.
“It’s just so amazing ... how the community came together,” Superintendent Brad Breon said. “The next day was like the National Guard had showed up — all of the kids from southern Iowa and even northern Missouri came to help clean up, and everyone in town helped clean up.”
Insurance adjusters who work large-scale damage claims such as Seymour’s were awestruck at how quickly the debris had been picked up when they came to survey the damage.
To the eye of an unaware visitor, only subtle signs remain to show the school had suffered a significant blow nearly three years later.
Now the school “is probably one of most modern buildings in a three-county area. As a community, you should be proud of that,” school board member Dan Furlin said.
One remnant left behind, intentionally, is the American flag pole in the front lawn. The twister gripped and bent the pole during its mayhem. But nevertheless, it remained standing. And, Breon said, it will remain standing into the future to serve as a reminder of the 2017 twister.
Dennis Doggett said the community’s reaction to the tornado validated his decision to return home. He symbolized the community’s togetherness and accomplishments to “The Bridge Builder,” a poem by Will Allen.
The segment quoted from the poem is a response to a pilgrim questioning a laborer’s efforts in building a bridge in an unpopulated area: “There followed after me to-day; A youth whose feet must pass this way; This chasm that has been as naught to me; To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be; He, too, must cross in the twilight dim; Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”
“When a tornado ravaged our community and school, it turned out to be one of our brightest moments,” Doggett said. “ ... Our children are our greatest treasure and most important resource. I would like to think if we always thought of the other fellow, perhaps someday an epilogue will be written to that story: A fair-haired youth in the twilight dim crossed a bridge that was built for him; Important his mission on the other side; Another’s work that turned the tide.”