Joplin seniors return home

Resident Marge Hanschu, left, and Sister Lillian Murphy, right, CEO of Mercy Housing, comfort resident Bonnie Betz, center, at the Re-Opening Ceremony for Mercy Village Joplin in Joplin, Missouri on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2012. The senior housing was damaged in the tornado that swept through Joplin and was refurbished by Mercy Housing, a national affordable housing non-profit. (Chris Schneider)

Bonnie Betz has spent her entire life in Tornado Alley; the infamous stretch in the southern plains of the central U.S. where violent tornados are all too common. Her numerous stories about the close encounters she has had with these powerful storms over the years have earned Bonnie the nickname “Tornado Lady” amongst her friends at Mercy Village in Joplin, Missouri. And after the catastrophic events that transpired on the afternoon of Sunday, May 22, 2011, that’s a nickname Ms. Betz’s probably won’t be shaking anytime soon.

“I was in my apartment when the tornado sirens went off,” says Bonnie.  “As I tried to make my way to the Community Room shelter, I felt the building buck and the stairway I was in at the time started to collapse right out from underneath me.”

Bonnie clung to the railing as the roof tore away from the building and the cyclone lifted her upward.  She held on for dear life as the storm threatened for to carry her away with it, before finally passing over the building, and dropping the octogenarian several feet, leaving her to be rescued by Mercy Village’s maintenance staff. Astonishingly, Bonnie escaped her harrowing experience with nothing more than a few bruises and another tornado tale to tell.

“It was awful but I’m thrilled to be moving back to Mercy Village,” says Bonnie about her much-anticipated homecoming.  “The hardest part was being away from my friends and neighbors at Mercy Village.  It’s good to be home.”

Bonnie was one of many speakers to celebrate Mercy Village’s Grand Re-Opening on February 21, 2012.