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Aftermath - Rodeo Clown Reunion

By Gail Woerner
Posted Tuesday, September 2, 2008

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The Rodeo Clown Reunion was a huge success in Dodge City, Kansas. The Dodge City Days Rodeo Committee and so many more sponsors made our stay there so enjoyable and memorable. The honorees dressed in their familiar costumes of the past and donned their individual ‘clown faces’ to entertain the fans all over Dodge City, including autographing before each of the five rodeo performances and helping with the Youthville Rodeo for Exceptional Children, the Mutton Bustin’, the Boot Scramble and tossing T-shirts to the fans.

The honorees were entertained and fed at Boot Hill, the Longhorn Saloon, Fort Dodge Veterans Home, and at the rodeo. The wives were treated to a special ladies luncheon at Casey’s Cowtown by the Women’s Chamber of Commerce. They were chauffeured to every event and treated royally. When specific events weren’t happening you could find these old laugh-getters and bullfighters lounging at The Dodge House, our host hotel, telling stories from their past. Although it is often repeated, “It ain’t what it used to be”, these old bull-baiters thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie with the ‘hired bullfighters’, Lance Brittan and Jerry Norton, and rodeo clown, Dale Woodard. Some of the honorees would ‘give their eye teeth’ to be working in the arena today, and with all the applause and attention they get during this special Reunion, some begin to believe they can still jump over bulls and out run them. “It ain’t what it used to be”.

A special event for the attendees of the Rodeo Clown Reunion was a trip to nearby Greensburg, Kansas, a town of 1,500 people that on May 4, 2007 was 95% destroyed by an EF-5 tornado, with winds over 200 miles an hour. Eleven people were killed and many were injured. Out of 1,300 homes in Greensburg 961 were destroyed, as were the commercial buildings, churches and schools. A tornado of that magnitude can do just about anything. It can make glass windows disappear, run wood and iron through tree trunks like it was balsa wood. It can twist steel like a pretzel and make entire buildings disappear. There is no way to ‘deal’ with a tornado of this size.

This part of the country is prone to violent weather, like tornados, when they are not suffering a drought. Asking for rain, in western Kansas, can bring with it things far worse than drought. But the weather is something none of us have any control over. There was a 20 minute warning before this tornado struck. Since warnings are common for these folks, some weren’t to concerned. “Another false alarm?” But most of these people were vigilant and headed to basements, cellars, and safe places within their homes. Electricity and gas lines were shut off in most cases, just to be safe. It was pitch black and the sound was tremendous. Buildings shook and were ripped apart, everyone felt pressure in their ears, the winds blew, debris was scattered, and then silence. In the dark these survivors started scrambling, looking for loved ones and neighbors, some jumps in vehicles that were not destroyed and traveled the roads, making detours, because of fallen electrical lines and poles, debris, dazed and injured livestock, assessing the devastation.

A little over a year the town of Greensburg is rebuilding. Many of the residents have chosen not to rebuild here. But approximately 700 of the 21st century pioneers are determined to stay and make this town special. After much deliberation and discussion, and with the professional advice from city planners and environmental experts, Greensburg is going to be the first town in the United States to be rebuilt totally sustainable and with power provided with renewable energy sources. “We are trying our best to be good stewards with what the Lord gave us and build as efficiently as we can,” said Mayor Bill Dixson.

Two large buses took approximately seventy Rodeo Clown Reunion honorees and their families from Dodge City to Greensburg. When we arrived at the Greensburg rodeo arena we were met by local dignitaries including Mayor Dixson, City Commissioner, Gene West, and a representative for Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas. Other community members, young people and a television crew, from Wichita, were there to greet us. The honorees wore their familiar rodeo clown costumes and make-up to honor these survivors. After introductions and plenty of interviews the Honorees presented to Debby Allison, head librarian for the Kiowa County Library System of which the Greensburg Library is a part, approximately 750 to 1,000 books for their library, when it is rebuilt. The books presented were gathered by the honorees and their families from their various communities across the nation during the past few months.

We were given a tour of the town, which is just beginning to rebuild. But don’t think they haven’t been busy. They first had to clear the felled trees, destroyed buildings, and prepare to start over. We were invited to lunch in the ‘spanking new’ senior center, including living facilities. The school is in temporary buildings presently. On the tour are examples of what types of power and 21st century heating and cooling, and wind power, will be used. Their art museum is in a building designed as a typical example of energy efficiency of today and the future.

What pioneers these residents have become. What does the future hold for Greensburg? With the determination shown by those we talked with and to see what they have done in such a relatively short period of time I have no doubt that people will be flocking to this western Kansas prairie town just to see the results and feel the drive and spirit of these survivors.

We thank the people of Greensburg, for taking time out of their busy schedules, to share with a group of senior rodeo arena laugh-getters and cowboy protectors, and their families, their tragedy and their will to survive. Through their frightening experience and heartbreak, they are showing the world the very best in their rebuilding for the future. God bless Greensburg, and thank you Dodge City for al the memories.


The Rodeo Clown Reunion honorees pose in front of the 5-4-7 Arts Centerin Greensburg, KS, a newly constructed building in the tornado-torntown. The structure is extremely energy efficient and an example as towhat Greensburg will become in time. Photo by David Seymore,LoneSPhoto, Dodge City, KS.
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