Southwest employees lend a hand to those affected by tornado


(Photo by Ray Dyer)

By Ray Dyer

Eve Kaganovith was supposed to be with her family at an amusement park. Instead, she and roughly 160 other employees of Southwest Airlines spent Saturday canvassing one of Mike Crowly’s wheat fields removing anything that was not wheat.

After the May 31 tornado that tore apart much of the countryside and devastated the nearby home of J.R. and Theresa Ramsey, there were plenty of non-wheat related items to be collected.

Theresa Ramsey burst into tears when she saw the four busloads of people wearing blue Southwest Airlines T-shirts pull up in front of what was left of their home southwest of El Reno. Brought here in cooperation with All Hands Volunteers, the Southwest workers came from all parts of the nation to help any way they could.

J.R. Ramsey tried to thank them, but it was just too emotional. Crowly, longtime mayor of Calumet, also became emotional when addressing the workers during their lunch break, as did El Reno Mayor Matt White.

“I am just so grateful,” Crowly said. “I have faith that we will be provided for.”

White had to hold up an empty beer mug that belongs to J.R. Ramsey to keep from breaking down.

“I’ve done just fine the whole week,” White said. “But now it’s all hit home. I have to look at this beer mug to make myself laugh or I’m afraid I will break down.” He did break down, a couple of times. “And I’m keeping this beer mug, J.R.,” White said, with Ramsey nodding approval.

All Hands Volunteers was created by David Campbell in 2004 after a tsunami had devastated Thailand. Over the years it has responded to disasters throughout the world, including the recent tornadoes that hit Moore and El Reno.

Tamera Gugelmeyer, spokeswoman for All Hands, said Southwest Airlines has been a partner with the organization, often with employees who volunteer to help as well as offering travel vouchers for some All Hands volunteers.

Sue Glassnor was one of the All Hands volunteers who came to El Reno courtesy of a travel voucher. From St. Claire, Mich., Glassnor said she supports All Hands because she’s seen the good the organization does in helping those who have often lost every material possession.

Initially, Gugelmeyer said the Southwest Airlines volunteers were scheduled to work in Moore, but that area has received so much help since the May 20 tornado there, it was decided El Reno was a better candidate.

Like Kaganovith, a number of Southwest employees had given up vacation time to travel to El Reno. Cassie Gess came from Denver. Michelle Townsend came from Los Angeles. Shelby Weidler came from Fort Worth. Her family’s farm in Bennington, Kan., was heavily damaged by a recent tornado. Three combines were destroyed and 36 of 39 head of cattle were lost to the twister. Weidler was offering up a vacation day to help the Ramseys and Crowly.

Summer Rhodes from Dodge City, Kan., effortlessly steered a tractor with a scoop attached, picking up boards, bricks, anything that was not attached.  One woman found Theresa Ramsey and presented her with a baby blanket discovered in the nearby wheat field.

Laurel Moffatt, a communications specialist with Southwest, said the firm has more than 700 employees in Oklahoma. Some of them were impacted by the Moore tornado. Trevor Mann lives in Midwest City. The Southwest employee helped a couple of days in Moore after the May 20 devastation. He was helping again on Saturday, pushing a debris-filled wheelbarrow through the wheat field. He said at the end of the day, volunteering to help others gives you a good feeling.



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