Jessy Ford

Jessy Ford was 88 when the storm crashed through every window of his house and blew away the siding and shingles. Three neighbors were killed.

Weeks passed with no water, no electricity, yet Ford went nowhere. He and his wife, Barbara, had bought the clapboard house at 2230 S. Byers Ave. in 1947 and raised three daughters there. They refused to abandon it.

“I’m not leaving,” Ford, battling Parkinson’s disease and hobbling arthritis, said in the days after the storm. “This is our home. Where would we go?”

Five years later, the Fords remain.

Barbara Ford recently turned 90. Jessy Ford is 93. He uses a wheelchair now. A union carpenter and car mechanic his entire life, he remains fiercely independent, waving off help as he powers himself up, shaking and using the strength of his arms, to switch from his indoor wheelchair to the motorized one he uses outside.

His daughters say he still works on car motors, and not too long ago he was in the backyard with a hoe, leaning sideways over the arm of his wheelchair to claw chunks of an old concrete foundation from the earth.

“I do anything workwise with my hands but make money,” he said.

Major changes in the last five years: The Fords’ daughters — Regina Albritton of St. Louis, Diana Johnson of Rolla and Frieda Adams, also of Rolla — now travel to Joplin in a rotation to care for their parents, who don’t want to go to a nursing home or anywhere else.

“I’m here,” Ford said. “I occasionally see some of the people I know. And they see me. They know me, and I don’t even know them sometimes. …

“And the last five years,” he said, referring to the countless volunteers who have helped rebuild Joplin, “the people who come in and help redo the whole section of the town, it’s just — well, it just makes you know that you don’t have to be anywhere else.”

“I feel like the good Lord kept us here for a purpose,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. I guess, gossip.”

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