BY AMANDA BEAM
Friends and family gathered recently at the Daisy Hill home of Porky and Dee Jackson for a Memorial Day party.
But this wasn’t any ordinary celebration.
On March 2, tornadoes ripped through the small Borden community, tearing down houses and rattling lives. After months of clearing debris and mending their bodies and their spirits, the people of Daisy Hill gathered to celebrate not only the holiday, but their survival of the storms as well.
Sitting at the bottom of a wooded hill, the Jackson’s home somehow remained unscathed from the tornadoes. In the aftermath of the storm, it became a refuge for victims looking for shelter in addition to a staging ground for rescue and relief operations.
Others around them weren’t quite as lucky.
Several family members of the couple lost their homes. Porky’s mother, 73-year-old Marilyn Jackson, known to many as Nanny Marilyn, had two toes amputated when debris fell on top of her and mangled her foot; despite the fact a family member had thrown her to safety in a basement and had sheltered her with his own body.
Enduring heart disease and crippling rheumatoid arthritis before the tragedy, she spent two weeks in the hospital, one for the initial surgery, the other for an infection that occurred afterward. Now, she lives with her daughter in Salem. Dee said Nanny Marilyn wants to return to Daisy Hill and to the home that’s no longer there, but she doesn’t have funds to rebuild.
“She lived there for 43 years in a single-wide trailer. She had no insurance, no nothing,” Dee said. “With her, it was like do I insure a 43-year-old modular home for an outrageous price or do I buy my food and pay my electric and my medications. She couldn’t afford both.”
With FEMA contributing only $2,700 to her quest for a new home and their applications for loans and other grants having been turned down, the Jackson family has relied on other fundraising methods. The couple hosted a motorcycle ride with more than 100 participants at their home. Dee’s daughter, Susie, sells DVD footage of the storm for $5 a piece with all the proceeds being contributed to her grandmother’s housing fund. So far, the family has collected $8,000 in donations. But they will need anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 to rebuild.
Adding an additional monetary hurdle, Nanny Marilyn will also need a $6,000 to $8,000 new septic system for her reconstructed home, even though her old one remained undamaged. New standards for the septic have been instituted in the 43 years since she first built. Dee said many Daisy Hill families, including those with insurance, are facing a similar situation.
“A lot of people are running into this problem up on the hill. The insurance won’t pay to update the septic to today’s standards because it’s not tornado damage, even though it was found out that way,” Dee said. “It seems like every time we get a step ahead, we get knocked back.”
Other partygoers shared stories about how the tornadoes have affected their lives.
Daisy Hill resident Joanie Fanning and Dee rode out the storm in their car in the Eastern High School parking lot after the middle school refused to release her eighth-grade daughter, Tori. Although mad at the time, Fanning said the school’s decision to remain on lockdown saved her and her child’s life.
“I thank God that the principal didn’t let my child loose. The path that it took was the road that I would have taken and we wouldn’t have been here today,” Fanning said. “There’s nothing over there now. I thank God every day that they wouldn’t release the kids.”
Returning to the hill didn’t provide a sanctuary for Fanning. Her home was damaged in the storms, but as a trained emergency medical technician, her first thought was to make sure her neighbors were safe. For more than 48 hours, she worked tirelessly providing relief.
In the initial hours after the tornado hit, Fanning pulled a severely injured man from the rubble and transported him to Pekin to an awaiting ambulance. She returned to the man’s residence to search for his friend who was still missing, but with daylight fading, conditions made it difficult. The next day, they found the man dead, pinned beneath debris.
As for the injured man she saved, he has returned to Daisy Hill as his home begins to be rebuilt.
“He actually just came home a month ago. He was in ICU. I’ve waved to him, he’s waved to me. They just got his house back together and his porch back up,” Fanning said.
She is still waiting to have her home repaired. The insurance money doesn’t always cover the cost of everything that needs to be replaced. Fanning said she hasn’t qualified for any grants, although FEMA did offer her a low-rate loan.
However, residents often worry about whether they will have enough money in the future to repay these loans; and, if they don’t, if their property might then be forfeited.
“It boils down to that they want us to take that loan. Well, a lot of us aren’t working. Due to the tornado a lot of people lost their jobs. They lost their homes,” Fanning said. “How am I going to pay a loan? That’s 1 percent interest that I don’t have. What I have is mine. It’s not much but it’s mine. I’m not going to give anyone a chance to take what the looters didn’t.”
Pekin resident and Daisy Hill friend and volunteer Misty Sullivan said local residents also face another problem in that they do not understand the legal terms in the grant and loan applications.
“You have a lot of people here who don’t understand the mumbo jumbo and all the legality of it,” she said.
Above all else, she said the already impoverished community still needs help in rebuilding.
“The community support of clothing and food has been great but it all comes down to the dollar. We need money,” Sullivan said. “The more we can get our story out, the more help we can get.”
With all the stories of the tornadoes, the ones most shared have centered on the solid friendships that have endured though the storm. That’s what the people of Daisy Hill also celebrated over the holiday weekend.
“We’re here. We’re together. This is family and that’s what this weekend is all about,” Fanning said. “We’re all about the hard work that we in put in. It’s time to get the boots off and kick our heels up. We needed the rest.”