LIBERTY, Mo. — As warmer weather arrives in the metro, so does severe weather season.
This week, faculty members at William Jewell College observed the 15th anniversary of a tornado that wrecked their campus in 2003. That bad storm continues to teach strong life lessons.
May 4th, 2003, was a Sunday afternoon, frolicking on the campus ropes course. They had very little warning about the EF-4 tornado that ripped through Liberty and destroyed many of this school`s buildings.
“You knew that we were in a potential life or death situation,” said professor Kevin Shaffstall, the director of William Jewell College’s Pryor Leadership Program.
Shaffstall, a native of Wichita, Kansas, is no stranger to tornadic conditions. He was with those students on the ropes course, and when he received warning from a friend that a funnel cloud was forming, Shaffstall and his class took shelter in the basement of a nearby building on campus.
“We felt the walls of building decompress. Then, you heard the proverbial roar of the train,” Prof. Shaffstall told FOX4. “There was a little small glass window. We could look out and see our cars lifting off the parking lot and bouncing into the house.”
Many campus residence halls were destroyed, including the married housing facility on campus. The intensity of that storm even knocked the church steeple from venerable Gano Hall.
The damage at the college, as well as the city of Liberty, cost more than $10 million to repair.
Shaffstall, in hindsight, realizes his students in the Pryor Leadership Program, an interdisciplinary learning program meant to instill leadership qualities in undergrads, were in the right place at the right time.
“We said, ‘OK, we’re a leadership class. Let’s apply our leadership’,” Shaffstall remembered.
Shaffstall’s students set out across the ruined campus, helping students in need. Some needed medical help. Some had lost their belongings and shelter. Others just needed someone to tell them help was on the way.
“Don’t ever say to yourself; it couldn’t happen to me,” Shaffstall told FOX4 . “It could have been a lot worse if our staff wasn’t so well prepared.”
Shaffstall, who has been an instructor at the Clay County-based college for 23 years, said that tornado factors into his modern-day lesson plans, especially in studying risk management. He said it’s a timeless reminder to everyone at Jewell, and other campuses too, to take action quickly when bad weather arrives.