When he gathered with family and friends for Thanksgiving dinner, Tyler Clark did not dwell on the childhood home that was leveled in a matter of minutes by a powerful tornado while he huddled with his mother in a basement below.
Instead, he gave give thanks for the family and friends who were unharmed by the devastating storm that killed six and left nearly 1,500 houses completely destroyed or severely damaged in Washington, Ill., on Nov. 17.
The SAU senior also was be grateful for the support he has found at St. Ambrose, where he and two hometown friends, Jacob Burd and Thomas Alt, are students.
"I've had tons of students calling me, messaging me on Facebook or talking to me in person, asking if they can help in any way at all," Clark said more than a week after the storm. "My soccer teammates were willing to come down and help me. Everyone has been really helpful."
Clark stayed with Alt, a sophomore teammate on the men's soccer team, the night after the storm hit. With power out at home, both returned to St. Ambrose the following day. Clark quickly heard from Athletic Director Ray Shovlain '79, '82 MBA and Rev. Charles Adam, the campus chaplain, each asking how St. Ambrose could help. And when he went to the bookstore, he was given several gift cards to replace items he lost at home.
The most important of those lost possessions were attached to childhood memories. But—while he won't soon forget opening the basement door in the tornado's aftermath and seeing his home and entire neighborhood blown away—Clark has not lost sight of what is truly important.
"We can rebuild a house," said Clark, who didn't initially know the status of his father and brothers, who weren't home when the storm hit. "It's great to know no one in my family was hurt, and none of my friends were hurt either. That is what is most important."
Burd, a senior who will graduate next month with a bachelor's degree in exercise science, just was leaving Mass at Christ the King Chapel when his father phoned with news of the horrific storm.
The Burd home escaped with lost shingles on the roof and a few fallen trees in the yard. But 200 yards away, homes were flattened to their foundation.
"There are parts of town you can't even recognize anymore," said Burd, who hurried home the day of the storm but returned to school a day later to prepare for a test. "Behind us, there are million-dollar homes people had just finished building, which are just completely gone."
While back at school prior to Thanksgiving week break, Burd yearned to help at home with relief efforts. Rather than feeling helpless, he sat down at his computer and put together a slideshow video using hundreds of available pictures that captured not just the damage his hometown sustained, but also the resilience his neighbors displayed in the face of such a natural disaster.
Set to the Bon Jovi song Army of One, Burd's inspirational video has captured the hearts of Washingtonians and non-Washingtonians alike. In a matter of a week, it had been shared on 3,500 different Facebook pages, a remarkable number.
"If 3,500 people have shared it, you can only imagine how many people have viewed it," he said.
Both Clark and Burd spent their Thanksgiving breaks assisting with clean-up and salvage efforts around Washington. Burd is scheduled to receive his Bachelor's of Science degree in Exercise Science on Dec. 14, and while awaiting his first semester in the Masters of Respiratory Care at Rush University, he plans to help rebuild his hometown.
He said that commitment to serving his neighbors was reinforced through his fours years at St. Ambrose.
"There are so many things, so many different volunteer experiences that I have had, so many things that St. Ambrose does for the community," he said. "It just makes me very proud to say I go to that school."