Standing here in Cunningham Park, at a tribute that reminds us of what once was, we can see scores of new buildings encircling the park’s perimeter, reassuring us of what is, and what will be. This is the resilience of the human spirit.
Joplin has come a long way since the evening of May 22, 2011, when an EF5 tornado devastated our city, and this tribute serves to honor the people who aided us in our progress. Located in the northeast corner of the park, the tribute features four circles which represent Rescue, Recovery, Demolition, and Rebirth. A mosaic in the center symbolizes the miraculous “Butterfly Stories” which were told by many children after the storm, and the shards of the mosaic pedestals represent broken lives being put back together again. The bronze hard hat, gloves, sledgehammer, and hammer represent the heroic efforts of rescuers and volunteers. This memorial was designed and constructed by Drury University Hammons School of Architecture students.
Just south of the Volunteer Tribute, next to a replica of a historical fountain, is a plaque that memorializes the 161 lives lost on May 22, 2011; exactly 161 trees have been planted in the park to honor those lives, as well. A nearby reflecting pond built on the site of the park’s original playground commemorates the lives of the children lost in the storm.
Walk to the northeast corner of the park and you’ll find the outlines of three homes that were destroyed in the tornado. Here you can read about the tornado and recovery, as well as walk through the Butterfly Garden, or sit and reflect on a bench in front of one of the fountains.