Lessons on rebuilding from Dayton’s neighbors in Xenia

Xenia residents are well-known for their resilience in the face of the deadly 1974 tornado that destroyed much of their city. And Xenia was hit again in 2000 by an EF4 tornado that killed one person and injured more than 100.

Dick Strous is one of many Xenia residents who have stories of rebuilding more than once and wisdom to pass on to the other Dayton-area communities now in the early stages of that process.

“It’s probably starting to hit people: What do we do now?” Strous said.

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The key is to not get discouraged from the outset because it’s a long process, he said. “You can’t be defeated in the beginning before you ever get started.”

Strous co-owned a business that was destroyed in 1974 and couldn’t be rebuilt. In 2000 he was on the board of trustees of Faith Community United Methodist Church, which suffered heavy damage to its roof, gym and education wing.

The church had just undergone a $2 million renovation the year before the tornado, which Strous said ended up being a stroke of luck. The board had reevaluated its insurance policy during that remodel so the damage was fully covered.

Xenia’s past experience with natural disasters made Strous and others more aware of the need for good insurance, he said.

One year and another $2 million later, the church was rebuilt.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “You just have to have a lot of patience.”

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It can be both exhilarating and overwhelming in the first few days to receive an outpouring of help from communities near and far, Strous said.

“Sadly enough it’s one of the times that draws people together,” he said. “It’s too bad that you have to wait for some sort of disaster.”

The key to getting things done and not letting the influx of helpers get in the way is to designate strong leaders who step up and give directions, Strous said. He was that leader for the church project. That person needs to have a good relationship with the insurance company and contractors, as well as any volunteers.

“We had to start right away to get our heads together … figure out how you can get it done,” he said. “They’re going to encounter a lot of things that are going to be discouraging.”

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A slow recovery, for example, can be hard for morale. In some ways the community will never feel the same, Strous said, but as soon as a few things start looking back to normal, spirits will improve.

“The minute you can start seeing improvements in the conditions, when you can start seeing buildings put back together and homes put back together … they’ll start to feel more hopeful about it,” he said.

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