'We take care of our own' Tornado unites small town of Dexter

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Attorney Elisha Fink has lived in the Dexter area for 38 years, so she wasn't surprised by how the village pulled together following Thursday's powerful tornado.

But she was impressed nonetheless.

"Dexter has never had this kind of tragedy on such a scale, so we haven't had to see what we can do," said Fink, standing in the homey office suite she shares with her sister, attorney Mariah Fink. "I think people are thankful and proud of how well we did."

Every morning, a group of mostly retired men gathers for coffee outside the Dexter Bakery.

This past week, they had lots of new stories to share.

On Tuesday morning, retired Washtenaw County Sheriff Deputy Bill Maloney showed his friends photos printed off a news site showing the tornado, which touched down 24 minutes after sirens warned citizens to take cover. The tornado destroyed 13 homes, and caused heavy damage to about 100 more.

"The response of helpers is totally amazing," said Maloney. "That, and the fact that there were no injuries."

"What amazes me is that nobody's asking for federal assistance," said Wally Fusilier. "Everybody in Dexter is getting the job done by themselves, collecting donations and everything else right here. It's all local. That's the way America's supposed to work."

"One of the ministers said he had a one-inch list of people who needed help, but a one-foot list of people willing to help," he added.

John Mann said he talked to a man who hadn't received any help with the fallen limbs and trees in his yard. The man's neighbor told him to put up a sign that said, "Please help."

"He did," said Mann, "and the next thing he knew, there were 40 people cleaning his yard."

The men told lots of stories of neighbors helping neighbors and strangers alike.

Chelsea State Bank opened two funds to support Dexter families affected by the storm; the Clean Spot Laundry in nearby Chelsea offered free laundry service while the Red Brick Kitchen proved there really is such a thing as a free lunch.

Dexter Community Schools set up a lost and found to collect and distribute items recovered from the storm damaged areas, and the high school opened up its pool so people could shower and entertain their children.

The fifth and sixth graders at Creekside Intermediate School whose homes were damaged were automatically approved for free meal benefits through the Federal School Meal Program for the remainder of the year.

Red Cross volunteers are still set up at the school this week distributing food and water.

Kim Kirkey, who lives in the Huron Farms subdivision where the heaviest damage occurred, said it's hard to express her thoughts about this past week without tearing up.

"Everyone wants to help and makes a point of checking in to find out what they can do," she said, listing many acts of kindness and generosity, including the Busch's employees who pushed shopping carts around the neighborhood handing out water, Gatorade and bananas; the art therapist who set up a tent in the neighborhood for kids to make art using items recovered from the tornado; and the insurance agents, Red Cross, and United Way volunteers who offered swift practical help. "I have never experienced anything like how this community has come together. I'm so proud of Dexter -- and the surrounding communities that have pitched in. It really renews your faith."

She and her husband, Jeff Kirkey, a lawyer at the Institute of Continuing Legal Education in Ann Arbor, were grateful to the Red Brick restaurant, Busch's, and MAVDevelopment for the food they donated so the Kirkeys and their neighbors, Jamie and Michelle Lewis, could host a BBQ for neighbors.

Lynn Monson, a freelance writer for The Legal News, was in the basement with his dog when winds blew in his front picture window in his Carriage Hills subdivision. His roof is now tarped, and he and his neighbors lost many mature trees.

Monson was impressed to see about 50 teenage volunteers from Dexter United Methodist Church in his neighborhood on Sunday removing fallen trees and debris yards in his Carriage Hills neighborhood.

"It's pretty amazing," he said.

Elisha Fink lives north of the hardest hit areas and was not directly affected by the tornado.

But like just about everyone else in the area, she did what she could do to help. She's a member of the Dexter Rotary Club, which immediately collected money for the relief effort.

"When you grow up in Dexter and when you live here and work here, the sense of community is strong," Fink said. "But even people who understood we have that kind of community have been surprised to see this kind of goodwill."

Published: Fri, Mar 23, 2012


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