University employees play role in 9/11 ceremony


Curtis Almeter

Brooklyn Jusino, tornado survivor, looks at a poster of the National 9/11 Flag, which she placed stitches in on the flag’s final stop Sunday. The flag is going to be displayed at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

Jordan Larimore

When members of the Joplin community literally sewed memories of the town’s historic EF5 tornado into the National 9-11 flag, flown at Ground Zero, two Missouri Southern employees joined them.

Last Sunday, on the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on the United States, the National 9-11 American flag made its final stop in Joplin. Residents present at the flag-stitching ceremony had the opportunity to sew pieces of tattered American flags from the May 22 tornado into the 9-11 flag, finishing its restoration before it would be sent back to the National 9-11 Museum, where it will rest forever.

Among the people forever intertwining their stories with that of the flag from Ground Zero were University Food Service Support worker Shiela Immesote and Coordinator of Disability Services Judy Elimelech.

Both women were affected by the tornado, as Immesote and members of her family, six-year-old Brooklyn Jusino and three-month-old Madison, were shopping at the Wal-Mart on 15th street. in Joplin when the storm hit.

Elimelech was at her home on Reinmiller road, where an empty lot now lies.

“May 22 I was home in bed,” she said. “Where the tornado decided to turn and evidently just felt like it couldn’t pass me up. I didn’t hear it. I got hit in the head. Woke up in the back yard with my dog lying beside me. Thank God we were both okay.”

Immesote credited employees of Wal-Mart for remaining calm and ushering as many customers as possible to the back of the store, in the former lay away area, as far out of harm’s way as possible.

“It was just one of those things,” she said. “In Joplin, whenever they tell you that a tornado is coming, you think like everybody else, ‘Oh it’s going to pass us.'”

Immesote says, like the entire city, her family is still healing mentally from the incident, especially Jusino.

The six-year-old Brooklyn may be ahead of others in the healing process, however. She said she expects to remember the ordeal for “maybe a year or two.”

Sunday’s events no doubt were important steps in the healing process for Immesote, her family and Elimelech. On the anniversary of 9-11, Elimelech held the National 9-11 flag in a presentation ceremony at Cunningham Park, and Immesote watched as Jusino placed stitches in the same flag at Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.

Although the two Southern employees were in different places on both Sept. 11, 2001 and May 22, 2011, they share a sense of pride not only in their country, but also in the University upon seeing the role it played following the tornado.

“I was actually the secretary for Sacred Heart Catholic Church the morning that 9-11 happened,” Immesote said. “I dropped off my two oldest daughters at St. Mary’s elementary (a casualty of the tornado), and I heard it on the radio. When I got to work I grabbed the TV, turned it on and set it in my doorway so I could watch in horror of everything that was going on.”

“I have never seen things pull together so well,” Elimelech said of Southern’s part in recovering from May 22. “A lot of that had to do with people like Bob Harrington (director of the physical plant), Darren Fullerton (vice president, student affairs) and their staff. We have the best custodians in the country; they were so inventive about what they did. They were the ones who came up with the idea of taking water out of the swimming pool in order to feed the commodes here [Leggett & Platt] when we had a water shortage. I cannot tell you how proud of them I am. The timeline that we were on, we [Southern] signed the partnership agreement [with the city of Joplin for the University to be used as a shelter in case of emergency] only on April 26. And then we had a trial exercise only two weeks before the tornado so everything was current and it was fine.”

Asked if she thought there was any chance those circumstances were by coincidence, Elimelech said “No, absolutely not.”

Sunday, the Joplin and Missouri Southern communities gathered, partially to mourn lives lost in two historic disasters, and partially to celebrate the events’ respective recoveries.

Memories of the last 10 years in America have literally been sewn together into the National 9-11 flag, and were also sewn together by Elimelech’s words: “Sometimes Americans are at their absolute best when everything around us is falling apart.”