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Opinion: Dayton Knows How To Come Together For A Real Crisis

dayton tornado
John Minchillo
Local volunteers organize relief support for victims of a tornado system that passed through the area, destroying homes and damaging public utilities. Tens of thousands of residents were still without power or water Wednesday.

My hometown – Dayton, Ohio – deserves credit for a lot of things over the years: powered flight, the cash register, Huffy Bicycles, the pop-top soda can and hundreds of other inventions.

But Dayton and its surrounding communities rarely get the credit they deserve.

And, always, the people of Dayton know what matters and what does not.  

Look at the past five days.

On Saturday afternoon – on Dayton's downtown Courthouse Square where, in 1859, one of the most noble Americans who ever lived, Abraham Lincoln, spoke from the marble steps to a crowd of Daytonians – nine of the very least noble among us, the so-called Honorable Sacred Knights of Indiana (in other words, the Klan) strutted about for a while, spewing vile and behaving like the clowns they are.

Mayor Nan Whaley and the city administration worked for months to assure the hundreds of protestors did not come in contact with the Klowns. They had to spend $650,000 in taxpayer dollars to make sure both sides kept the peace.

It sounds like a lot of money, but, with this Klan bunch, you never know. Nine could turn into 90, which could turn into 900.

Twice in my newspaper career, I have covered Klan rallies that got entirely out of hand; where there were violent confrontations between the Klansmen and their opponents. I had my share of tear gas and the sting of rubber bullets on those days.

But those were the exception to the rule.

In fact, the so-called "Honorable Sacred Knights of Indiana" (they like overblown names; I suppose it makes them feel important) are, generally speaking, all hat and no cattle. Or, in this case, all hood and no cattle.

Instead of spending a lot of taxpayer money to keep them under control, you probably could have set a long-tailed rat among them and listened to them squeal as they ran toward the Indiana border.

The vast majority of the people of Dayton and Montgomery County refused to give the Klowns the attention they craved, and went about their business. Some of them may well have flipped a middle finger in the general direction of the Sacred Knights.

About 30 hours later, something happened that Dayton cared about very much. And the surrounding communities of Trotwood, Bellbrook, Brookvillle, Riverside and others as well. These knights of dubious sacredness had long ago skulked their way out of Courthouse Square, checked the GPS on their trucks, and found that they had to turn right and keep going to get back to Indiana.

An incredible, quick and chaotic series of tornadoes swept through the region in the late night Monday and the wee hours of Tuesday morning. Nine of them were in Ohio; probably 52 in the nation's mid-section.

dayton tornado
Credit John Minchillo / AP
Debris is strewn about the front sidewalks of destroyed homes at the River's Edge apartment complex, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio, the day after a tornado struck the city.

About 80 miles up I-75 from Dayton, in the Mercer County city of Celina, an 81-year-old man was killed when a car was picked up by the wind and slammed into his house.

The storm caused much damage in Dayton itself, but only a few minor injuries. Dayton Fire Chief Jeffrey Payne called it "pretty miraculous'' that no Daytonians died.

Mayor Nan Whaley urged residents to check on neighbors, especially those who were housebound.

It was the kind of thing a mayor tells her people in these times of crisis, but she really didn't need to.

Before dawn Tuesday, there were dozens of sites on social media telling people where to go for help – from schools, from churches, from individual citizens, some of whom were standing out on a busy street corner handing out bottled water to anyone who wanted it.

Search "Dayton tornado relief'' on Facebook and you will find dozens of places where you can lend a hand.

Whether it is a natural disaster or an economic collapse of a major industry (which has happened repeatedly in Dayton over the years), the people find a way to come together and lift each other out of it.

This latest disaster reminded me of my grandfather, Walter Wilkinson. He was 23 years old when much of Dayton was devastated by a massive flood of the Great Miami River and its tributaries in 1913.

Thousand of people were trapped in their homes – some forced to squeeze into the top floors of their homes because of the rising water.

Grandpa – a mechanic who worked for Charles F. Kettering at the Dayton Electric Company (now known as DELCO) – had a row boat and he put it to good use, going from house to house in South Dayton to see if people were stuck in their homes. Many were, and my grandfather – whose nickname was Bear because that's how strong he was – was hauling out grown men, women and many children and rowing them to high ground, where many of them found temporary shelter at the National Cash Register Company.

Of course, there were hundreds of his fellow Daytonians doing the same thing. That's what you do for neighbors.

I'm guessing Bear is looking down on all this today and twiddling his thumbs (his favorite pastime) and smiling that his town hasn't changed all that much.

politically speaking 2
Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.