As the Quill recently toured the homes of one Thomasville family’s five living generations, members of that family shared pieces of history going back to the 1850s when the family settled in that town.
The once-prosperous town with its Harley-Davidson dealership and hotel, and acclaimed athletes and civil war lore, was devastated by flash flooding April 29. The community now boasts two dozen homes, all but two of which were flooded.
Thomasville, according to the Oregon County Clerk’s Office, was settled in 1803.
Of all five of her family’s houses, Becka Trobaugh’s is the only one that still resembles a home, and, according to her father Rodger Shelton, is the only one that has a good possibility to be rebuilt. But Trobaugh and her husband Gabe have purchased a new home in Alton instead. Between lack of funds to rebuild the house and a need for stability for their children, Trobaugh said, the choice was clear.
The family was given $363.01 by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to go toward rebuilding and repairs, she said. And while she has questions about the effectiveness of the assistance, she is ready to move forward.
Shelton said he qualified for an U.S. Small Business Administration loan designated for businesses, private nonprofits, homeowners and renters, but he’s not sure if it’ll come through.
“If I get it, it’ll be great,” he said.
Trobaugh’s 95-year-old great-grandmother’s house faces Highway 99. A sign dated mid-May hangs on her front door, requesting she visit the Multi-Agency Resource Center in Alton that has been gone for nearly two months. The house is gutted. The floors are wooden planks, and wires and cables snake over the skeletal walls, where sunlight charges through the cracks. The ceiling was falling, said Trobaugh, so to stop further damage, those cleaning up inside the house secured ceiling tiles at the corners with old Mason jar lids and milk bottle caps.
Wanda Daves, Trobaugh’s grandmother, pointed to a pile of rubble and twisted metal. She said it was once the home she shared with her husband Bud, a double wide trailer that had been unceremoniously moved off its foundation, which can be seen a few dozen feet behind.
Shelton’s house, the third on the tour, looks much like the first house – barren walls, naked wires, water lines high up on the windows.
But Trobaugh’s house, with its still-wallpapered walls and remaining personal touches such as the vibrant wreath outside above the door, really drives it home: These families aren’t just walking away from walls, ceilings and floors. They’re walking away from homes filled with memories.
“The part that bothers me is how much it hurts her,” said Trobaugh, comforting her 11-year-old daughter Paige in her old bedroom, walls painted green with pink flowers, stained by splashes of sludge.
“The part that bothers me the most, though,” said Trobaugh, gesturing to her parents’ home across the way, “That’s my mother’s house. That’s my home.” For Trobaugh, she’s lost the home built for her, and the home she herself made.
And then there’s the home of their neighbor Sherry Youngs. She lived in two adjoined trailers and had a metal workshop in the back. One trailer washed away completely, and pieces were found deposited along the floodwaters’ path. The other was washed into a tree, smashed. The outbuilding washed into her neighbor’s home a few feet away.
As she recalled running with her husband to the cemetery hill to get to high ground for safety, she said the land they lived on had been in her husband’s family for more than 100 years.
“I wish we had ran and never came back,” she said. With her home completely demolished, she and her husband are living in a camper they were fixing up before the flood, a camper they say is in no way ready for full-time living. The truck used to pull it runs, but won’t move, so they’re stuck where they are, she said.
“We’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do for winter,” said Youngs. “We have no family here, we have no place else to go.”
In the first week after the flood, Youngs recalled volunteers coming out in droves. She said she told those she knew there was too much work to do and no way to get to it with the waters still high, and there were no places to stay. She asked them to go and come back later.
Almost as though issuing a long-awaited signal from atop a mountain, Youngs said, emphasizing the first word, “Now is when we need the help.”
THE PATH TO RECOVERY
The Trobaughs, Sheltons and Youngses said the support of surrounding communities has kept their spirits aloft. The Troubaughs were able to use grant money from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks to purchase their new home, said Trobaugh.
“A local banker took a chance on me, because I’m from here,” she said.
“We don’t want a handout,” her husband explained. “We want a hand up.”
“This community doesn’t take handouts,” she added. “So many people have helped us, I just want to help others. ‘Love your neighbor.’ Isn’t that what it’s about?”
The families have some tough questions for the federal agencies still stationed in disaster recovery centers in Alton and Gainesville. In the next installment of the series, the Quill will set out to find answers, discussing with FEMA and SBA representatives, as well as state and county officials.
To contribute to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks Flood Recovery Fund, donors may go online to cfozarks.org/floodrecovery or mail checks to Community Foundation of the Ozarks, P.O. Box 8960, Springfield, MO 65801, with one of the specific communities noted. Supported communities include Thomasville, West Plains, Van Buren and Carter County, and Doniphan and Ripley County.