Andrew Dys

Rock Hill couple who survived tornado to give thanks all who helped rebuild

On the porch of his home south of Rock Hill, Albert “Jabo” Ferrell sits down for a minute to talk about great people. To find Jabo sitting down is rare, because this 81-year-old guy has worked construction all his life. Still does.

But Jabo sits for a minute because he is throwing a party today at his house that just over 11 months ago was nothing but rubble on top of his head.

Jabo Ferrell and his wife, Judy, and the whole family want to thank an entire community for helping them after the Nov. 16, 2011, tornado.

“I didn’t ask anybody, I didn’t tell anybody; people just showed up every day for so long,” Ferrell said. “How do you say things that are beyond imagination? What people did for us, it just is too much for words. Those people are just great.”

Within minutes after the storm, and for hours and days and weeks and months afterward, people showed up at the Ferrell place and pitched in. The volunteer emergency workers and neighbors who pulled the Ferrells out were first to help, but an army of people, many of them strangers, came afterward to this house at the intersection of S.C. 324 and Skyline Road south of Rock Hill.

The Ferrell home was one of more than 20 buildings damaged or destroyed. Jabo and Judy Ferrell were on the couch watching television when the tornado destroyed the house around them. The roof fell on them, the house around them was destroyed or blew away, but the Ferrells survived with just scratches and cuts.

The Ferrells give the credit to God that each survived and that the hundreds of people who came later to help dig out the mess and rebuild a house showed up.

“With the hand of God, nothing is impossible,” Jabo Ferrell said.

The house was rebuilt earlier this year through the labor of contractors that had known the Ferrells for decades. Much of the labor and material was donated or provided at cost.

“These people who came here, some of them strangers, they just came,” said Judy Ferrell. “They came from Rock Hill and York and Chester. And other places. Every one of them, we just want to thank them.”

Those people who arrived to help were white and black, rich and poor, and everything in between, of uncountable religions. There were individuals and church groups and truckers with heavy equipment, working alongside ladies who had nothing but two hands and a smile. People brought food and drinks and love and a strong back

“We are so grateful for the generosity of people in this community,” said Dick Ferrell, Jabo Ferrell’s son.

The invitations for the barbecue, sent to those names and organizations the family know of, are simple and wonderful.

“You hugged us in our time of need, now let us honor you,” the invitation states. The invitation features a picture of the ruined old farmhouse, destroyed, and the new home next to it.

But the Ferrells, all of them, want to make sure that the community remembers that as bad as the damage was at the Ferrell home, the three deaths from the storm hurt far more than any building.

Steve Courtney down the street, and Barbara and Ken Hafner who lived right across the road from the Ferrells, were killed in the tornado.

“Three people lost their lives, and we knew those people,” Dick Ferrell said. “We grieved for them and we still do. We always remember that we can build another house, but can’t replace people. ”

This community south of Rock Hill, often called Ogden, is a tight-knit, close place. One of the volunteers who helped the family in the storm is cooking the barbecue for the party. Bill Dunlap, the Oakdale Volunteer Fire Department chief, the man who ran the tornado rescue operation from right there in the road, grew up in that same farmhouse that disintegrated around Jabo and Judy Ferrell.

Many of the volunteers such as Dunlap who worked for days to help the Ferrells and others nearby will be there for the party.

And hopefully, some people that the Ferrells don’t know will show up today. The reason the Ferrell’s don’t know the names of all who helped is so many people showed up to help and told no one who they were or even why they came. Those “great” people Jabo Ferrell talks about just helped. They hauled debris or carted broken wood or whatever else had to get done. The Ferrell’s daughters, Ann and Sue, tried to keep a list of all who helped but it was impossible.

“If anyone was here and I never met them, I sure hope I can meet them and thank them myself,” said Judy Ferrell.

“Me too,” said Dick Ferrell.

“And for sure I want to thank them,” said Jabo Ferrell.

Anyone who helped the Ferrells after that awful storm is urged to show up Saturday between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to eat barbecue and slaw and beans.

But there will be more than food. If anybody helped the Ferrells, those people are going to get a bunch of hugs, too.

Andrew Dys * 803-329-4065