February 11, 2009 Edition

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Ice storm binds together
residents of WR Manor

Residents of Walnut Ridge Manor and family members enjoyed time together in the kitchen during the recent power outage. Pictured here are (from left): Ollie Hunt, Melba Howard, Stacy Baker, Patrick McManner, Robert Whitmire and Dizzy Whitmire.
TD photo ~ Gloria Wilkerson
Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

After the recent ice storm, no one wants to see another natural disaster in Lawrence County for a very long time. However, should one occur, the residents at Walnut Ridge Manor will know what to do to take care of themselves and how to have a good time in the process.

The Manor, located at 111 Southeast Sixth Street, lost power Tuesday, Jan. 27, and the 32 residents in the apartments worked together to stay safe and warm throughout the first night. Over the next two days, several of them left to be with family and friends until their power was restored.

Between 12 and 15 of the tenants remained behind, staying in the large dining/living room, which contains a fireplace and a cook stove.

For the first two days, they received three meals a day from the Red Cross and the shelter at the Walnut Ridge Community Center, according to Paige VanBrook, Lawrence County Deputy Coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management.

On Wednesday afternoon, Becky Watkins from Timberlake Development and Management's home office in Heber Springs drove to Walnut Ridge, bringing them food, candles, flashlights and batteries. Timberlake owns Walnut Ridge Manor, a 40-unit apartment complex for retired, disabled and low-income people.

After receiving their checks at the first of the month, the group pooled their money and bought food to share.

"It was dark and cold at first, but we blocked off the dining/living room from the rest of the building, and everyone stayed in there most of the time. We all filled our bathtubs with water to use to flush toilets in case our water supply was cut off," said Dizzy Whitmire, custodian.

"The Walnut Ridge Fire Department did a great job," he added. "They checked on us several times and brought us cots and blankets."

The Whitmires' son and daughter-in-law, Robert Whitmire and Stacy Baker, and Peggy Soos and Bradley Howard, the children of resident Melba Howard, assisted the group with cleaning and cooking.

Manager Nova Hancock said that she was gone the first couple of days, taking care of her own family and friends. "Dizzy and his wife, Pat, were here to help see after the residents," she said. "These people have grown closer together and would have enjoyed the experience except for the hardship."

Wilma Veteto of Ole Hickory in Newport helped cook the first night, and Don and Lavan Nicholas, who own Ole Hickory in Hoxie, donated the food. The Alicia Baptist Church also donated a box of groceries.

"We had two women who cooked for us," Dizzy said. "The meals we shared brought us all closer together."

The two women who cooked were Ollie Hunt and Melba Howard, sisters who live at the apartment complex, and both have experience in cooking for large numbers of people.

Hunt ran a café in Tuckerman for six years, worked as a cook on riverboats for about four years and cooked at The Lord's Ranch near Maynard until she had to retire for health reasons. Howard worked with Hunt at her restaurant and also worked as a cook on riverboats before she retired because of health problems.

"We love to cook," Hunt said, "and we wanted to help our neighbors."

Howard agreed. "We just wanted to help," she said.

The ladies made soup and cornbread the first night, and Pat Whitmire said,

"The biscuits and gravy they made for breakfast were out of this world."

Another resident said he didn't want the lights to come back on because 'we have eaten better through this than we have eaten in a long time.'

While Hunt and Howard did the cooking, the other tenants and helpers washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen. Manor resident Patrick McManner kept the coffee pot going and helped wherever he was needed.

The group credits the meals together and swapping stories by the fire for drawing them all closer together and getting to know each other as neighbors. They said they played games, talked and laughed and enjoyed each other's company until bedtime each night.

McManner said, "We have done more socializing this past week than ever before."

Some of the residents who remained at the Manor had other places they could have gone but enjoyed the company of their neighbors so much that they didn't want to leave. They had a wonderful bonding experience in the wake of the ice storm and power outage, and they agree the two sisters played a large role in pulling them closer together as neighbors and friends.

"God took care of us through it all," Hunt said.

Howard said, "We all worked together and had a good time, too."

Each of the residents praised the others while downplaying their own contributions to surviving the power outage so well. They were in good spirits and quite proud of what they had accomplished together by the time their power was restored.

The group hopes to have a meal in the dining area once a month now that they have had this chance to get to know their neighbors a lot better.

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