, Muskogee, OK

August 18, 2013

Tornadoes tie band director to Moore

They have fostered a sense of unity in the community

Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Angie Taylor taps the sunflower icon on her iPhone.

Taylor pulls up an image of a map with an overlay of blue, green and red lines marking the paths through Moore of an F5 tornado in 1999, an F4 in 2003 and an EF5 tornado this year. Three of the white dots mark how close those tornadoes came to where Taylor lived at that time.

A fourth white dot, under the word “Moore,” sits right on the red line.

It’s the reason Taylor, the band director at Highland East Junior High since 1998-99, pulled her white SUV into the school parking lot most days this summer.

The school sustained some damage and the gym was destroyed. Classes were dismissed in the district for the remainder of the school year. But Taylor kept showing up.

For some, closeness can be measured in ways other than physical proximity.

Sometimes it’s an emotional measurement.

Even though where she lives now is in what was the path of the May 3, 1999, storm, the tornadoes Taylor has mapped out on her phone missed her home by anywhere from about the length of a football field to a mile and a half.

And she was at the funeral of the parent of a former band member on May 20 when the EF5 struck Highland East.

But emotionally, Taylor, like so many residents of Moore and other communities affected by tornadoes, took a direct hit.

“In ’99 we had several students affected,” Taylor told The Oklahoman. “That’s probably the first thing that made me feel like a grown-up, that I needed to go take care of some students. I was 28. I didn’t have children and the first thing I thought was, ‘There are some kids that are going to need some help and I’m going to have to take care of them.’

“Right away, we took the money from the band fund here and we got our principal’s approval and we just went and bought school supplies and things the kids were going to need to finish the year.”

This year, on May 20, she left school about 2:20 p.m. to go to the funeral. The service was interrupted by police, who asked those attending to go to the hallways, she said. They remained safe, but when she walked out, she began to hear about the tornado and soon saw the devastation.

She drove as far as possible and then began running, not toward her house, but toward Highland East.

School officials and staff already had children lined up waiting for their parents to pick them up when Taylor arrived. There were no injuries to students. Administrators, of the district and the school, as well as teachers later led the remaining children to Moore High School for pickup.

“At 10 o’clock that night, there were still four or five kids there,” said Taylor who was among those who had gone to the high school. “We thought their parents were either trapped or worse.

“That was the low point, not knowing if those kids were going to have parents at the end of the day.”

There were adults from the district and the school who stayed with those students. Eventually they were taken to another site. But each was picked up and their parents were safe, Taylor said.

“The school leaders ... there are no words for what they did that day,” she said. “We have outstanding city and school leaders, who instantly do whatever is needed. That was evident after the ’99 tornado and the others.”

As Taylor recently prepared for the start of a new school year, she walked around the band room. The tornado damaged the interior and the roof. The following rains worsened the situation.

But with a new roof, with repaired shelving, with instruments provided and others borrowed, with contributions from fundraisers and special events in and out-of-state Taylor looked around and said, “I can’t wait to get my kids back. I’m not a hugging person, but every one of them will get a hug from me.”

She walked past stacked boxes filled with trophies and plaques earned before and since her arrival, and said these will go on new shelves. Then, Taylor stepped into her office and picked up a piece of orange shag carpet.

“When the ’99 tornado came through, we found this ugly square of orange carpet right outside the door and we have no idea where it came from,” Taylor said. “So of course we kept it, and we’ve had it on the wall for all these years since.

“I saved it and I have a square of the carpet we had before this last tornado.”

Even though not typical, they are symbols of remembering and moving forward, she said.

Although school was canceled after the tornado for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year, Taylor felt a need to keep going to Highland East.

Through the summer, with the exception of time taken for surgeries of non-related storm injuries, Taylor continued to visit her band room of 15 years.

Outside, crews tore down the remains of the gym, leaving a slab of the building where the band had many times performed at pep rallies and other events.

Taylor, originally from Ada, has seen storm after storm in Moore.

She’s seen those storms claim lives and shred houses and other buildings.

She’s seen those storms rob not only students but their families of security.

Asked whether she’d seen enough and had ever thought about moving on, she replied: “No way.”

When a student plays off key, she doesn’t give up.

Sometimes life is out of tune. But the people of Moore and other areas have played on, like a band, together.

And Taylor said because of that unity, closeness to your community narrows. Members share successes and tragedies.

“You just can’t hop up and leave,” Taylor said. “With kids that are in band, we watch them grow up and we get to know their families. We go on band trips with their families.”

“When I came to Moore I was young, but I’ve been here 15 years in this one school and I know everyone,” Taylor said. “I want to retire here.

“I’m part of the family and I wouldn’t even think of leaving it.”