Mary Ellis

They are gone, but should not be forgotten.

That was the feeling that Commerce Mayor Michael Hart expressed at Mondayís Miami City Council meeting about those killed in the Picher tornado last year.

Hart said he thought that a plaque listing those who died in the tornado should be erected in the Ottawa County Courthouse and perhaps a moment of silence held in their memory on the anniversary of their deaths.

"It canít be erected in Picher, soon it wonít be there anymore," Hart said. "A plaque shouldnít be too expensive and Iíd be willing to make a donation."

Hart has been mayor of Commerce since July 29, 2008.

"I wanted to give back to my city a little bit of what itís given to me," Hart said, explaining his acceptance of the role of mayor. "Being mayor has given me the ability to help local people."

Many people in Ottawa County were affected by the tornado, directly or indirectly.

Hart personally knew one of those who died.

"I coach T-ball with Jack Kelley," Hart said. "We had a game the night before the storm and his wife, Mistie, was there. We all had fun.

"I heard after the storm that Mistie had died in the tornado and said, ĎNah, thatís not possible. I just saw her.í

"I tried to contact Jack, but couldnít reach him and thought, Ďmaybe.í It turned out it was true."

Commerce didnít receive any great damage from the tornado, but many Picher residents who were affected have purchased homes in Commerce.

"Everything happens for some sort of reason," Hart said. "I think as human beings, we all want to know what that reason is, but God doesnít let us know why."

Hart was driving to Miami as the tornado struck.

"Looking ahead, toward Miami, the sky was blue and nice, but when I looked in the rearview mirror it was black and nasty, a totally different picture," he said. "I did a U-turn and got back to town, jumped into a cellar at a neighborís house.

"Better to be safe than sorry."

Hart drove to Picher after the tornado to lend a hand.

"It wasnít really needed," he said. "By the time I got there, 19 area different groups were already there. They did a great job."

Hart was asked to help keep the people back.

The mutual aid departments that helped in Picher following the tornado include the fire departments from Quapaw, Commerce, Wyandotte, Pryor, Bartlesville, Fairland, Afton, Tulsa and Welch; Integris and Integrity Emergency Medical Services and emergency management from Wagoner, Rogers, Ottawa, Oklahoma and Washington Counties.

"The tornado is an important moment in Ottawa County history," Hart said. "I donít want to bring up bad memories, but these people need to be remembered. Iím sure those people whose family members died are remembering them. Think about it if it were a member of your family, would you want them to be forgotten?"

Those who would like to express their opinion or to make a donation should contact Hart at Commerce City Hall at 675-4373.