MILLBURY, Ohio — Gov. John Kasich said Monday the stellar community response to last year’s deadly tornado in Lake Township could be an example for other Ohio communities struggling to rebuild after disasters.
“When you take a look at the destruction and you flip the chart and you look one year later, it’s miraculous what’s happening here,” Mr. Kasich said.
Already scheduled to be in northwest Ohio for the Buckeye Boys State program at Bowling Green State University, the governor coordinated his visit to include Lake Township a little more than a week after the first anniversary of the tornado.
The governor saw for the first time the recently dedicated memorial to the seven people killed in the storm. After taking a few minutes outside the new multiuse township building, reading the names on the stone and gazing upon the seven pillars memorializing the dead, Mr. Kasich turned to Lake Township Police Chief Mark Hummer.
“You did yourselves proud here, chief,” Mr. Kasich said.
Mr. Kasich started his visit at Nagle Companies, which he also visited last July while on the campaign trail. There, he looked at photos of the damage and chatted with Nathan Eikost who was in the township building when the storm hit. Mr. Eikost, an auxiliary patrolman and dispatcher with Lake Township Police, told the governor how he rode out the storm.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Kasich praised the way churches, charities, and thousands of volunteers came together in the moments and months after the storm. He told the small crowd at Nagle that he wants locals to go around the state and share their experiences.
“As a governor, I’m here to learn from these folks, and they got it right,” Mr. Kasich said. “Maybe it’s something about the heart of it all, which is small-town Ohio.”
Mr. Kasich was joined by Ohio’s Emergency Management Director Nancy Dragani, who asked Chief Hummer if he and others would be available to speak at statewide events.
“Not only can people learn from what we did — both right and wrong — but we can learn from them,” Chief Hummer said. “What we had here was a regional response that was incredibly effective because we all worked together and there were no egos in the room. It didn’t matter if you were the largest city or the smallest village responding, we worked together. I think that’s what people want to hear about and we’d be glad to share that information with anyone.”
After walking across the street to see the memorial and tour the new administration building, Mr. Kasich made his final stop at Lake High School, which had to be rebuilt after receiving a direct hit from the storm. There, school officials told the governor about a slide show they’ve prepared advising other school districts on rebuilding after a natural disaster. They’ve offered it to school officials in Joplin, Mo.
That also piqued the governor’s interest.
“Hey Nancy, that’s pretty good,” Mr. Kasich said to Ms. Dragani. “Maybe we can get that to the National School Board Association and present this.”
Tim Krugh, Lake Local Schools board president, said the information has already been presented to a statewide education convention in Pennsylvania, and would this November be presented to the Ohio School Board Officials Association convention.
“We’d like to pay it forward from what we learned and hopefully help other school districts that have faced other sudden losses,” Mr. Krugh said. “I wish we had known then what we know now, so that’s the goal.”
Mr. Kasich spent about an hour at the three locations before heading to Bowling Green. Chief Hummer said he thought the visit was a heartfelt one.
“I believe he’s truly interested in what this community did together to get itself to this point and he wants to know if there are things we need to help us. I look forward to having some continuing conversations with him about that, most importantly a regional communication system,” he said.
The area was not declared a federal disaster area, something that still irks some local officials. But Ms. Dragani said Monday the area’s recovery might not have been hastened if it had been declared as such.
“We were fortunate in this community that there was about 97 percent insurance coverage, which is really tremendous, because quite frankly insurance is going to get people recovered more fully than the federal government ever will,” she said.
In response to a question on what he intended to do during his much-anticipated golf match with President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, Mr. Kasich joked he would be trying “to make as many pars as I can.”
More seriously, the governor said he thought the outing would be more about building friendships.
“I really do think it’s good for the President to spend some quality time with Republicans. I think it’s important we have some fun, we laugh, we joke,” he said.
Having that personal relationship can help the two sides negotiate, he said.
Mr. Kasich also talked some about the somewhat controversial proposal to lease the Ohio Turnpike to private investors. The state budget passed by the Senate has a provision that allows Mr. Kasich to pursue a long-term lease of the turnpike, but would require lawmakers’ approval.
On Monday, Mr. Kasich said he would do nothing without the right agreement in place. He also said, however, that leasing could directly help northwest Ohio. Turnpike officials have said any proceeds from a lease would be dedicated to Maumee River channel dredging and highway improvements, including the widening of I-75 between Toledo and Findlay.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at:
VIEW PHOTO GALLERY OF GOVERNOR KASICH'S VISIT HERE