For the past year, the idea of doing something to remember the victims of the Greensburg tornado had tugged at Julia Ohlde's heart. But she did not do anything until February, when she decided she needed to act on her feelings.


 

For the past year, the idea of doing something to remember the victims of the Greensburg tornado had tugged at Julia Ohlde's heart.

But she did not do anything until February, when she decided she needed to act on her feelings.

Three months later, the Larned woman is looking forward to the unveiling of a memorial carved with the names of the tornado victims, including her late grandfather, Claude Hopkins.

"I'm ready for it to set so that everybody can put closure on it and look to the future and rebuilding, instead of looking to the past and knowing that people haven't been there," Ohlde said Wednesday.

The granite memorial will be dedicated at 1:30 p.m. Sunday on the corner of South Grove and West Iowa streets in Greensburg, where Hopkins' house once stood. It will remain there until the city completes Memorial Park, when it will be moved into the park.

The memorial is the product of a collaboration between Ohlde and Bill Ryan, owner of the Those Blasted Signs store in Newton.

Ryan said Ohlde contacted him five or six weeks ago, seeking advice on how to getting a memorial stone in place by May 4. He said she was upset and on the verge of tears, and he asked her several questions to find out what she had in mind.

Ryan promised to put some ideas together and call her back, and he stayed up almost all night thinking about the memorial and the fact that Ohlde was trying to finance it herself.

So he called Ohlde back the next day and said he had the stone covered, and he just needed her to think about where it should go.

And with that, their collaboration began.

Shortly after their second conversation, Ryan and Ohlde began trading ideas about what the memorial should look like.

In the meantime, he met with Newton's American Legion Riders post, where he was a member, and suggested that the organization should finance the project. The granite cost $900, and Ryan decided to donate his labor.

Ryan said Ohlde contacted three Wichita television stations about the project, and a reporter interviewed him in his shop the next day.

"It hit the air and was the lead story, which kind of threw me back," he said. "And it snowballed from there."

Ohlde said she coordinated the project, while Ryan was responsible for the design, the funding and the engraving.

"They call me the heart of the project, and I call Bill the mastermind," she said.

Ryan said his American Legion Riders post challenged other posts across Kansas to contribute to the project, and the response was overwhelming.

The fundraising effort generated more than enough money to cover the cost of the project, and the extra money will be given to Ohlde to establish an endowment fund for maintaining the property.

Ryan planned to finish the memorial on Thursday, then take the stone out to Greensburg today and set it in place before Sunday's dedication.

He said the memorial was the biggest challenge he's ever tackled in terms of donating his time, but he was pleased to think it would help the tornado victims' families find some peace.

"Just knowing that we're going to play a major part in helping them put closure to this — you can't beat that," he said.
  
Ohlde said the memorial is about 2 1/2 feet wide by 4 feet tall, and it has a picture of Greensburg's old water tower on the front with the names of the tornado victims. The back includes a picture of a old farmer's windmill and a passage from Scripture.

She said the finished memorial had exceeded her expectations, and she thought her grandfather would be pleased with it.

"I know Grandpa's looking down right now, smiling down and telling me I've done a good job," she said.
  
Contact Eric Swanson at (620) 408-9917 or eric.swanson@dodgeglobe.com.