Well-Known Symbol of Strength After Joplin Tornado Succumbs to N - KOAM TV 7

Well-Known Symbol of Strength After Joplin Tornado Succumbs to Nature

Joplin, MO -

Update 3/30/2018  Click here for a Facebook group page created to let the public know about plans to recreate the Spirit Tree.


A well-known tree that became a symbol of strength and resiliency after the Joplin tornado has itself become a victim of Mother Nature.  The tree, located near 20th and New Hampshire Avenue, fell over after sustaining decomposition.

But residents say its legacy will remain.

The "Spirit Tree" was nothing more than a symbol.  But in the aftermath of the Joplin tornado, survivors say symbols were a godsend.  Doug Hunt was looking for a friend minutes after the tornado went through Joplin's high school.

"As I looked to the south, I saw the surviving trees on Indiana Avenue that literally looked like human hands reaching out of the debris because they had been debarked," says Hunt.

There was one tree in particular that Dolores Bilke noticed.

"It had been dead a couple of years before the tornado," says Bilke.

Somehow the tree was still standing.

"There were brick buildings surrounding it.  The tornado had toppled brick buildings," says Bilke.

Bilke and her daughter, Ashley, appreciate art.  Ashley made an "Indian Stick" for a high school project, with colors representing spirit, life, knowledge, clarity, prayer, healing, and kinship with other creatures.  It ended up being a prototype for what thousands of people across the world ended up knowing as Joplin's Spirit Tree.

"We had no idea how this tree was going to be received," says Bilke.  "It's kind of an odd idea!  It's a very traditional area in Joplin.  They like traditional art and we were going to go out and paint a dead tree with psychedelic colors."

Painting began on the one year anniversary of the Joplin tornado.  Two weeks of work was medicine.

"We had so many people drop by and share their tornado stories and tell us about their loved ones they had lost," says Bilke.

Joplin has grown since the Spirit Tree was finished.  More healing will continue without this symbol, of course.

"I knew that it was going to fall.  We knew it was temporary," says Bilke.

Hunt is considering ways to recreate the Spirit Tree.

"Even if it weren't an actual tree.  Just preserving the image on same scale in some form or fashion," says Hunt.

The goal is for future generations to see how even in the midst of horror, a dead tree with some paint on it can serve a purpose.

Hunt plans on creating a Facebook group to update the public on specific plans to recreate the Spirit Tree.


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