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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

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The physical and human damage from the June 5 tornadoes that struck

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      Elizabeth Urbanowski

northwest Ohio and Lake Township was, in a word, extreme.

Six people died as a result, including 4-year old Hayden Walters and his parents Mary and Ryan, whose Millbury home was destroyed; Bailey Bowman, who died as she and her boyfriend tried to make it inside the Lake Township administration building to escape the tornado coming at them; Kathleen Hammitt, a Woodville wife and minister in training who died as her vehicle was tossed like a Matchbox toy on SR 795; and Ted Kranz, the father of the Lake High Class of 2010 valedictorian.

Hours before the 2010 seniors were to graduate June 6 at Lake High, the school complex at SR 795 and Lemoyne Road was among the structures heavily damaged by the monster EF4 twister. Word of the destruction at the school spread quickly, and less than an hour after the twister passed, a crowd of graduating seniors, alumni and others had driven through the debris along SR 795 to get a firsthand look through the darkness.

Though it was a school, the building has been a central, unifying presence in the community for years. It has been, in a word, home. And the damage involved would require a major makeover to say the least.

Around the same time, in El Paso, Texas, Elizabeth Urbanowski, 27, a 2001 Lake High grad, got phone calls from a couple of friends here telling her about the tornadoes and the damage. Her grandmother lived in Millbury until she died earlier in the spring and her mother’s brother lives on Main Street near the old elementary school and very close to some of the most deadly damage.

As TV stations in the Toledo area began live streaming views of the damage, Urbanowski began capturing screen frames of the destruction and sending video of it to friends across the country who were Lake alumni.

“I felt pretty helpless, honestly, sitting here,” Urbanowski recalled in an e-mail interview with The Press. “I wanted more than anything to jump on a flight home and help everyone, but I have a son who is only 18 months old and four older girls, so I knew I wouldn’t be a lot of help.

“So I thought what can I do here, and I just thought how are we going to rebuild that school and the houses. It was so sad thinking about the families,” she said.

Urbanowski thought of ABC-TV’s popular show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and was going to write a nomination for a house. “But I sat there going, `How do I pick one? So many amazing and deserving families, how do I choose?’ I decided I couldn’t.”

Instead, Urbanowski thought about “how much Lake [school district] means to that whole community” and decided to nominate Lake High for rebuilding by the show.

“...Yes, it was a bit out of the box, but I nominated the school. I see it as being such a wonderful story for EMHE to do,” she said. “They would have the largest turnout of volunteers ever I think. It’s new and it helps more families at once than they have ever done before. This community is so filled with amazing people who were shaped by Lake High School -- that right there is enough to ask to rebuild it.”

With the help of fellow Lake alumnus Troy Zam, they started a Facebook page nominating Lake for EMHE and seeking support.

“We had actually never talked before then, but crisis brings people together,” Urbanowski said.

In her nomination, Urbanowski talked about those killed and wrote: “My hometown and high school were destroyed by tornados ...The school has been deemed a total loss. I’m afraid of what might happen if they can’t rebuild quickly. Kids could be shipped to other schools and split from their family and friends. Which is what they do not need after a tragedy like this.”

The nomination video is “a combination of photos of things that have taken place at Lake with photos of the tornado damage and quotes that people had placed on their pages or used in their EMHE nomination thread,” Urbanowski said.

Here is a sample (first names only) of some of the supporting nominations for Lake High to be selected:

Trish -- “I moved away from there over 30 years ago but my heart is still there. This is a wonderful community and they have been devastated by this disaster. In this economy, it will be very difficult for the rebuilding process that must be done. Extreme Makeover, be the hero!!!”

Angela -- “Please help rebuild my school. I have attended Lake all my life as well as many other generations of my family. I am a 2011 senior, and I won’t be able to spend my senior year in the halls I’ve made so many memories in. My township was ripped apart, and our hearts were torn with it...It would mean the world to my town, classmates, alumni, and Wood County if you could help us...”

Brock -- “Lake High School is the most deserving to get a new school. I do not even go to Lake and I feel their pain. I go to a local rival school...”

Alex -- “I’m a 2011 senior at Lake High School. I’ve gone to Lake and lived here all my life. The town has gone through so much pain in all of this destruction. I can’t explain the feeling of picking up my friends and neighbors lives. Our [2010] valedictorian lost her house and dad that night and still had the strength to attend her graduation [at Owens Community College] only 3 days later. I’m hoping there is some way you can help us so that maybe Ii can graduate on the campus I was meant to, that we all were meant to. The people I have seen at school all my life, the students, teachers, staff, are some of the best people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. We may not all be a biological family, but we are a family. We are the Flyers and we are in this together.”

As of press time, there were more than 14,800 people who indicated on the social networking site that they “like” the idea and more than 615 others had written notes of support for the nomination.

“I’m happy so many people have put their support behind the community” by supporting the nomination, Urbanowski said. “I feel like no matter what happens, nothing but good has come from the nomination. For every one person that joins who didn’t know about the situation, I figure that’s one more person willing to help, and this community needs that.”

Urbanowski said she also sent a nomination via YouTube to a new NBC show called “School Pride” that looks for nominations of schools in need of help.

“It never hurts to send a letter,” she said.

Editor’s note: See the nomination video at www.presspublications.com. Visit www.facebook.com, “Extreme Makeover Home Edition: Lake High School” to learn more. Visit www.lakelocal.k12.oh.us/Lake_Local_Schools/Welcome.html to keep up with what’s going on with Lake Schools.

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