RINGGOLD, Ga. (WRCB-TV) - Bit by bit, Ringgold students and faculty are returning to their school. The April tornado stunned this community, but in true Tiger spirit, they are clawing their way back to normal. "There is no place like home," teacher Angela Hilley said with a tear in her eye.
"I thought the school was gone for a very long time...maybe forever," said Principal Sharon Vaughn. "I was thinking in terms of at least a year." But, on this Thursday night, fewer than six months later, a brand new media center was brought on-line.
A new, clean, modern and up-to-date facility replaces what Ms. Hilley called a tired, old library leveled by the storms. "I don't know what else to say but, amazing," Hilley proclaimed.
It was made possible by a Ringgold graduate from the class of 1930 and the media center now bears his name. O. Wayne Rollins made his fortune, with his brother, as owners of the Atlanta-based, nationally known, Orkin Exterminating Company. A check from their charitable foundation covered the entire $130,000 renovation.
Members of the Ringgold community have learned a lot about themselves coming back from tragedy, and they have learned about the generosity of strangers, too. Help keeps pouring in. "Actually from all over the country," said Hilley. "We had school supplies donated, books donated, money donated."
Thursday was, indeed, a night of looking forward. But, their journey into a bright future will always include the memory of two friends, Ringgold students lost on that stormy day in April: Chelsea Black and Adam "Tex" Carroll. "I think that hole that's in our hearts will never go away," Principal Vaughn said, "but we're just glad to be home and we know they would be glad that we're home."
Also home is an American flag, found amongst debris in town. It has now been cleaned, carefully folded and preserved in a display case. "The flag is the flag that was flying here the day the tornadoes hit," Vaughn explained. "The day that we took care of the children as best we could and sent them home and told them to find a good place to hide. And so, that flag flew here that day and means a lot to us."
Vaughn's 'us' is her entire Ringgold family and a student body steeled in the crucible of natural disaster and community restoration. "Our students are much more mature than most high school students," said the principal. "they understand the meaning of community. They understand generosity. They've talked to me about the human spirit and what it means to survive and to intend to survive and actually go through that process. So, they've learned some lessons very young in life that most people don't have to misfortune to learn, I guess you could say."