Johnna Hale, 49, was calm as the tornado sirens blared over Joplin on May 22. She phoned her daughter; gathered water; corralled her dog, a border collie mix named Star; and hunkered down in the bathtub. But then Star bolted. Out the door, into the storm. And Hale followed.
She called her daughter again in those final, fraught moments — crying, frantic, scrambling — but the connection severed as the tornado bore down on the city. She was found nine days later in the rubble of a building where she took shelter. Star was there with her, in her arms.
In a message to The Kansas City Star, Miranda Hale remembered her mother’s devotion to animals, her dreams left unrealized and the happiness she had begun to find as she closed in on her 50th birthday.
“She worked at F.A.G. Bearings in Joplin; she just received a promotion a couple weeks before, and just celebrated being there for one year,” Miranda Hale wrote. “She was a very hard worker, and the only one F.A.G. lost. I got the chance to visit with them, and they are very kind. I’m glad she worked with such a good company.
“She led a hard life, and the past year she kept telling how she was doing better, turning her life around. When I was at her apartment, I noticed that she had new furniture, new clothes, she had paints and wallpaper, it looked like she was going to fix up her apartment. She lost weight and was eating better. Her 50th birthday is on June 15, and she had told me how she wanted to treat herself for once. I know she wanted to get a nice haircut, and I found some coupons for salons on her table. We talked a couple days before the tornado, she sounded happy, she told me she was going to buy a gate to keep her dog in the patio area, which I found, she bought it on Saturday.
“My mom loved animals. She grew up on horses, we always had a cat or a dog around. We always joked about how our animals were better fed than we were. She had a border collie mix named Star, she was about 6-8 years old. I remember when she got her as a puppy and was really excited, she had adopted an older dog that just passed away, and was feeling sad from that. Star always slept with Mom, even if I went to visit, she had a full sized bed that the three of us, plus a cat, tried to fit on. When they had finally found my mom, they said that Star was in her arms.
“We always dreamed about going to Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone, she always wanted to go the Redwood Forest in California and then driving all the way down Highway 1. When I was little, we loved going to Bodie, Calif., and Virginia City, Nev. She loved Westerns and seeing what the Wild West was always meant a lot to her. She always dreamed about owning a ranch and being a cowgirl, out on the open range on her horse, with her dog, and sleeping under the stars. One of my mom’s favorite movies is “City Slickers,” and I know she wished she could do a cattle run.
“My mom is a simple and humble person. She wanted to make sure everyone around her was happy and everyone got along. Her brother said something the other week and it just has stuck with me, no matter good, bad, or indifferent, she always left an impression on everyone.”