Portland’s spirit is unbroken, despite continued tornado recovery

Posted at 5:44 PM, Sep 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-28 17:44:19-04

PORTLAND, Mich. – It has been three months since an EF-1 tornado touched down in the tight-knit town of Portland, and its recovery efforts have not broken the community’s spirit. One of the most telling signs: American flags wave in place of several steeples, standing tallest amid the construction.

Construction crews still create constant buzz.

As families and businesses continue to move forward, many describe tornado recovery as the “new normal.”

“The old bell will ring once again right there,” said Tom Huggler, chairman of the Board of Trustees with the First Congregational Church. "It’s going to be up on top of that steeple."

Huggler told FOX 17 that the vote to rebuild their church as it was stands

“We’re extending fellowship hall, and we’re adding a nursery and multipurpose rooms, maybe for again a choir rehearsal area,” Huggler said.

The First Congregational Church is perhaps more fortunate among Portland's churches, as they have continued to hold services on site inside their fellowship hall, while others like First Baptist Church continue to hold services at the Portland Civic Theater.

The First Congregational Church alone has received $29,000 in public donations, Huggler said, including an anonymous check for $5,000 from Grand Ledge and $100 from a man in Oklahoma who went to Sunday school there in the 1940s. Huggler is thankful for continued support in addition to donations and says he is is floored by the kindness and the way it has grown their congregation.

“This storm has put a bulls-eye on Portland, Michigan, and people have responded in many, many ways,” said Huggler. “We have more people coming to church now. "We even have people who used to come and have come back. They want to be a part of something positive.”

Across Bridge Street, the feeling at the First Baptist Church is no different. Pastor Gary Coleman told FOX 17 the construction is a blessing.

“Trust God, and just look for the positives in it," said Coleman. “For those who used to say, Well, we’ve never done it that way before, everything’s changed. And through it all, we’re going to be getting a new building."

And even among the rubble, the local restaurant staple, the Wagon Wheel American Grill, found purpose. Wooden planks and bricks from parts of the churches’ damaged structures were repurposed into the restaurant and bar to always remember how the community has come together, said owner Chopper Schrauben.

“You just always think it happens to somebody else, it doesn’t,” said Schrauben. “We’re very blessed to live in the a great community, and we’re very blessed to have the people around us that we do.”

Both the First Congregational Church and the First Baptist Church hope to complete their construction by Easter 2016.