At the Roxy Theater on Maywood Avenue in Clendenin, the marquee advertises for an event: Daddy Daughter Dance. Old CMS Gym. Saturday, June 18.
Five days before the flood.
The event raised funds for 25045 — A New Clendenin, a group that’s worked on rebuilding the historic Roxy and other community revitalization efforts.
Dave Knight, an organizer with the group, has thought about changing the marquee since the June 23 flood. Maybe to “Clendenin Strong.” But he never got around to it.
Time hasn’t stood still. But there hasn’t been much thinking about the future.
He could have changed it to advertise another event. The group has held a boxing match, and a trunk or treat for kids.
“I didn’t know if there was going to be one person besides me decorating their truck,” Knight said, “but there were like 30 people.”
But they’ve also had to spend $29,000 they had saved up to restore the Roxy on flood damage instead.
Knight, the owner of Knight Insurance, is living with his sister in Big Chimney and working out of a portable, 8-by-10 foot steel building on someone else’s property in Elkview.
“People laugh at me, but I don’t need much room to sell insurance,” he said.
He’s broken down a time or two. But mostly, he’s too busy tearing up the six layers of floor at the H&R Block, where he is the landlord, as well as working at his own flooded home and the four properties owned by the 25045 group. At 56, he is the youngest person in the group.
He’s tried to think ahead — by setting a date for H&R Block to open, for instance, on Oct. 1. H&R Block opened on Nov. 1.
“I know what I’m doing tomorrow,” Knight said. “That’s kind of how you have to take it — one day at a time.”
In recent months, political signs popped up, often just feet from piles of debris in Clendenin.
There are some “now open” signs in town. But there are also homes with “Keep Out” spray-painted on the side.
In some areas, it’s quieter, because fewer children are playing.
After the flood hit, many people left town. Others have gotten to work.
Many of the people who’ve stayed say they have no desire to live anywhere else.
Janet Rollyson lives on Maywood Avenue, right next to the Elk River. She had to tear down her home after it was flooded by several feet of water.
But when she thinks about the river, she still thinks about memories.
Her anger is reserved for people who treat Clendenin as if it is simply a place and not a home.
“That right there doesn’t bother me,” she said, pointing to debris outside a window. “But if you throw down your cup, that bothers me. We’re still a town. We still live here.”
She lived with a friend for about a month. Now she is in a camper in her yard.
She says she sleeps fine. But she has tired eyes.
When she gets home after work, she keeps accidentally walking through the front door.
“There’s something about when you lose everything — you just want to be home,” she said.
She could hear her neighbor working in the middle of the night on a Saturday. It was the only time he had to work.
“When people say ‘natural disaster’ now,” she said, “you think a little differently than you did before.”
Marsha Naylor lives near Herbert Hoover. She was born two houses down.
She has been staying at a friend’s, but she hasn’t been sleeping.
Her home had to be completely gutted — down to its bare bones.
“You don’t eat or sleep,” she said. “I think I’ve lost 30 pounds. I eat, sleep and breathe this house right now.”
While the flood has faded from news coverage, volunteers are still working to bring Clendenin back. Many have stayed at Camp Whitney, where they have turned the dining hall into an office and volunteers stay in lodging meant for kids at church camp.
“I don’t think there’s been a day since the flood we haven’t had people here,” said Misti Todorovich, who runs Camp Whitney with her husband Michael.
The Kanawha County long-term recovery group is also compiling a list of names of people who need help rebuilding and in the process of matching them with volunteers. About 150 people have signed up for help, but many have not received it.
Austin Roach, an AmeriCorps VISTA for the group who works out of the basement of the Clendenin Health Center, said many of the people are still staying in the homes that flooded, and wish they were receiving help more quickly.
Volunteers who want to help speed things up, or people who need help, can contact Mike Shinn, executive director of the group, at 304-539-9399, or show up at the basement of the Clendenin Health Center between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. They currently have religious leaders, but no mental health experts on an emotional health subcommittee, and they also need people to help rebuild. Shinn said they will only be giving out drywall and subflood insulation until Saturday.
There might not be much time to think about the future.
But as the people of Clendenin work, they are investing in it.
Knight paid $8,000 for a new, more modern-looking facade at H&R Block, instead of spending only the $3,000 he could have spent to replace the windows. He said several other businesses have taken the same approach.
He moved to Clendenin when he was 8. He doesn’t remember the first movie he ever watched. But he remembers where he was — the Roxy Theater.
“I’ve lived here all my life and that’s the first time my house had been flooded,” he said. “I’m willing to take a chance that hopefully it doesn’t happen again at my lifetime.”
The building where H&R Block is now located used to be where he went to a local drug store. It was where he bought his first 45-record, and his first comic book.
He started to choke up as he talked about the facade.
“It was kind of like my gift to Clendenin,” he said.
Since the flood, Emily Selby-Nelson, a psychologist at Cabin Creek Health Systems, has talked to people who still get nervous when it looks like it’s going to rain.
She said some people with limited physical mobility and health problems were upset they couldn’t help rebuild.
She has seen a range of mental health issues, including stress, depression, anxiety, loss and grief.
“Some people’s resilience stayed strong,” she said, “and some just washed away.”
Selby-Nelson noted that the piles of debris outside the window don’t make for the ideal therapy experience, although that is slowly improving.
And she has stopped asking “were you affected by the flood?” and started asking “how were you affected?” instead.
But she recently drove into Clendenin, and she noticed the new facade at H&R Block.
“That was my sign of hope this week,” she said.