Living with an Attitude of Gratitude

By: Tina Baiter

Do what you can, when you can. Those are seven words Tim Reynolds and Pam Reynolds live by in all aspects of their lives. And on a Monday morning near the end of May, the Reynolds were both at the gym doing their normal workout routines when they learned a tornado had devastated the town of Joplin, Missouri.

Joplin, a small town of about 50,000 people, was located only six hours away from the Reynolds spacious and cozy Texas ranch located near Texarkana, Texas. Usually Joplin would never make national news, and usually the Reynolds wouldn’t be watching the news even if it had. On that Monday, neither incident was the case. The devastating tornado had taken out a large majority of the town, and the national media was covering the story. Pam was watching coverage of the disaster in disbelief as she did her workout.

As a registered nurse and the chief operating officer of HealthCARE Express, an urgent care clinic in Texarkana, Pam always wanted to go and volunteer when other national disasters had happened. As an emergency medicine doctor and a former Green Beret, Tim had too. Timing, raising five children, and distance away from the disaster areas had kept them from volunteering in past disasters, but not this time.

“I always felt a little bit guilty that I couldn’t get down to help when (Hurricane) Katrina happened,” Tim said. “Then when Alabama happened, the same feelings came up. I always felt bad I couldn’t go. When Pam came up to me at the gym and showed me what was happening, I said, ‘Alright, I’m not going to feel bad about this one. We’re going.’”

Tim and Pam left the gym and headed back to their ranch. They loaded up a trailer, flashlights, blankets, extra clothes, their Polaris Ranger, water, and food.

“We didn’t want to become part of the problem, so we took enough supplies for ourselves for several days,” Tim said. “By the time it was time to go, my parents who were in visiting (from Salt Lake City, Utah) said they wanted to go.”

The Reynolds oldest two children, Spencer Reynolds and Natalie Reynolds, both pre-med students home for the summer from university, also volunteered to go.

“When we left here, we actually had no idea where we were going to stay or what we were going to do when we got there,” Tim said. “We didn’t care where we stayed. We knew we could sleep in the truck if we had to. We just took off and started driving.”

Because of their unique medical background, the Reynolds felt they could help most in the medical arena. They contacted Buzz Barron, the director of the Red Cross in Texarkana, to find out where they should go to sign up to be volunteers upon arrival in Joplin. That was the only plan the family had as they headed to Joplin with a desire in their hearts to help.

“When we drove into Joplin, it all looked fine when we got there,” Pam said. “That was because we came in on the interstate and were not yet at the parts of town totally devastated. We drove towards the hospital because we knew it had gotten hit. After we left from there, we drove to the university where the Red Cross was. We did go in medically to try and help with the Red Cross, but because the hospital was one of the things that had got hit, they had so many extra medical physicians available.”

The Reynolds arrived in Joplin late in the evening that Monday night. Luckily, they had made connections to stay with the family of a friend of theirs who lived in Joplin, Hilton and Kathy McDonald. Though the McDonald’s house was untouched by the storm, their lives were not.

The McDonald’s son, Daniel, had graduated high school the night the tornado hit. The tornado completely destroyed the high school, but those attending the ceremony were spared, as the ceremony was held on the campus of a local university. Hilton, a surgeon, was scheduled to perform an emergency surgery immediately following his son’s graduation. Hilton left the graduation after his son walked across the stage and headed to the hospital. He was notified his surgery had been bumped to a later time slot, so he decided to go by Sonic to get a drink, when he heard there was a tornado heading towards Joplin.

“There were two 16 year old girls working there, and he told them, ‘You guys need to take cover. There’s a tornado coming straight towards Joplin,’” Pam said. “They told him, ‘We can’t do anything about it, we don’t own the place.”

From there, Hilton headed to Wal-Mart. He was there when the sirens started going off, 17 minutes before the tornado hit. They closed the Wal-Mart and wouldn’t let anybody out. Hilton was snuck out the back door after management learned he was a surgeon on his way to do emergency surgery.

As the tornado hit, Hilton was under an overpass trying to avoid hail damage. He survived the storm fine. The two girls working at Sonic were killed by the tornado in Joplin. The Wal-Mart where he had been just a few minutes earlier was completely destroyed. The hospital where he was headed to do his surgery, also destroyed. But Hilton survived, and the next night he was able to open his home to a family of volunteers from Texarkana.

On Tuesday morning, the Reynolds loaded up in the truck with their trailer attached and started looking for someone who needed help. The McDonalds had given them directions to a neighborhood they knew had suffered major damage.

“Several of the houses had four or five people there already, and we decided to look for somewhere that didn’t have a lot of help,” Pam said. “When we pulled up to the Miller’s house, it was just the two of them. Their house was completely gone. It was on a corner lot, and their house was all squished and behind where it had been.”

Luke and Jana Miller had lost a lot in the storm, and they were hesitant at first to accept help.

“I think it is so personal having people go through all of your personal belongings,” Tim said. “Can you imagine everything you own being thrown across your yard? Once we did start to help them, they became so grateful. It was interesting the things they wanted to keep, the things that had some sort of emotional meaning.”

Luke wanted only two things from his house. The first was a dresser his dad built. The dresser had been stored up in the attic, which after the tornado was now missing a ladder and easy way to get into. The second was the head of the first deer he had shot. Jana was excited when she learned it would be possible to salvage her piano. All of the other stuff in their house that was gone, was gone. They were okay with that because they still had each other.

“They were small things to us, but it meant the world to them,” Pam said, as tears filled her eyes. “They had been so violated, it made them so vulnerable. I think as the day went on, it got to the point it became so overwhelming, Jana started asking me for advice on what to do with things. It was amazing how close we became in 12 hours.”

After helping that afternoon, the Reynolds and the Millers headed to another part of town that had also been devastated to help Jana’s mom, Millie, recover things from her home. Pam and Julie Reynolds, Tim’s mom, spent most of the afternoon drying out hundreds of family photos. The photos told the story of Jana and Millie’s life.

“That was also the home Jana was raised in,” Pam said. “So she lost her own home, and she lost her childhood home. Her mom had lived there for 38 years. She lost all of that.”

“And Luke was a pharmacist, and the pharmacy where he worked at was Wal-Mart. That was also destroyed,” Tim added. “So she lost her home. She lost the house she grew up in, and he lost his job, all in the same evening. And their attitude was amazingly grateful. Grateful they were still alive. Grateful their child wasn’t with them when it happened.”

Living with an attitude of gratitude is something Tim and Pam also do every day of their lives. It is a personality trait they believe they developed because of their background. It is the same personality trait that leads them to help others.

“We both come from very different backgrounds than the lifestyle we have now,” Tim said. “My dad is a truck driver with six kids. We were very poor when we grew up. Pam’s dad is a farmer from North Dakota. Her mom made her clothes when they grew up. We’ve been blessed with so many things, and I believe part of happiness is being grateful for what you already have. So every day we try to remind ourselves how lucky we are. Part of that is what makes us want to go help when those things happen.”

The Reynolds are planning a return trip to Joplin later this summer, not only to help the friends they have already made, but also to help the town continue to recover from the devastation. The one thing they realized is more than anything else, the people of Joplin need help digging out and cleaning up.

Helping others is something the Reynolds have always been good at. In addition to their volunteer work in Joplin, Tim also volunteers his services as a life coach through his free weekly newsletter, He has helped numerous people set and reach life goals. As an expert in the urgent care field, he serves as the publisher for a free urgent care publication, He believes in the importance of giving back and sharing education with others. In 2005 he was given the Wilbur Smith Award for starting People’s Clinic.

Pam brought a leadership class to Texarkana called LifeSkills Leadership from the Heart. So far, almost 60 people have had their lives and businesses changed through the classes, which are held every three months. She is working to raise funds to send those who cannot afford to go to the classes to them. She is a former member of the Texarkana Chamber Ambassadors, a graduate of Leadership Texarkana, and a member of the local Kiwanis Club.

Neither Tim nor Pam have any intentions of halting their volunteer work anytime soon.

“Our goal is to be able to grow HealthCARE Express big enough to have a disaster relief unit we can take to give out water, first aide, and supplies,” Tim said. “What we did was helpful, but it is so little compared to what we could do.”

Source: Four States Living Magazine

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