JSU holds ceremony to remember the tornado that rocked the campus

JSU Strong: One year later

JACKSONVILLE, AL (WBRC) - Jacksonville State University is recovering and transforming after the tornado that struck the university a year ago Tuesday night.

No one was injured when the E-3 tornado ripped through campus, primarily because the tornado struck during spring break, but three buildings were destroyed and some 50 buildings were damaged in some way.

One of the buildings destroyed was the historic Alumni House, built in 1837.

The school held a ceremony Tuesday at Pete Mathews Coliseum--itself, having been repaired from tornado damage. The coliseum's roof was peeled back that night.

Students, and members of the community who attended, got a glimpse of the school's future: design drawings and architectural plans.

They show the building that will replace the Merrill Hall business school, and the newly designed interiors of Mason Hall, the damaged music building.

David Thompson, the university's director of capital planning and facilities, said four buildings--Merrill, Mason, the Wallace Hall location for the health and wellness school, and Pete Mathews Coliseum--will all be "new from the inside out" because Merrill Hall and Wallace Hall will be replace while the other two facilities will be heavily renovated.

They also heard memories of how the students, faculty and community all came together.

"We formed a community of people, who cared for each other. Students donated clothes to strangers, offered their couches to those who were displaced, and volunteered countless hours to cleaning the debris on campus and around the city of Jacksonville," said Kasey Gamble, JSU SGA President.

JSU President John Beehler thanked a long list of people--including volunteers, and FEMA and local EMA workers, who helped JSU in the days following the tornado.

"This is a tribute to the positive, can-do attitudes of our faculty, staff, students, and administration, and the many volunteers and organizations, that helped us," Beehler told the crowd.

He ended his speech with, "Go Gamecocks, fear the beak!" as he made the beak gesture synonymous with the school's mascot.

The ceremony put a fine point on "JSU Strong," the mantra of the recovery effort, when the pep band sang the old hymn "I'll Fly Away."

The Marching Southerners usually sing it after every football game as a tradition. Then the band played the school’s fight song.

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