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‘We will rebuild’

Vilonia family loses home, business

By Tammy Keith

This article was published May 11, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.


Tommy Bates visits his daughter Reagan at Vilonia Middle School on Wednesday. Bates and his family were in a storm shelter during the April 27 tornado that struck Vilonia, but their home was destroyed, along with their business, Vilonia Therapy Services. Bates said he plans to rebuild.

VILONIA — Tommy Bates said he and his wife lost their home and their business in the April 27 tornado, but he keeps that in perspective because others in his neighborhood lost their lives.

Bates and his wife, Susan, owned Vilonia Therapy Services on Main Street, which, along with many other businesses in the heart of town, was destroyed by the EF4-rated tornado. They had opened the business in July 2012.

“The walls were left up,” he said. “The roof was torn off, so the ceiling caved in, and everything was ruined by water and wind.”

Their home was in Parkwood Meadows subdivision, where the storm claimed two lives.

“That’s a big perspective,” he said.

Bates said his family, which includes daughter Reagan, 12; son Grayson, 9; and daughter Katie, who will be 7 this week, were in the Vilonia High School storm shelter when the tornado hit.

“It became a reality when the family from our neighborhood came into the shelter,” Bates said, “[and told us] it was gone.

“[When the neighbor said], ‘It’s gone,’ Susan asked, ‘Your house?’ He said, ‘It’s all gone.’”

Vilonia Mayor James Firestone said 50 of the 56 homes in the subdivision were demolished, “and probably some of those that are still standing, they’re in bad shape, so I don’t know — they may be saved; they may not.”

Firestone said early estimates were that 85 percent of the businesses in the city were destroyed, but he is not finished with his assessment.

Bates said his wife is an occupational therapist, and she headed the pediatric services at their clinic. Bates said he handled the orthopedic physical therapy.

“We will rebuild right there,” he said. “The question is, ‘What do we do temporarily?’”

He said the clinic has been “well-received, and I’ve got to believe right now there’s a huge need.”

Bates said his family has already planned to move to the family home of his father-in-law, Ed Sellers, on a farm on Sellers Road in Vilonia.

A group of men from Oklahoma were set to come in last week to help Bates renovate the home because they heard about the need.

Bates said God knew they were going to need work on the home and “has provided people to do that.

“That’s the message for us parents. This will be a chance to teach and reflect on [how] God has been with us this whole time, and he does that even in intimate ways.”

Bates said he has been reminded of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, where George Bailey has friends gathered around him at the end, and Clarence, the angel, writes in a book to George: “Remember, George: No man is a failure who has friends.”

“We’re just one family with stories,” Bates said. “I do believe throughout the city and county, in Vilonia and Mayflower, people are experiencing the outpouring of love and support. That was evidenced last night,” he said Wednesday of a Vilonia-Mayflower baseball game.

Bates said he and his family attended the Vilonia and Mayflower varsity baseball game at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, a fundraiser for the tornado-torn communities. An estimated 8,000-plus people attended, and more than $120,000 was raised for the communities, according to initial reports.

“It was a phenomenal, phenomenal experience,” Bates said. “It was a neat opportunity for everybody to come together and have, quote, normalcy. You’re cheering and rooting, and that’s a big part of what this town does — go root for the Eagles.”

Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or


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