ORANGE PARK – As the March 3rd EF-4 tornado touched down in Lee County, Ala., near Auburn University, Dennis Clark had little time to prepare. In a moment’s notice, Clark bear-hugged his …
ORANGE PARK – As the March 3rd EF-4 tornado touched down in Lee County, Ala., near Auburn University, Dennis Clark had little time to prepare. In a moment’s notice, Clark bear-hugged his grandchildren and brought them to safety. Despite trying to find safety, Clark found himself trapped under his mobile home, which had been flipped onto him.
It’s been more a month since that day, a day that Clark broke his neck, back, arm and sternum, a day since he walked for what could be the last time ever, a day when, like his home, his life was flipped upside-down.
With some distance between now and that fateful day when at least 23 were killed by the tornado, a local family banded together to help get everyone back on their feet.
Orange Park resident Bonnie Martin-Sipe and her husband, Rich Sipe, have already brought one truck load of donations to the Clark family – and they’re prepared to do it again.
“I saw the story about the tornado on the news and saw that one of the families affected, the Clark family, was related to a friend of mine on Facebook,” Bonnie said. “The friend, Sherri Gilmore, was a step-sister to the woman from the story.”
Bonnie said because of this, she followed the story more closely. She and Rich have a long history with taking donations to wherever they’re needed – they brought donations as far away as Texas after Hurricane Harvey – and when they saw what was needed for the Clark family, Bonnie and Rich got to work immediately with help from Gilmore and others.
Once they had a truckload, Bonnie and Rich drove five and a half hours to Lee County. And while they didn’t get to meet the Clark family, they were happy to have helped.
Despite not yet having met, Nancy Clark already feels a very special connection with the Sipe family.
“It just blew me away that someone was willing to drive that far to help someone, who for all intents and purposes, is a stranger,” Clark said. “Bonnie is a special kind of person and we’re so thankful for what she did.”
With her husband currently paralyzed from the chest down and out of work as a result, and with their home destroyed, Clark said every little bit helps. Despite the dire situation the Clark family finds themselves in, Clark is keeping her head up.
“[Dennis Clark] is paralyzed and our first hospital told us it’s permanent,” Clark said. “This new hospital is more hopeful though, as is Dennis. He said he’ll be walking again in six months. He’s already called his boss to tell him he’ll be back.”
Because Dennis is able to feel some touches on his legs, doctors think that there’s a chance, albeit a small one, that he could be walking again. According to Clark, a small chance is all he needs.
“Our faith is what keeps us going,” Clark said. “I have a powerful God. He can make my husband walk again. I have to believe God didn’t save him to just leave him like this. There’s no logical reason he’s alive.”
Despite Dennis’ injuries, Clark said he’d do it all again to save their grandchildren. Together, Clark and Dennis have full custody of their five grandchildren and according to Clark, if it weren’t for Dennis, they wouldn’t have made it out as safely as they did. The grandchildren involved in the tornado made it out relatively safe, only receiving a few bruises and lacerations.
“Holding onto them the way he [Dennis] did is what saved them,” Clark said. “He also instructed our oldest to get the younger two to safety. Then, our oldest helped Dennis out and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t think Dennis would have survived.”
As Bonnie and Rich ready up another truck for donations, they ask Clay County to step up in the same way that Lee County has. Not only can Clay County help with donations, they can also go to the GoFundMe page set up for the Clark family – https://www.gofundme.com/family-of-7-lost-home-in-alabama-tornado – and donate money to help get the family back on their feet.
“We help whoever God lays on our heart and this time, he laid the Clark family there,” Martin-Sipe said. “I’ve seen Clay County and the First Coast come together for others and I think it’s time to do so again.”