Michigan love sent to Mayfield

‘It was sad to see it all’

By: Alex Szwarc | Metro | Published January 13, 2022

 Only the concrete porch and steps remain of Shirley Davis’ Kentucky home.

Only the concrete porch and steps remain of Shirley Davis’ Kentucky home.

Photo provided by Roger Harrison

 Chippewa Valley High School senior Emma Harrison and her father, Roger Harrison, stand in front of a fully loaded truck. The Harrisons drove to Mayfield, Kentucky, to assist the community after a deadly tornado struck Dec. 10.

Chippewa Valley High School senior Emma Harrison and her father, Roger Harrison, stand in front of a fully loaded truck. The Harrisons drove to Mayfield, Kentucky, to assist the community after a deadly tornado struck Dec. 10.

Photo provided by Roger Harrison

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METRO DETROIT — Roger Harrison has a background as a forensic fire and explosion investigator, having been on site at many high-profile industrial fires and explosions.

Yet those experiences did not compare to the destruction of Mayfield, Kentucky, which experienced a devastating tornado Dec. 10.

“With an explosion — you have an epicenter and then a debris field. With the power of this tornado, it was virtually like every building had its own epicenter and was destroyed,” he said. “It turned out to be probably 100 times worse than a typical explosion site.”    

A donation drive was held Dec. 24 in the parking lot of Chippewa Valley High School in Clinton Township to help the town and victims of the tornado.

Nearly 60 fatalities have been attributed to the storm that roared across western Kentucky last month.

Denise Albrecht said Chippewa Valley High School endorsed the donation drive, spearheaded by Harrison, whose daughter is a senior at the school.

Albrecht, of Warren, wanted to help the effort by donating supplies and assisting Harrison with getting the word out about the mission.

Harrison, of Roseville, organized a collection of needed items for the families affected by the tornado. The 55-year-old project engineer rented a 26-foot truck, paid for it out of his own pocket and drove to Mayfield in southwest Kentucky Dec. 26. By the end of the collection, the truck was nearly filled to the top. Harrison was accompanied by his wife Carla, daughter Emma and brother Richard for the five-day trip.

“Like everyone else, I watched all of the news coverage, and it was in the news every day,” he said. “When you see this on the world news and how devastating everything was, all of this compelled me to do something and help.”

Donated supplies included canned goods, baby food and formula, diapers, pet food, toiletries, hygiene products, and more. The Harrisons dropped items off at a Mayfield donation hub.

Harrison’s aunt, Shirley Davis, has a home in Mayfield. She was not home at the time of the tornado. Harrison’s parents, Suzy and Ivan, grew up in Mayfield before moving to Michigan as a young married couple.

On Facebook, Harrison posted a photo of his late Aunt Norma and her husband Billy. The photo was kept by Davis.

“Only the concrete porch and steps remain from the structure,” he said. “Fortunately, no one was injured, and my aunt Shirley wasn’t at the home when the tornado destroyed the home and all of its contents.”

The photo was later found in Caldwell County, Kentucky, some 60 miles away.

While in Mayfield, Harrison video documented almost every step of the way.

“We did a tour to show everything,” he said. “A lot of what was on the news didn’t show residential areas. We wanted to give people an idea of how devastating this tornado was. It went on for miles and miles of unrelenting damage. It was sad to see it all.”

What sticks out to Harrison about this trip is the power of what people united can do for each other.

“The outpouring of love and support they were receiving was humbling,” he said. “My cousin was with us and said they saw license plates from every state, pulling up with donations.”

Harrison said the best support he received in this mission was from Chippewa Valley.

“I reached out to principal (Todd) Distelrath and expressed my intentions and to see if there was anything Chippewa could assist us with,” he said. “He didn’t hesitate and was very supportive.”

Harrison said two major contributors to the donation were Heritage Church in Sterling Heights and St. Martin de Porres in Warren.

Albrecht said friends from out of state pledged money toward the effort, with her family also contributing.

“I bought canned goods, shampoo, baby wipes, soap and all kinds of stuff,” she said.

Albrecht said it was nice at Chippewa seeing people take time out of their busy holiday schedule to reach in their pockets and give.

“It’s wonderful to have kind-hearted people who are willing to donate not only their money for supplies, but their time to come out on Christmas Eve,” she said.

The group returned home to Michigan Dec. 30.

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