Top of the Morning, June 11, 2014
We're in the process of remodeling the newsroom at our downtown Champaign office. Thanks to Mark Billings, we have something to hang on the wall when we're finished.
To show his appreciation for our coverage of Gifford's response to November's tornado, Mark hand-crafted and hand-delivered the sign. Here's his note that came with it:
"The sign is just a way of saying thank you to The News-Gazette for doing such a great job covering some of the stories the were brought to life after the tornado. 'Gifford Strong' is not just a couple of words — it is a fact that as a community we are a close-knit family of neighbors and friends that will endure many small and some big problems for the good of our little town. Friendship is the main ingredient in Small Town USA, and we have plenty of that here in Gifford. Thanks again and keep up the great work of publishing a paper with a kind and caring heart."
Mark drives a truck for a living. "I'm not much of a carpenter," he said. "I did the best I can."
The sign — one of nine Mark constructed — is made from shingles off a house destroyed by the tornado. It was owned by Mark's longtime friend, Richard Franzen, who was in the process of moving to Joliet when the storm struck (Richard and his kids also were recipients of Mark's handiwork).
Some of the lettering on the signs came from Mark's fence, which had to be scrapped after the tornado. His house, a stone's throw from the school in Gifford, also suffered roof damage.
While tending to his own place, Mark took time to think of others.
"It was an honor to do (the signs)," he said. "I've lived in Gifford for 39 years, and we're not moving, unless I win the lottery. Then I'll buy two or three houses, but one of them right here."