The destruction and rubble of a former Joplin hospital destroyed by tornado five years ago has been replaced by a tranquil park with native landscapes and green space for people to stop, pause and enjoy.
Trees and wildflowers are scattered near the trails that wrap around a large pond and two fountains, providing beautiful views and shady areas to sit on one of the many benches among 16 beautiful acres in the new Mercy Park. Picnickers can enjoy their treats under one of several pavilions while watching the wildlife.
Today the setting is peaceful and soothing, although this corner did not always offer a stress-free environment. Prior to the May 2011 tornado, this corner housed the emergency room of St. John’s Regional Medical Center (now Mercy) emergency room and Mercy Life Line helipad, as well as parking for these services that provided help during urgent and unexpected difficulties.
Following the disaster, Mercy chose to relocate and build its new facility at 50th and Main streets, leaving the 114-acre site vacant. Although no longer at this corner, Mercy followed its mission to provide for the needs of the community on the storm-ravaged land by building Mercy Garden to commemorate the location of the St. John’s chapel that many in the community had visited.
Mercy also donated plots of land to Joplin schools for the construction of an elementary school and an early childhood education and daycare center, and to the City of Joplin for the construction of this sedentary park.
“It was extremely humbling to lead the team donating the land from the former St. John's/Mercy,” said Danny Thomas, chairman of Mercy Hospital Joplin Board. “Ultimately, the contribution of parcels from the former site has benefitted Joplin schools with the new Irving Elementary and soon-to-open early childhood center, Joplin health care with the new medical school and Joplin families with an additional park, now known as Mercy Park. Sisters of Mercy first came to Joplin to open a school, then a hospital and to continue to serve the community. The contribution of the former site brought all those goals full circle.”
Joplin Mayor Mike Seibert praised Mercy for its contribution to the community, stating that this area had much significance before the disaster. After the tornado, it became somewhat hallowed ground for citizens and volunteers.
“Cunningham Park became the focal point for many news reporters following the disaster, and with St. John’s located across the street, pictures of this corner were in living rooms across the nation as a symbol of the destruction,” Seibert said. “I’m happy to say that when people return to this site, they won’t recognize it. What once was heartbreak and devastation has lent itself to hope and a brighter tomorrow. We are very thankful for the generosity and compassion that Mercy shared with the community by its donation. I also want to thank H.U.D., our federal partner that provided the recovery funds to Joplin for this project and many others in our community.”
Construction of the park has been a nearly $5 million project and was funded through the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is one of numerous rebuilding projects that the City is completing with the $158 million of disaster recovery grant funding.
Mercy Park sits just north of Mercy Chapel and Gardens that Mercy built in 2015 as a remembrance to the original chapel and gardens in St. John’s.
"On behalf of Mercy Joplin, I am excited that the opening of Mercy Park will be the culmination of converting the former hospital site into Mercy Chapel and Gardens in March 2015 and now this adjacent public park,” said Gary Pulsipher, president of Mercy Hospital Joplin. “Mercy Park is the final piece of a plan following the 2011 tornado to provide a beautiful location to reflect and remember the lives of those lost, while also providing a place to enjoy the outdoors for generations to come."