STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now, it was one year ago this morning that the sun came up over the town of Greensburg, Kansas and residents there saw the devastation of their town. A tornado overnight had all but wiped out the town. Last night, Greensburg residents marked the anniversary and celebrated what they've gained in the year since.
We have more this morning from Frank Morris of member station KCUR.
MIKE: Hey, Barrett.
BARRETT: Hi, Mike.
MIKE: How are you?
FRANK MORRIS: Yesterday morning, hundreds of Greensburg residents met beneath a huge white breezy tent for a joint worship service, as they have many times since the storm destroyed all their churches. Pastor Marvin George delivered a now familiar sermon.
Pastor MARVIN GEORGE (Greensburg, Kansas): Say it with me.
Unidentified Group: Tragedy to triumph!
Pastor GEORGE: You see someone feeling just a little bit low, I want you to go over and shout in their ear Tragedy to triumph! They'll either smack you or smile.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MORRIS: Yesterday, they were a lot more likely to smile.
(Soundbite of song, "Pomp and Circumstance")
MORRIS: In the afternoon, hundreds packed into Greensburg's temporary high school gym, a big white metal building, to celebrate the commencement of 18 graduating seniors. President Bush was there to praise the town's resiliency and its forward-looking approach. Salutatorian Jarrett Schaef picked up on that theme.
Mr. JARRETT SCHAEF (Salutatorian, Greensburg High School): I do not take anything for granted, and I appreciate everything. I grew stronger in that time, and the strength and the unity that's grown not only among our class but among the whole town is just great.
MORRIS: The town came together again late last night for an intimate, tearful candlelight vigil.
Unidentified Man: Richard Cry. Alex Gunn. Clyde Tompkins.
MORRIS: Darryl Allison says he misses some of those who died every time there's a storm. Like most people here, Allison and his wife lost almost everything in the tornado. But he says that while the storm took his stuff, it gave him a little extra wisdom.
Mr. DARRYL ALLISON: We know how fragile the material things that we live with are now, you know. In this world, you know, what we have is each other. What we have is our beliefs.
MORRIS: In Greensburg, these days, you'd have to count environmentalism among those beliefs.
(Soundbite of dirt being shoveled)
(Soundbite of applause)
Mr. ALLISON: Sorry for the dirt.
(Soundbite of clapping, cheering)
Mr. ALLISON: Here, your turn.
MORRIS: Allison and other leaders in the Baptists church here pushed shovels into hard, rubble-filled dirt to break ground on a new sanctuary last night. Church leaders say they feel morally obliged to make it as efficient as possible, which is in keeping the town's green building initiative.
City administrator Steve Hewitt regularly works 12-hour days, hustling to fund and organize the city's aggressively eco-friendly rebirth.
Mr. STEVE HEWITT (City administrator, Greensburg, Kansas): Here's the next project. Listen. We've got the incubator funded. Now I've got to start constructing it. I have a streetscape that I want to do downtown. I am about…
MORRIS: One day soon, Hewitt might even build himself a house. He and his family still live in a FEMA trailer on the edge of town.
Mr. HEWITT: It doesn't stop, and it won't stop. I don't want it to stop. I really feel like we're doing something special. We are a special community.
MORRIS: A lot of people feel that way out here in Greensburg, Kansas. And while no one wants to go through another catastrophic tornado, many here are grateful for the spiritual growth and civic rejuvenation that came in the wake of last year's storm.
For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Greensburg, Kansas.
INSKEEP: Frank's brought us a lot on post-tornado recovery in Greensburg, and you can read more of it at npr.org.