Monday, March 31, 1997
After flood, sun rises
in neighborly Patriot

BY TOM O'NEILL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

PATRIOT, Ind. - On the edge of a river that gives and takes so much, they gathered at dawn, praying through the gray clouds that obscured the light of the rising sun but not the risen Son.

It is Easter Sunday in this small Indiana riverbank community, the day to praise the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

To this, they add their own.

''There's a resurrection of community spirit,'' Pastor Frank Forthman of the Patriot Baptist Church said to a semicircle of 29 members overlooking the Ohio River.

The annual Easter Sunrise service on the Ohio has been held for as far back as anyone here can remember. ''Just always,'' one church member explained.

This year, however, is different.

The Flood of '97 devastated Patriot, swallowing numerous blocks and reducing 22 homes to shambles. Anyone paddling by the regulation 10-foot basketball hoop at Harris Park in the center of town could have hit an oar on the rim. Front porches on Plum Street simply disappeared.

But in tearing the community apart, the flood also brought it together.

''I realize we thought we were alone in this, but then we realized that we weren't,'' Pastor Forthman said as the Ohio calmly flowed west, an occasional barge breaking the view of the rolling Kentucky hills across the way.

''You know, that's the way it is with God.''

Caring neighbors, too. When they heard people living closer to the backwater creek were flooded, Terry and Clara Mayfield hurriedly rented a U-Haul truck to help them cart belongings to higher ground.

But the river and its tributaries kept swelling.

That Tuesday morning, after floodwater had risen 19 inches in 24 hours, the U-Haul was back at the Mayfield house. Dozens of neighbors helped them clear the first floor just in time.

''Well, I knew,'' Mrs. Mayfield said of the tightness of the community. ''But I didn't really know. Now I do.''

She's lived in Patriot for all but one year of her life, that first year she and Terry got married and moved up the road to Lawrenceburg.

She smiled at the memory as her 4-year-old granddaughter, Linsey, plopped down on a wooden bench in the back room of the small Baptist church built in 1890.

Fellow congregants Tina Scudder, 35, and Kim Jones, 33, live high up on Route 250. Their homes were safe from the flood, but they didn't spend much time in them.

There were neighbors to help.

''That's the way our parents taught us,'' Mrs. Scudder explained. ''There was so much work to do, so much cleaning, you didn't have time to be exhausted.''

Mrs. Jones, like Mrs. Scudder a lifelong Patriot resident, nodded in agreement. ''This flood was an awakening,'' she said. ''It put things back in perspective.''

Another testament to this community: Save for the mountain of ruined home furnishings and other flood debris in a parking lot out on Highway 156, the community shows few signs of the devastation.

The riverbank is a scatter of rocks and tree branches, but streets and yards are clean.

The church became a relief center for a week. The local school district joined residents in donating meals.

Meanwhile, the municipal building was set up as a place for people to store their belongings and get disaster aid information.

Sunday, it was still teeming with clothes, furniture and appliances, including a stove to which someone taped a note: ''Save for Mary Freeman.''

Outside, a sign overlooking the Ohio River welcomes travelers to ''Patriot - population 216.''

Across the street on Third Street, someone had spray-painted ''Flood of '97'' on an oak tree, with a line circling the bark about three feet off the ground.

In many ways Patriot, in Switzerland County 44 miles west of Cincinnati, is quintessential small-town America. There is only one street light, a blinking 4-way stop at Third Street and Route 156.

On one corner is Randy's 1-Stop Market, kitty-corner to a memorial honoring the community's most celebrated son, Dr. Elwood Mead (1858-1936). He supervised construction of the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River and was appointed director of the Bureau of Reclamation by President Calvin Coolidge. Neighbors here take pride.

None of this is news to residents here, except for maybe Randy and Mindy Sturgeon. The couple moved from Cleves in October with their son, Gary, 7, to a house up on Goose Creek. They found the open land they sought but didn't realize about the open hearts.

''The pastor came by in a boat just to see if we were OK,'' Mr. Sturgeon recalled, shaking his head. ''The cops, too.''

And a neighbor and fellow Baptist parishioner they barely knew came by and offered to loan the Sturgeons her pickup truck.

The neighbor said she didn't want her name in the paper because neighbors helping each other is no big deal.

COMMEMORATIVE SECTION
FLOOD STORIES
FLOOD PHOTOS