Monday, April 21, 1997
Pressing the plea
for a town's revival

Falmouth councilman
continues quest

The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH - As he waited in a shelter at the Pendleton County High School for floodwaters to recede from town, Anthony Strong brooded about what to do.

The raging weather outside had triggered a storm inside his brain. He didn't like being caged inside, unable to help.

How would the town deal with the devastating mess? How could people reclaim their homes, their lives?

It wasn't just the blows dealt by the flood that stirred Mr. Strong's heart and sense of duty. He's a man who always helps when he can, either as a city councilman or high school agriculture teacher. In the seven years he has made Falmouth his home, Mr. Strong has served on committees, has run political campaigns, has taken students on field trips and has gone door-to-door to meet his neighbors.

At the height of the flood - with school closed and wife Janelle Gardner at the shelter and son Jackson, 21 months, with relatives - Mr. Strong, 32, tackled the flooding.

A drive through Falmouth two days after the town was slapped hard by the Licking River sharpened Mr. Strong's need to help. The disaster instead gave him the fuel he needed to steam forward.

Only thing to do

Mr. Strong had left his two-story brick home - with a new baby-grand piano inside - at 11 p.m. on March 1 as the flood gained strength.

He didn't look back until days later.

Touring town after the flood with Mayor Max Goldberg, Mr. Strong saw twisted homes, flipped cars and destroyed dreams, all caused by floodwaters as strong as tornadoes.

''Once I saw what was needed I decided to make some phone calls,'' he said.

Neglecting the cleanup of his own home and the search for housing, Mr. Strong called everyone he knew to get help into the community.

He spoke first with James Everett at the Kentucky Council of Area Development Districts. The two planned a town meeting with representatives from more than two dozen state and federal agencies, held five days after the flood.

''The idea was to bring people in and tell everyone what the resources were,'' Mr. Strong said.

Mr. Strong's attempt to give residents everything they needed fell short of what some residents wanted. Frustration was evident during the meeting. Some who attended, like Dairy Queen owner Howard Hoess and Randy's Clothing and Footwear owner Randy Bastin, walked out, saying they could do better on their own.

Time has tempered emotions and provided lessons.

Those who complained at the meeting about not getting specific answers and not knowing when or if they would get money from the government now have found allies in Mr. Strong and others on the city council. Together, the community has decided to beef up infrastructure in the city, push for a flood wall and do whatever it takes to retain residents.

Knocked flat by the floodwaters of the Licking River, Mr. Strong learned from the mired streets what kind of help victims would get from the federal government.

The river had demolished the first floor of his home, making Mr. Strong both a flood victim and a leader of a town desperate for aid, aghast at what confronted them.

Becoming acting mayor

With the mayor in the hospital with heart problems, Mr. Strong became acting mayor and turned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration, not knowing what help might be available.

''I wanted to be sure I could answer questions for other people about being denied benefits and not understanding why,'' he said.

What he found out was that the flood did more than damage the material belongings of residents: It tore apart their souls.

''I'm finding there are either young couples that don't know to pursue it further or older couples too tired to fight,'' Mr. Strong said.

He uses his teaching skills to make a point, telling residents they must be adamant in pushing for the aid they know they need.

Meanwhile,Mr. Strong is working with other council members to find more financial help and keep residents living within city limits.

The Strongs themselves are now living in Butler. The condominium they're renting was the only place they could find.

Mr. Strong knows the city doesn't have the thousands of dollars it needs to buy homes if a buyout relocation program is approved by the federal government. And he knows the money Falmouth will get from state and federal entities won't be nearly enough to rebuild the rural city.

But don't tell Mr. Strong he's going above and beyond his duties. He'll deny it.

''Don't make me out to be a hero,'' he said. ''I grew up in a family that does that. Everybody ought to give at least one term on council.''

All he's doing, after all, is helping when he can.