Volunteers powered by faith turn out to prepare for today's prayer service

April 23, 1995|By Dallas Morning News

OKLAHOMA CITY -- In the days since the bombing, much has been made of the lost innocence of this heartland city. But hope and faith still thrive, powered by unflagging community spirit.

Once again yesterday, volunteers turned out in force, this time to help scour the Oklahoma State Fair Arena with mops and brooms. They were making it presentable for today's prayer service at 3 p.m. (4 p.m. EDT), to be led by President Clinton and the Rev. Billy Graham.

The indoor arena is usually host to rodeos, circuses and high school basketball tournaments. While Secret Service agents checked out the building yesterday, dozens of volunteers cleaned seats and scooped up piles of dirt left over from last weekend's Centennial Horse Show.

"There's a lot of dust in here," said Holly Veroneau, 42, who was scrubbing chairs in the arena's upper rows.

"This is the fastest cleanup we've ever had," said Carolyn Mock, an arena spokeswoman. "It's a lot of work, but we're getting a lot of help from the community."

More than 3,000 people had called the fairgrounds to volunteer, she said, but only 100 were needed.

Officials expect overflow crowds for today's service. The arena seats about 12,000, but preparations were under way for an overflow of 12,000 more.

The service is free on a first-come, first-serve basis, a spokesman for Gov. Frank Keating said. But organizers will give priority to seating survivors of the bombing, their families, and the families of those who died.

Yesterday's volunteer-powered cleanup was one more example of togetherness in a time of suffering, when neighbors helped neighbors and strangers joined to ease the pain of people they would never know. And, increasingly, the people of Oklahoma City have sought solace in shared faith.

"The answer to fear is courage. The answer to despair is faith," said Rabbi Dan Shevitz of Emanuel Temple synagogue in Oklahoma City. "We will confront the angel of death with life."

Since 9:02 a.m. Wednesday, there has been no room for barriers of race or creed. People of all walks of life have united to comfort the grieving, treat the injured, and search for the living and the dead still inside the tomb of the ruined building.

At exactly 9:02 a.m. Friday, work stopped at the bomb site during a planned moment of silence for the victims, living and dead. All radio and TV stations went to silence for one minute.

At a McDonald's restaurant about a mile from the federal building, workers continued to take orders as the hands on the clock reached 9:02.

Then, in a sunlit corner of the restaurant, Luther Townsend, 62, got up, removed his black Oklahoma University cap and placed it over his chest, his chin held high.

All noise in the restaurant ceased as people looked at the clock on the wall.

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