JOPLIN, Mo. - Dude and Caroline Pendergraft got married in the ‘50s and opened their donut shop, Dude's Donuts, in 1954.
Dude had earlier owned part of a different donut shop, but when he was drafted to serve in the war he sold his half.
He said if he was going to die fighting in the war, he didn't have any need for work.
He made it back from the war with memories he rarely talks about and a tattoo on his forearm he's embarrassed by.
He met Caroline, and five weeks later, got married.
They bought a donut shop. They didn't really know what they were doing.
"I didn’t hardly know how to roll dough when I first started," he said with a chuckle.
They worked hard for what they had, eventually ending up at 23rd and Main in Joplin.
They lived in a house about 20 yards behind the shop, just across the alley. At least, they did.
May 22, 2011, Dude and his bride were readying for church. A storm was rolling through.
Caroline was paying attention to the weather radio suggesting they take cover. Dude was looking at the sky. Go figure.
They took cover in the basement once Dude finally gave in to the threat. With only two or three minutes to spare, the tornado barreled through.
"We heard it quit," recalled Dude, talking about the sound of the wind from his tiny spot in the corner of the basement.
What it was doing was coming across here and tearing my donut shop down," he said.
The house was ruined.
It took him and his wife some time to figure out how to get out of their basement. When they did, it was mounds of rubble, splintered trees and wood for as far as he could see.
He remembers hearing someone - he still doesn't know who - faintly hollering in a long, painful moan.
"Help me," they said.
He never was able to find out who it was or where it came from.
His shop was leveled. More than 55 years of building his life and a legacy for his children were gone, just like that.
But it was merely another moment in Dude's 80 years of life.
"God gave it to me," he said with a shrug. "If it’s taken away that way, well, I can’t worry about it."
In the days following the storm, Dude had a heart-to-heart with his family. His son and daughter-in-law worked right beside him the shop.
Would they rebuild?
"I said ‘This is how it is,’” he recalled. “I don’t care whether we rebuild or not. I don’t need it. I've got social security and I've got money saved up; I can quit."
He was steadfast in his comfort about his financial state. His emotional state was a different story.
"I said ‘I just might go crazy finding something to do,’" he added, his eyes smiling, but serious as he spoke.
Besides, what would his kids do if they didn't have a place to call their own, too?
And on any given day, Dude is hand-rolling and hand-cutting every donut, just as he learned to do nearly 60 years ago.
Dude's Donuts is located at 2316 S. Main Street, smack in the middle of what are still leveled homes and businesses. The donut shop sign hanging outside the shop is a beacon of hope for so many locals; a beacon in the shape of a donut.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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