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Ceremony honors tornado victims

Doug Penley, the lone Washington County resident to lose his life during the April 2011 tornadoes, was honored Saturday during the Day of Remembrance ceremony held at the Camp Creek Ruritan Memorial Site in neighboring Greene County.
A monument bearing the names of the eight people in Greene and Washington counties who perished as a result of the tornadoes was unveiled Saturday by members of the Ruritan Club, which paid to have the memorial erected on the site beside Camp Creek Elementary School in Greeneville.
“I thought it was fantastic,” said Doug’s brother, Dallas Penley, when he learned about the monument. “We thought it would be for the Greene County residents only, but then they contacted my sister-in-law. It’s a wonderful gesture.”
Dallas attended the Day of Remembrance with his sister-in-law, Ronda Dunbar Penley; his mother, Selma Penley, niece Amanda Parker and husband, Jason; and several cousins.
The passing year has not dimmed the memory of April 27 for Dallas, who was living across the street from his older brother on Guy Brown Road in the South Central Community.
“I was out that night around 11:15 p.m.,” he said. “I called my wife at midnight and told her there were a couple of trees down, but I thought the worst had passed and I was going to bed.”
Around 12:45 a.m., Dallas heard the roar of the second tornado. “I went outside, and my cousins were on the porch. They said, ‘His house is gone, and we can’t find him.’”
Dallas grabbed a flashlight and began to methodically scan the site. “I knew in my heart we wouldn’t find him alive,” he said.
A licensed Emergency Medical Technician, Dallas said he could tell by the devastation there was very little hope.
“I called my sister-in-law at work and said, ‘You need to come home,’” he remembers.
Dallas and friends from the fire department continued to search. “We found him between 1:30 and 2 a.m.,” he said.
Doug’s absence is strongly felt. “He was one of my best friends, someone I could always talk to,” Dallas said. “There were no other siblings, it was always just the two of us, and I’d give a million dollars to talk to him about all the things that have happened in the last year.”
His faith continues to be a source of strength. “My brother was a Christian. I know he was ready to go to heaven, and I know that’s where he is,” he said.
“What amazes me is the minor damage the tornado caused to my house, and the minor damage it did to my uncle’s house up the road,” Dallas said. “But it took my brother’s.”
Doug’s beloved dog was found beside his chair amid all the destruction. “He had a broken hip and he’s had to have a few surgeries, but he’s still with us,” Dallas said.
Family members have put their lives back together slowly during the last year as the South Central Community continues to recover.
Dallas became heavily involved in the disaster relief efforts. “That’s what’s helped me, staying busy trying to help others,” he said.
“My sister-in-law rebuilt on the same site, and she will be in within a couple of weeks,” he said.
And memories of Doug will always be close-by. “He was a very special person,” Dallas said. “Whether it was a friend or a stranger, Doug was always willing to help in any way he could.”