West community remembers those who died one year after explosion


Shelby Tauber

Karissa Kaluza embraces her boyfriend Clint McHargue, both West High School freshmen, at the West Memorial Service Wednesday night. Kaluza’s cousin Jimmy Matus died as part of the rescue team during the explosion.

Wynne Davis

On the fairgrounds of West on Thursday night, community members came together for a memorial service to remember their friends and family one year after a local fertilizer plant exploded and left destruction in its wake.

During the service, Pastor John Crowder of the First Baptist Church in West gave his remarks about the town, the community’s rebuilding process — both physical and emotional — and the goals the community is still striving to achieve.

“Our community leaders and … our school board have worked hard to prepare a way for us to move forward,” Crowder said. “Once we have that one thing, that goal … then we can go forward.”

Crowder — known as Brother John to the community — recounted the first Sunday after the explosion, when services were held in a field because the explosion made the church inaccessible. Crowder said the community must look to the future to keep moving forward.

“Understand that when we talk about forgetting what lies behind, we will never forget what happened on April 17. We will never forget those who died — the friends and neighbors — but we can move beyond that night,” Crowder said. “We won’t let our disaster define us, and we won’t let our past confine us.”

Steve Soukup also spoke at the memorial. Soukup lost his nephew, first responder Jimmy Matus, in the explosion.

“I really needed this tonight. I had a rough day today,” Soukup said. “Jimmy was almost like a son to me. My heart was heavy all day today.”

Soukup said he has had a wonderful life in West since being born there in 1937, and said he knows there is a silver lining to the disaster.  

“It’s going to take a while, but I know I’m going to heal, and this city’s going to heal,” Soukup said.

Mayor Tommy Muska gave a “State of West” report to the crowd and said the community is making progress. Out of the 70 new homes built, 25 are occupied, and places like the local park continue to be rebuilt. Muska said anyone who goes down the town’s main street can see the progress.

“The state of West is that the people of West are the most resilient in the world,” Muska said. “The state of West is that the city will have a new normal. We just don’t know what that normal will be yet.”