~Ottawa Herald~ Tornado Survivor Opens Downtown Business (click on picture to read article)

It was a typical Sunday in May six years ago for an Ottawa resident.

Mary Raley, at the time, worked for her mom and lived in Joplin, Missouri. That day -May 22, 2011- will always be etched in her memory.

That afternoon turned into a nightmare - not only for Raley - but the Joplin area as a n E-5 tornado ripped through the city killing 158 people and injuring several more. Raley was one of the injured and feels lucky to have survived.

"That day I was working in the mall" she recounted "They said there was a storm coming through and why don't you guys go home. When I walked out it was pretty clear where I was at."

She got in her car and started for home, but before she knew it, the wind and ran\in turned her visibility to zero.

"My windows imploded in my car," Raley said. "A tree hit my car. By the time I undid my seat belt and grabbed for the door - I just opened it enough the wind caught the door and swung it back and sucked me out of the car and threw me a block. I ended up having a two-by-four [piece of wood] in my back. I had five surgeries on my back and plastic [surgery] to my face. It is one of those things I never imagined I would go through."

It was a life-changing experience for Raley in more ways than one.

"There was a guy that was completely clean... no debris on him," Raley said. "He [wore] a pair of blue jeans, a white T-shirt and a red jacket. He helped me get up and gathered all my belongings. He helped me walk about half a mile. I was so in shock I did not realize what was going on. He got me into a car with a couple that took me to Truman Hospital. I sat there for three hours. They got me back into surgery."

Raley and her family found a silver lining in attempting to find the mystery man. Raley said as she got in the car, and he disappeared.

"Three years passed, my mom felt it was my [late] uncle that was there," Raley said. "we found a picture of my uncle in a pair of jeans, white T-shirt and a red jacket."

The third week of May has significant meaning for Raley. Three years ago, she married her husband, Kyle Raley, an Ottawa native, one day before the anniversary of the deadly tornado.

"I wanted to remember something special not so much pain," she said on choosing may to get married.

As the six year anniversary of the tornado approaches, Raley has determined to make another milestone in her live happen in the same week. Her family has been working for three months or so to open a business, Maggie's Popcorn & Nuts, in downtown Ottawa.

"It is the sixth year, so that is why I pushed to get it open in this time frame," Raley, who moved to Ottawa after recovering from her injuries , said."If I open this, it will give me another good feeling {of this time}. I want to take something and make it special. I have managed to get this far."

Nutty Proposition

Maggie's Popcorn & Nuts, 230 1/2 S. Main St., Ottawa, opened on Friday, May 19th of 2017.

When speaking of the opening Raley said "I am excited to get the doors open. It has always been a dream for me to have something like this."

The shop plans to sell gourmet popcorn and nuts, old fashioned candy, salt water taffy, and old fashion dipping ice cream.

"What makes us unique is when you go up to the city, they always make their stuff in the back." Raley said. "We want [customers] to see us make it. It makes people be a part of the experience. We wanted to make this a unique place."

Raley said popcorn and nuts will be made fresh daily and customers can actually watch their order being made. The popcorn and nuts have a shelf life of four to six months, she said.

"It is so much fun making all the different flavors of popcorn," she said. "We have cinnamon, cheddar, cookies and cream, peanut butter and jelly. We want people to come in and say, 'Have you tried dill pickle?' or 'This would be a fun flavor'. There is an endless possibilities with all of this. We would like interaction with our customers. We will have fudge, cinnamon glazed nuts, pecans, and cashews. We will do gift baskets or any type of special occasion."

 Family Business

Raley's parents started the business in Pittsburgh when she was 12, she said, with a nut cart and a concession trailer. "We would do evens, and it grew to where we had five concession trailers, a food truck, and seven nut carts," Raley said. "It grew into something pretty big for such a small family."

About four years ago Raley's mom, Maggie Burlingame, asked her if she would like to have an inheritance present a little early.

"She gave me a nut cart," Raley said. "We started doing the tractor show, the car show, and [local] craft shows. People enjoyed having that. In the last year, my husband and I started talking about opening a storefront. Ottawa does not have anything like this. You can come downtown and get a great product without having to drive to the city."

Raley said the tornado experience changed her outlook on life, and she values thing differently.

"You realize life is too short," she said "You don't want to work a mediocre job. You want to do something that means something to you. This means something to me. This is what I am supposed to do. I want to share this with my parents."

~Original Article was printed in the Ottawa Herald on May 18, 2017