Having suffered through Buffalo snowstorms and then tornadoes in the midwest, Sean and Angela McKenna would prefer a snowstorm any day.
The Western New York natives have lived in Moore, Okla., since 2009. On May 20, 2013, a EF5 tornado tore through their town, destroying homes and schools and killing more than 50 people. Hundreds were injured.
“We were blessed that we weren’t hurt,” Angela said. She was protecting students at the elementary school where she works as a speech pathologist. “The tornado hit a half mile from our home and we only had minor damage. The scary part was that phones were jammed and I couldn’t reach Sean to find out about our daughter.”
The McKennas had friends visiting from Buffalo that day. Sean loaded them into his car and drove away from the tornado’s path. They stopped and watched the funnel’s approach from a church parking lot.
“You can’t help but be scared,” Sean said. “When it’s that close, it’s a big, giant, dark cloud that’s a mass of rain and debris. It was about 10 blocks away. I wasn’t sure if it was over our house, but I was more worried about Angela. A house is just a house.”
Sean, from Kenmore, joined the Navy after graduating high school in 1994. He worked as an air crewman, traveling the world until a decade ago, when he accepted reassignment as a recruiter so he could return to Tonawanda.
“I needed a life reset,” he said. “I missed being home.”
Names: Sean and Angela McKenna and daughters Maggie, 5, and Kate, 2
Hometowns: Sean: Kenmore, graduated from Kenmore West High School in 1994; Angela: Cheektowaga, graduated from West Seneca East High School in 1996
Current home: Moore, Okla. (outside Oklahoma City)
Love about Oklahoma: Strong community, low cost of living, good schools
Miss about Buffalo: Winters, snow, loyalty to Western New York among its residents
During that time, he met Angela Kilger from Cheektowaga. When his three-year tour as a recruiter was up, he was sent back to Oklahoma City, where he had been previously stationed. But he was reluctant to leave without Angela, who remained in Western New York for work until the school year ended. They were married by a justice of the peace in February 2009.
Five months later, they conducted a formal wedding ceremony before the lighthouse at the Buffalo Launch Club on Grand Island. They now celebrate two anniversaries. They also have two daughters: Maggie, 5, and Kate, 2.
Summers in Oklahoma are hot, so it’s no surprise that the couple misses Buffalo winters.
“I was raised with skiing and sledding and snowball fights,” Angela said. “My girls have seen a little snow, but never made a snowman.”
They both survived Buffalo’s historic October Storm in 2006. As bad as it was, the tornado was worse.
“In a snowstorm, you stock up on food and either shovel yourself out or wait,” Angela said. “I’ve seen what a tornado can do, and it’s just so unpredictable. You have zero control over anything. I’d take snow any day.”
Despite tornadoes, the McKennas are proud of their adopted hometown and eager to discuss the positives about Oklahoma: good schools, low cost of living and people helping others through a crisis. They have cemented many strong friendships with people there.
But returning to Buffalo has always been their goal.
“That’s never changed,” said Sean, who left the Navy two years ago and now works as a military contractor. “Buffalo is home for us. It’s where we want to raise our kids. I was hoping to come back right after I retired. You can plan all you want, but if you can’t find work, there’s no sense moving. Eventually things will line up.”
So the McKennas visit regularly, stocking up on Buffalo apparel to wear in Oklahoma. Angela spent nine days in Buffalo during July, visiting Canalside and restaurants like (716) and Tim Hortons.
“We miss the food,” Sean said.
Once a year, they order a half-cooked Bocce Club Pizza and have it delivered overnight.
“It’s really expensive, but worth it,” Angela said. Friends and relatives send them gifts of Anderson’s roast beef and ice cream.
“I’ve been all over the world,” Sean said, “but if you’re from Buffalo, there’s a loyalty to the city that you don’t see anywhere else.”
If you or anyone you know has a story to tell about moving back or to Buffalo, or about moving away, email JeffSchober@hotmail.com. Jeff Schober is the author of "Bike Path Rapist," "Growing Up Gronk" and several works of crime fiction set in Buffalo in the 1980s. His newest book, "Faces and Fingertips," is available now. Visit his website at www.jeffschober.com.