Wedding dress returned to Cookeville couple after tornado

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COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Lauren and Korey Farmer sift through a small bin of memorabilia at Collegeside Church of Christ Wednesday in Cookeville. They found everything from reminders of childhood, to their relationship.

It may seem strange that someone's whole life and even a whole love story can be stored in just a bin.

Lauren and Korey met in graduate school in Florida. Korey moved to Cookeville to get his nursing degree at Tennessee Tech. Lauren followed.

"She hated it at first. She said, 'as soon as you graduate -- we're leaving'," Korey laughed. "Then she got to know this community and church. And we built a house."

"We built that house. We laid those floors. We painted those walls," Lauren added.

All of their memorabilia followed them. Including Lauren's wedding dress. "When you're getting married it's everything. It's your dream," Lauren told WVLT News Reporter Robert Grant.

But the gown had more meaning behind it. Before moving to Cookeville, Lauren was keeping the dress at her parents' Panama City, Florida, home. The home was destroyed by Hurricane Michael, but the dress survived.

When they moved it to Cookeville, another natural disaster followed.

"Wood snapping; debris flying," Korey said. "It was like a dream. You see things in front of your face and it's going so fast," Lauren added. The couple remembered the night an EF-4 tornado ripped through their Putnam County neighborhood.

They survived the storm and helped as many neighbors as they could to safety. "We heard the screams and we knew who to go to," Lauren said.

Now their neighborhood and home of two years is completely leveled. "Utter disbelief in the fact we were alive."

Through the rubble, you can find several stories of survival just like the Farmer's. You can see several symbols of that including flags, Bibles, and even Lauren's wedding gown.

"One of our documents was found 50 miles towards Knoxville. All over the state -- our pictures are everywhere. On Facebook, I found a picture of my wedding dress," Lauren said.

Pictures on social media proved the gown weathered the storm. However, tracking it down hasn't been so easy. The Farmers said the person who found the dress left it there. Now the search continues.

"It's muddy. It became more than a dress at that moment. I'll never wear it again. But it's a symbol of survival."

Lauren and Korey were reunited with the gown on Friday, March 13th.

"It's not about the item lost, it's about the community willing to go search for the item," Lauren said.

A lesson in survival: how to be a good neighbor. A lesson you can't store in a bin.

"There is suffering. Lots of suffering. But it is about building from there. Having each other. God is getting us through the suffering."

The Farmers have no connection to Cookeville but said they will continue to live there for years to come.

Collegeside Church of Christ set up a Go Fund Me to help the Farmers and other church members impacted by the tornado.

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