Epic Rebirth

Faces of the flood: Remembering the flood through elementary student's memory

'It was just something that happened,' 17-year-old now says

Marcellis Gillis, 17, stands in front of a mural — that shows him as a 7-year-old in a white robe — in the gym at Taylor Elementary in Cedar Rapids. The artist had just finished the mural, and Gillis had just finished second grade, when the flood hit. Gillis' family lost their home on First Street SW, and he had to go to another school in 2008-09 while Taylor was being repaired. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Marcellis Gillis, 17, stands in front of a mural — that shows him as a 7-year-old in a white robe — in the gym at Taylor Elementary in Cedar Rapids. The artist had just finished the mural, and Gillis had just finished second grade, when the flood hit. Gillis' family lost their home on First Street SW, and he had to go to another school in 2008-09 while Taylor was being repaired. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Marcellis Gillis, a 7-year-old second-grader at the time of the 2008 flood, was one of the students immortalized in his elementary school gym 10 years ago.

A massive mural, titled “You Are a Gift,” was painted by Eleanor Yates in 2008 and depicted Gillis kneeling and gazing up at a pair of butterflies.

“I was a baby, for one,” Marcellis, 17, said recently, looking up at the child in the mural at Taylor Elementary, 720 Seventh Ave. SW. “I was imaginative, open. … I’m more realistic now than I was then.”

Yates finished the mural just before Taylor took on more than 3 feet of floodwater.

Gillis’ family lost their home on First Street SW. He remembers living in a hotel for a time.

He also remembers going back to the school to help clean it up.

“It was just icky. That’s the only way to put it,” he said, remembering muddy footprints and scraps of paper throughout the building.

 

Mostly, though, he recalls the “cool mask” cleanup workers had to wear around the flood debris.

Taylor couldn’t reopen in the fall, and its students were reassigned to other elementary schools. Marcellis attended Harrison, 1310 11th St. NW, about 2 miles north.

He returned to Taylor for fourth- and fifth-grade and then, after moving to a new home, attended McKinley Middle School and Washington High School in southeast Cedar Rapids.

He graduated from high school last month and said he plans to enlist in the Air Force.

Going back to his elementary school in late May, Marcellis said the building looked and felt the same as he remembered. In the school’s gym, beneath the mural, three young boys danced and chased each other.

“It feels like just yesterday I was one of those guys,” he said, as the young students laughed and yelled. “ ... The flood didn’t stop me from doing what I wanted to do. It was just something that happened.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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