Joplin, Mo., teen inducted into WKU honor fraternity

History instructor David Serafini, Phi Sigma Pi adviser, kneels at the foot of Will Norton’s grave over fall break in Joplin, Mo. Norton, who was killed last May by an EF-5 tornado — the same day he graduated high school — was recently inducted as an honorary brother of Phi Sigma Pi.

Tessa Duvall

When Phi Sigma Pi recently initiated nine of its newest members into the brotherhood, it did so with a mix of sadness and pride.

One of those initiates never knew any of the members, but he will forever hold a place in the hearts of PSP’s Beta Phi chapter at WKU.

Will Norton, an 18-year-old graduate of Joplin (Mo.) High School, was made an honorary brother of the fraternity on Nov. 18.

Norton was killed during the May 22 tornado that struck Joplin on his graduation day. He was driving home with his father when they were caught in the storm. Although his father survived, Norton’s body wasn’t found until several days later in a nearby pond, just blocks from his undamaged home.

It’s because of Norton’s story that David Serafini, a history instructor at WKU and the adviser of PSP, first organized a trip to Joplin to help with rebuilding efforts. The first trip was in June and the second followed in October during fall break.

As Serafini watched the search for Norton unfold after the storm, he felt connected to the story, saying it brought out the big brother in him. Serafini began to learn about Norton, a YouTube star and budding filmmaker, and felt that he embodied the PSP tripod of scholarship, leadership and fellowship.

After returning from the second Joplin Run in October, Serafini said he proposed to the PSP officers making Norton an honorary brother of the fraternity. It was approved unanimously by the officers and then by the full chapter.

“We knew it was going to happen,” he said. “Joplin has become our project, I suppose, and we’ve all adopted Will in a way. He’s the reason why we go.”

During the initiation, Serafini stood in as Norton and signed the role book on his behalf.

The ceremony brought mixed emotions for Serafini and the fraternity. Despite the sadness, Serafini said he was proud and happy to make Norton an honorary brother.

“Now we must ensure that we tell Will’s story to each initiate class from here on out,” Serafini said.

Chris Storath, a Hendersonville, Tenn., sophomore and initiate adviser for PSP, said he is thrilled to have Norton as a brother.

“It’s one of the greatest things I could imagine,” Storath said. “No one really represents the tripod of our fraternity more than he does.

“This is probably the least we could do for his family and his friends.”

Storath said the initiates have loved learning about Norton and hearing about the Joplin Runs.

Keegan Tinney, a Joplin native and 19-year-old freshman at Missouri Southern State University, was Norton’s best friend since middle school.

When Serafini and a group of 14 WKU students made a return trip to Joplin in October, they met with Tinney to talk about the storm and Norton’s life. It is at this time that Serafini first told Tinney of the plans to initiate Norton into the PSP Beta Phi chapter.

“After his life, he’s continued to impact people,” Tinney said following the initiation. “He’s lived a great life and he’s still living in a different manner, it’s still cool.”

Tinney said he was happy to meet the group and know his friend made an impact on them.

“It’s cool to see people my age…That many miles away, they care and are doing something — they want to help people they don’t even know. They want to honor people that they don’t even know.”

Joplin Run III will likely be the first half of WKU’s spring break, with Joplin Run IV following in May for the first anniversary of the tornado, Serafini said.

Storath said he’s “definitely” going back in the spring.

“I will go on every single Joplin run that we have,” he said. “Pretty much nothing is going to stand in the way of that. I would move there if I could.”