March 30, 2006

Franklin residents continue rebuilding efforts

The Joplin Globe

By Mike Pound, Globe columnist

They tested the new storm siren in Franklin, Kan., on Wednesday morning.

It worked just fine.

The new siren stands pretty much in the middle of the nearly completed community park, which is just up the street from the new community building.

Both the park and the building look just fine.

Really, if you ask most of the people who still live in Franklin how things are going, you'll probably get a smile and a "just fine" as an answer.

Yep, things are fine in Franklin. At least they're fine compared with the way the community was after a killer tornado roared through on May 4, 2003. The storm took the life of longtime resident Josephine Maghe, and destroyed dozens of homes, the post office and the community center.

The storm caused such destruction that many residents, in those hectic days immediately after the tornado, wondered aloud if the town could ever be rebuilt, or even if it should be.

Well, nearly three years later, Phyllis Bitner will proudly tell you that Franklin is back, and poised to grow and prosper.

It's tough trying to rebuild an unincorporated town in Kansas. There's no tax base to rely on and really no organized local government. What you have to do is rely on the spirit of the people who live in the town, and you have to want to rebuild. I don't mean "want to rebuild" in a half-hearted "Gosh, it would be nice to rebuild" sort of way. Nope, you have to "want to rebuild" in a bad way. In a way that almost obsesses you.

"You have to remember that the storm came through the center of town," Phyllis said. "Those people who lost their homes had lived most of their entire lives in Franklin. We're talking 50 or 60 years. This wasn't like a mobile community where people came and left all the time. This was a home."

So the folks of Franklin rebuilt. First, of course, they cleaned up. Once the cleanup was finished, the residents got organized. They formed a community council. They raised money. They knocked on doors looking for donations of time, materials, expertise and money.

On Nov. 5, 2005, Franklin dedicated a new community center.

Wednesday morning, just up the street from the new center, Ray Hamblin and Melvin Patrick were working on the town's new park. The park is where the old community building used to be. Ray and Melvin were busy laying out a brick walkway that will encircle a garden area containing 500 tulips.

The two men showed me the new park pavilion they built. They showed me the huge, brick barbecue grill and the boccie court. They showed me where the horseshoe area will go, and they talked about the brick walkway.

Ray and Melvin said they are retired. So, they said, it wasn't much of a sacrifice for them to donate their time. Ray said a lot of residents and nonresidents have donated their time to help make the new park a reality.

"We just all got together and decided to put our nose to it and starting getting it done," he said.

Phyllis said the town council has been frugal with its money. She said that with the exception of the debt incurred to build the community center, every other project has been done on a pay-as-you-go basis. Money has come through government grants, private donations from area groups and businesses and national organizations. Actor Paul Newman's foundation donated $10,000 for the storm siren, for example.

Right now, the community council is working to retire the $68,702.79 owed for the construction of the community center. Getting that debt paid off, Phyllis said, will allow the community to "keep our heads afloat."

She said erasing the nearly $70,000 owed on the center is beyond the immediate resources of the Franklin Community Council, so it has launched a campaign to raise the money.

Donations may be mailed to the Franklin Community Council, P.O. Box 43, Franklin, KS 66735-0043.

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