Morning Sun
  • Beyond the storm

  • FRANKLIN — Ten years ago Saturday, area first responders and law enforcement rushed to Franklin, Ringo, Edison and Mulberry to help victims of a deadly F4 tornado that swept through the area.

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  • FRANKLIN — Ten years ago Saturday, area first responders and law enforcement rushed to Franklin, Ringo, Edison and Mulberry to help victims of a deadly F4 tornado that swept through the area.

    On Saturday, many of the same people gathered for a remembrance ceremony at the Franklin Community Center, a replacement for the old Community Hall destroyed by the storm.

    Before the ceremony was a dedication for a new flag pole in front of the center. Donated by Paul and Geneva Schleicher, it honors her mother, Florence (McNeil) Sayre and her mother’s sister, Ruth (McNeil) Zemlock.

    “The old flag pole was bent by the tornado, and every time we came to see Aunt Ruth, we’d drive by it and I’d say, ‘I want a new flag pole’,” Mrs. Schleicher said. “So my huband bought me a flag pole instead of a dress.”

    Ray Vail and Dave Bierbrodt of the Arma American Legion had the honor of raising the flag on the new pole.

    “We dedicate this flag pole to two special ladies who loved their community,” said Craig Stokes, president of the Franklin Community Council, Inc., which sponsored the occasion. “People driving down US 69 Highway will see this beautiful flag pole and be reminded of the sacrifices made by so many.”

    The group then moved inside the center for the remembrance ceremony.

    “May 4, 2003, is when the tornado came through,” Stokes said. “This tornado began southwest of us and created suffering long before it reached our community. McCune, Girard, Ringo and Edison areas were all affected. After the tornado left its mark on Franklin, it continued through Mulberry and beyond. Countless lives were changed that day.”

    He asked for a moment of silence in memory of the three Crawford County residents who died in the tornado. They were Josephine Maghe, 87, Franklin, George Bolte, 68, Ringo, and Sharon Lashbrook, 48, Edison.

    But, Stokes said, the gathering was not just to remember that sad day, but to celebrate the accomplishments made since then.

    “We’re resiliant here in southeast Kansas,” he said. “We continue to mourn those lost, but lifelong friends were made during the recovery.”

    Page 2 of 3 - He noted that following the tornado, the community received letters of support from then Vice President Dick Cheney, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Sen. Sam Brownback and many more. Help came from a California playground equipment manufacturer, a jewelry designer on Fifth Avenue in New York City, NASCAR drivers, nationally known football and baseball players, even famed actor/director Paul Newman.

    “However, we are most grateful for those local citizens who rolled up their shirt sleeves and helped us remove rubble, even those who donated a dozen cookies,” Stokes said. “Those first responders who came to us immediately after the tornado will forever be remembered by all of us. You will notice a sheet with the words to a song, ‘Angels Among Us,’ and this stands for all of you.”

    Stokes said that his house, which escaped serious damage, was located at the north end of Franklin, and he was one of the first on the scene to survey the devastation.

    “Within minutes it was amazing how many were here to help,” he said.

    First on the scene was Anthony Pichler of the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department.

    “We were right at Ginardi’s Corner when the tornado came through Franklin,” he said. “I turned onto Second Street and you couldn’t even get down the roads. Danny Smith, in another vehicle, pulled up about the same time. We grabbed our medical bags and took off down the road.”

    Pichler said they started helping injured Franklin residents.

    “There were quite a few people with cuts and bruises,” he said. “The further we got into it, we found people trapped in their houses that we had to get out. It’s something you just don’t forget at all .”

    Arriving later was James M. Pope, head of the Crawford County Sheriff’s Reserve Department.

    “My first duty was at Ringo with Mr. Bolte, then I came to Franklin,” he said. “Each of us, or each group of us, had an area to go through and make sure everybody was out of the houses. We also secured properties because everybody in the world wanted to see the damage. There were also a lot of people who wanted to help, too. We didn’t go home until dawn.”

    Page 3 of 3 - Dan Peak, then undersheriff and now Crawford County sheriff , said the thing that impressed him most was the longevity of the terrible storm.

    “It started at our county line to the west, and we tried to track it,” Peak said. “One of our people was able to track it ahead and cleared a lady out of a house on Gooding Road.”

    Stokes stressed that all the affected areas are still engaged in rebuilding their communities.

    “The Living Faith Church in Ringo and Washington Electronics are in the process of getting a storm siren for that area,” Stokes said. “Franklin rebuilding can be seen everywhere around town. The Franklin Community Park and this center, which now houses the Miners Hall Museum and continues to be used for a community center, are just a few examples of all that has been accomplished.”

    Peak and Pichler said they were both deeply impressed with the recovery efforts in Franklin and elsewhere.

    “It’s always good to see a community pull together like that,” Pichler said.

    “A town this size, unincorporated, it would have been easier for them to do nothing, but somebody took the reins in Franklin,” Peak said. “That goes for Ringo, too.”

    The sheriff believes the response from neighboring communities has played a big role in this.

    “The other communities, everybody coming to everybody’s aid, and we’re talking about the national level also,” Peak said. “The tornado was like nothing we’d seen before, and the response has been like nothing we’ve seen before.”

    The ceremony concluded with a luncheon. Stokes said a prayer before the meal, then had a few more words for his audience.

    “Next time you see a first responder, be sure to thank them,” he said. “The next time you see them, they might be helping you.”

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