By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
FRANKLIN, Kan. —
Former Crawford County Sheriff Sandy Horton remembered it as a “furious, furious storm.”
The F-4 tornado that hit Crawford County, Kan., late in the afternoon of May 4, 2003, was one of several spawned by a storm system that moved through that Sunday.
As the tornado swept through the small, unincorporated towns of Ringo and Franklin, wind speeds topped 200 miles per hour — strong enough to pull grass from the ground.
At 5:11 p.m., it all but leveled Franklin, population 476, taking with it one-third of the homes and buildings, the post office and the community center. It killed Josephine Maghe, 87, in her home of 50 years.
“It stayed on the ground longer than any storm I’d ever seen, and it did more damage than anything I’ve ever seen,” Horton said.
The same tornado claimed more lives in Missouri, hitting Stockton, where it destroyed 80 more homes and damaged and destroyed many businesses.
In all, that tornado claimed seven lives.
But Franklin would not let itself be a victim of the May 4, 2003, outbreak.
Franklin community activist and historian Phyllis Bitner often thinks of what might have happened if everyone hadn’t banded together there in the aftermath of that storm.
“Would it have just stayed a barren wasteland? We’re all really proud of what we have done. We didn’t just let the little town die.”
What the town has accomplished in the past 10 years, she said, has been the direct result of “people rolling up their shirtsleeves.”
The community center was rebuilt, as was a community park and several homes.
“Help came from so many places that we were not anticipating,” Bitner said.
One photo in an album at the rebuilt Franklin Community Center shows Melvin Patrick, Ray Hamblin and John Nepote installing a sign in the park. Another shows Brenda Stokes serving chili at a fundraiser at the Bargain Bazaar.
Still another shows Butch Maxwell and Ron Wilbert installing letters on the welcome sign near the entrance to the town.
For the past week, Peggy Prince, Alan Roberts and Bess Strukel have been busy making final preparations at the community center that will serve as host for a six-week traveling exhibit by the Smithsonian Institution, which organizers anticipate will attract 18,000 visitors.
Plans already are under way to add on to the Franklin Miners Hall Museum inside the community center, which for the past year has been host to a series of monthly exhibits focusing on trades and industries that helped build Southeast Kansas.
“Now we’re bringing 500 people a month to Franklin to see the new museum,” Bitner said. “How can that be?”
At 4 p.m. Thursday, the Franklin Farmers Market will open in the newly landscaped park, and will continue there each Thursday throughout the growing season.
The post office has not been rebuilt and, in light of recent budget struggles by the U.S. Postal Service, likely never will, Bitner said.
Some of the now-vacant lots where homes once stood likely won’t be rebuilt on in the near future.
“Many of those were owned by elderly residents who had lived here all their lives, but they’ve moved on to places like assisted living centers or in with family,” Bitner said. “The good news is we’ve been in contact with their children who live elsewhere, and many of them say that when they retire, they plan to come back and build on those lots.”
A flag dedication ceremony is planned for 12:30 p.m. on May 4 in front of the Franklin Community Center, and a remembrance ceremony is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Franklin Community Park. Following the ceremonies, the Franklin Community Council will host a picnic.
“We’re trying to keep it positive, to focus on all we’ve accomplished,” Bitner said.