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KS town remembers twister

Generosity is still flowing into the city of Franklin even though it's been more than two years since a tornado leveled the small southeast Kansas town.

BY HEATHER MOYER | FRANKLIN, Kansas | December 29, 2005

Generosity is still flowing into the city of Franklin even though it's been more than two years since a tornado leveled the small southeast Kansas town.

The May 2003 twister destroyed much of the small town, including the town hall, the local church and the community center. As a creative way to raise money, members of the town's committees put up several pieces of equipment salvaged from the tornado on Ebay last week. The items, an old Coca-Cola cooler and a regular metal beverage cooler, were put up for auction because the town had no use for them.

"They weren't historic items and we didn't have enough space for them anywhere, so we thought we'd see if someone else wanted them," said Phyllis Bitner, chair of Franklin's Heritage Committee.

This week marks the third time Bitner's put the two coolers up on Ebay - and that's not because no one showed interest in them. The first two times the items sold, said Bitner, the highest bidders then emailed to say that they didn't need the coolers, and rather that the money was a donation to the town's recovery effort. Everyone was flattered by the donations.

"Maybe it was the Christmas spirit, I don't know, but they certainly didn't tell us they were going to do this when they started bidding," said Bitner.

That sort of generosity has been commonplace in Franklin since the devastating tornado hit on May 4, 2003. Since that day, the townspeople have worked hard to get everything back to normal.

Volunteers from across Kansas and the U.S. helped rebuild homes. Local residents helped raise the roof on a new pavilion in the park. Neighbors salvaged historical items out of the tornado rubble to be used in the construction of the new community center. Floorboards from the old town hall make up the new stage area in the center, and the doors from the church are on display inside. The park has some grass and a few trees that a local nursery donated and Boy Scouts put in place.

In November, the brand new community center opened. A new public park is expected to be done by spring. None of that could have been done without the kindness seen from neighbors both near and far away, said Bitner.

Bitner believes the community is strong, and the recovery process has brought everyone closer. The recovery has also revealed all the interesting ties to such a small town. When she was looking for someone to design a display for the old church doors inside the community center, a local priest recommended a friend of his. "When I met the man, he said, 'do you know the last time I walked through these doors?' And it turns out he had been married in the old church. He said the last time he walked through them was when he was married in the 1960s."

Bitner said that's just one of many similar stories from helpful volunteers. To recognize the generous donors to Franklin's recovery, another resident is creating a giving tree. "A local teacher is making a tree with bare branches. Then we're putting up a leaf for each $1,000 given," explained Bitner. She added that the tree is reminiscent of what Franklin looked like after the tornado - and then what it is starting to look like now. From a bare tree to a full tree is the goal, said Bitner. "We want to make that tree green."

And help is still needed, added Bitner. "We still have a huge debt on the community center, and then we're also still building the park," she said. "It's a pretty big debt for a small community. We still have a long ways to go."

Not to say that the community isn't thrilled with how far they've come since May 4, 2003. The few big trees salvaged from that day are now in the park and "will come back." A flower garden is planned, as is a walking path around the park. The path will be lined with stones that anyone can buy in honor of someone. A brand new storm siren will soon be in the center of the park as well. Community work days have been ever-present since 2003. That sort of spirit is something Bitner said she cannot explain, it's just how Franklin works.

"I don't know if it's the smallness of the community that does all this," she said. "To keep going like this for this long is remarkable. We all have an interest in this, though. We all have such great memories here."


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