Woodward, Okla. —
It doesn't take a poll, or a rankings list, to come up with the top story in Woodward in 2012.
One stands out - easily.
A little after midnight on April 15, a killer F3 tornado ripped through Woodward.
The storm didn't stay long, but left a line of destruction on the west side of the community - 224 homes and businesses destroyed or damaged.
More important, the storm took the lives of 6 people - Derrin Juul and his daughter Rose Marie near Tangier, Frank Hobbie and his daughters Faith Dean Hobbie and Kelly Marie Hobbie, and Steven Peil, all at the Hideaway Mobile Home Park. Peil actually died in an Amarillo Hospital where he had been airlifted.
Amazingly, considering the extent of the damage and fact that many people were in their homes as the tornado destroyed them, those were the only deaths.
The hospital reported around 30 injuries and 11 people were hospitalized with 5 taken to trauma centers.
Emergency managers, law enforcement, firefighters and volunteers searched for victims and assistance came from communities throughout western Oklahoma and other states.
Eerily, the tornado came close to the anniversary of the famous April 9, 1947 Woodward tornado that left over 100 people dead and destroyed much of the town.
After that tornado, the community rebuilt and over time became stronger.
A big part of the 2012 tornado is what happened in the days after.
As soon as the rescue operations ended on Sunday, the cleanup and recovery was under way.
Within a day a "Woodward Tornado Info" Facebook page was up and operating. A few days later, a group that would eventually form Recovery Woodward - a long-range recovery group - began meeting and continues to help people as needed.
Legendary entertainer Larry Gatlin saw coverage of the tornado and promptly set up a free benefit concert at Crystal Beach Stadium - an event that raised thousands of dollars and also helped with the healing process.
A community came together during and after the tornado. Damaged areas were cleared of debris and people began to work toward what would be their "new normal."
An outdoor warning siren system that failed during the tornado - caused at some point by a lightning strike - has been replaced with an ultra-modern system courtesy of a $350,000 donation by Apache Corp.
And much of this was done without help from the federal government, in particular as FEMA turned down a request for assistance. The Small Business Administration did provide assistance in the form of low-interest loans to those whose homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by the storm.
Today, signs remain from the tornado - foundations without homes, empty spots where a couple of businesses were. But there is also rebuilding going on (including a new hotel on a corner where the tornado passed close by), new homes going up and optimism in many circles.
Just as in 1947, this resilient Northwest Oklahoma community and its people are bouncing back.
Yes, there were other major stories during 2012 and here is a brief look at a few of them.
• Siemens Energy held the grand opening of its Woodward Wind Service Distribution Center in February with Gov. Mary Fallin and numerous other dignitaries attending. The Siemens facility services wind turbines throughout the United States and Canada from the warehouse west of town by the airport.
• In March, Woodward dedicated its new conference center, a long-time goal that became reality. The center has hosted nearly 150 events and 14,000 guests since its March opening and is already heavily booked for next year. U. S. Rep. Frank Lucas was among the speakers at the grand opening.
• Also in March, a groundbreaking was held for the Lakeside Cinema 6 theaters on 34th Street. While the tornado slowed construction for a time, the new cinema opened on Aug. 31, bringing movies back to Woodward.
• Prior to the tornado in April a rare and spirited campaign for seats on the city commission was settled with the incumbent commissioners winning reelection by solid margins. The commissioners, backed partially by a Keep Woodward Moving Forward group, turned away a challenge from candidates backed in part by the "Take it Back" group.
• Drought continued throughout the year and, along with fireworks, contributed to a crazy 4th of July. Local and area firefighters responded to scores of fires between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. That led to county commissioners issuing a burn ban, that became part of statewide ban issued by the governor in early August.
• It was an eventful July in a lot of ways. State and local law enforcement officers served search warrants on 3 local stores as part of a crackdown on synthetic drugs, an operation that would lead to a grand jury indictment against the owners and an employee of Sugar Lips. Officials said more indictments were possible.
• Then, came a dispute between the FAA and city of Woodward over the development and use of proceeds from land deeded to the city by the federal government. The FAA also alleged the city illegally sold tons of milled asphalt and ordered a gun range near the airport closed. The city sent its response in September, agreeing to do some of what the FAA requested but also disputing other parts of the report.
• In September, the city and JCLA Enterprises ended after less than 2 years the agreement for JCLA to operate Boiling Springs Golf Course. The city then went to work rebuilding the greens at the course, which had fallen into disrepair. When repairs are complete, the course will be managed by Dunn Golf Group.
• In late October, the heavily disputed and debated first A-F grades for schools were issued. Woodward's schools, as did many in the area, generally scored a B or a C.
• Also in October, the Woodward Christian Academy held a grand opening for its new home - which formerly hosted Westwood Elementary School. Over 100 students attend the Christian Academy.
• In November, Woodward County residents voted to give Sheriff Gary Stanley a second term in a close race against Joe Adams. Stanley won by around 200 votes. The area also voted against President Barack Obama, but a majority of the nation disagreed as Obama also won a second term.
• Later in November, the city set in motion the opening steps for a new central fire station by purchasing the old Golden Corral property.
• In December, the move to renovate the Woodward County Fairgrounds reached the election stage as county commissioners set a vote for a one-half cent sales tax to fund the $12.4 million project. The election will be in February.
That's just a sampling of 2012 in Woodward.
Among some other things, 2 boys during the year were arrested for bringing guns (one plastic and one bb) to school; 2 people entered pleas in the 2010 death of Jon Michael Watkins, Dillan Hager was sentenced to 35 years for 2nd degree murder and Jeffrey Shawn Spencer received a 15-year sentence (14 suspended) for heat of passion manslaughter. A third defendant in the Watkins murder case, David Lee Yelloweagle is set for trial in August of 2013. And an 18-year-old student Timmy Dean Eike was charged in federal court with unlawful possession of firearms after allegedly making veiled threats of shooting people.
There were plenty of positive moments as well, including: Steve Jones was named the Woodward Citizen of the Year and Julia Benbrook was named the Student Citizen of the Year; Lee Ann Stone was named Teacher of the Year in Woodward and later was selected as one of 12 finalists for the state honor; Ira Smith was named to the Oklahoma Auctioneer Hall of Fame; Dr. Deena Fisher was nominated as a state woman of the year finalist for the third time, putting her in the Journal Record's Circle of Excellence and Woodward Main Street won a state award for the special "Girls Night Out" shopping events.