Saying she feels like a traitor for deciding to build a home in Pratt rather than return to Kiowa County, former Greensburg resident and entrepreneur Harlen Wheeler decided reason had to outweigh emotion when it came time to decide her future.


Saying she feels like a traitor for deciding to build a home in Pratt rather than return to Kiowa County, former Greensburg resident and entrepreneur Harlen Wheeler decided reason had to outweigh emotion when it came time to decide her future.
“I feel like I’m betraying Greensburg by walking away,” Wheeler said Thursday morning, “but this came down to John (husband) and I making a decision with our heads rather than our hearts.”
The couple has been renting a home in northeastern Pratt since shortly after the tornado of May 4, and is in the final stages of buying property east of town “near the (KDWP) fish hatchery” on which to build a new house.John, in the meantime, has continued driving back and forth to work at the Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Station just west of Greensburg.
Wheeler said she and her husband have made the decision to build in Pratt County “just within the past couple of weeks.”  As for why they are doing so, Wheeler mentioned a negative impression of how things have progressed in Greensburg since the storm.
“We’ve just been hearing so much static about building inspectors and code enforcement officers holding things up and making it hard for people to rebuild,” Wheeler said.  “They’re not making it easy for people to rebuild there and we won’t have to deal with that here.”
Another reason might be chalked up to what could be called the “uncertainty factor”—doubts about how fast and thoroughly the stricken town will recover, and what resources it will offer in the foreseeable future.
“What kind of medical facilities will they have?” Wheeler asked.  “Are they going to have a pharmacy?  Are we going to have a decent grocery store?  Our children don’t live around here, so moving to Pratt doesn’t affect them that much.”
If the town does, in fact, lag in recovering, Wheeler worries how much a new home built there might be devalued over the coming years.
“If we build a $200,000 home here and Greensburg doesn’t come back, then we definitely made the right decision,” she said.  “On the other hand, if we build here and Greensburg does grow, we can always sell our house here and move back over there.  But if we build there now, and things don’t come back, we’re stuck with a house worth less than it cost us to build.  I don’t want to be stuck.”
Though her 59-year-old husband is a native of Greensburg, Harlen Wheeler nearly qualifies in that she’s lived there 39 of her 57 years, arriving in Kiowa County at the age of 13, and living there since but for a five-year span in the early 70’s when the couple lived in Coldwater.
She’d been working as the secretary to the president of Barclay College in Haviland for several years when she decided in the spring of 2006 to open a business on the west side of Greensburg’s Main Street—Faye’s Fabulous Fashions—an EBay retail store that specialized in clothing, candles and jewelry.
Her grand opening was a year ago July 1, highlighted by the typical Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting.  Though the business had only been going 10 months when the killer storm hit, Wheeler had been pleased with its start.
“The store wasn’t making money yet, but it was carrying itself and had a lot of potential,” Wheeler recalls.  “We were doing an increasingly high volume and were having trouble keeping up.
“Then the storm came and we lost the business, we lost our home and so many or our belongings.”
As to whether she’ll reopen her business, either in Pratt or again someday in Greensburg, Wheeler is noncommittal. 
“I just haven’t had the energy to even think about that yet,” she said.  “I guess I’m still surprised at how traumatized I still am over losing everything overnight.”
Wheeler, in fact, said she’s turned down several offers for employment in Greensburg the past couple of months, not caring for the daily 60-mile commute John makes to the plant.  She’s also yet to look for work in Pratt, saying all she can think about right now is getting her new Pratt County home built as soon as possible in order “to get settled.”
If Wheeler should decide in several years to restart her former business in Greensburg, it would likely be in a new spot, her lot at 133 South Main soon to be sold once terms can be agreed to.
The lot at 604 South Elm, however, is one she and John plan to hold onto for a good while—the site of their former home before May 4.
  “We’ll hang onto that spot and see how Greensburg does,” she said.  “I hope it (the city) comes back because that’s where our heart still is.  We loved living at that address—it was a great location.  And who knows?  We may live there again.  I’d really like it if that worked out.”