The National Weather Service is proud to have presented Lawrence and Viola Wohleb with the National Weather Service Benjamin Franklin Award at a dinner recently held in their honor. This award was established to honor National Weather Service Cooperative Observers who voluntarily observe and record weather phenomena for 55 years or more. The award was named after Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) the inventor of the lightning rod and a person who had a keen interest in weather prediction among other things. As the first Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin received weather reports from a network of observers along the Atlantic coast. This network of observers was the first known group to track hurricanes.
Lawrence and Ben Franklin have a few things in common. They shared an interest in weather and both were postmasters. Lawrence and Viola started their tenure as weather observers in early 1952 when the town of Naponee was in need of someone to assume the duties from the Townsend Family, the previous observers, who were moving out of town. Lawrence, the Postmaster of Naponee was recommended as a replacement by the Townsend’s based on the old adage that states, “When looking for someone to do the job, pick the busiest person around.” Lawrence seemed to fit the bill as he was also very active in farming and raising a family. On February 2, 1952, Lawrence became the official “Weather Bureau” Cooperative Observer for Naponee. With his wife, Viola, the official backup observer, over the next 55 years, the Wohleb team would steadily build a climatic database for the Naponee area.
Every morning at 7 AM, the Wohleb’s would record the precipitation for the previous 24 hours. If it was snow, they would melt it and record the water equivalent along with the total snowfall accumulation and total snow depth. Over the span of 55 years, they have taken over twenty thousand observations and have measured over 1300 inches of precipitation. On average, Naponee receives 23.99 inches of rain, but some years Lawrence and Viola have had to slog to the rain gauge, like in 1965 when 40.09 inches of precipitation fell, and other years the trips were less numerous, as in 2002 when only 14.49 inches of precipitation was measured. Lawrence and Viola probably had to scoop their way to the rain gauge a couple of times in 1960 when they measured 54.1 inches of snow for the year. Officially, it takes 50 years of continuous weather records for a climate database to be established. The Naponee climate database will be one of Lawrence and Viola’s legacies for years to come.
In December of 1953, Lawrence was also “volunteered” to read the wire-weight river gage on the Turkey Creek whenever the river was 5 feet or higher. He also relayed this information to the Harlan County Dam. In 1982, a chain river gage was installed on the Republican River and Lawrence again round-aboutly “volunteered” to read and report the river stages at that location. Yes, indeed, Lawrence was a busy cooperative observer and a very dependable one. Because of his excellent service, Lawrence was selected to receive the prestigious John Campanius Holm Award in 1989. This national award is only given to 25 cooperative observers each year for outstanding accomplishments in the Cooperative Weather Observing Program.
In addition to being a Cooperative Weather Observer for 55 years, Lawrence was a Postmaster for 40 years, from 1946 until 1986. Along with Viola, they farmed north of town and raised 4 children in the process. Their son, Jerome, and his family live in Draper, Utah while his daughters reside in Nebraska. Mary Ann and family live in Lincoln, Rita and family live in Waverly and Sheila and family live in Naponee. The Wohleb’s have 9 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren. Lawrence and Viola have been married for 61 wonderful years. In their spare time, Lawrence still helps out on the farm and Viola raises beautiful flowers.
Marla K. Doxey, Data Acquisition Program Manager for the Hastings National Weather Service Office, presented Lawrence and Viola with the Benjamin Franklin Award and a congratulatory letter from D.L. Johnson, Director of the National Weather Service. A large gathering of family and friends joined in the festivities and congratulated the Wohleb’s for their many years of service to their town and country.
Page composition by Steve Carmel