PONCA CITY, Okla. (KFOR) – A 92-year-old homeowner is trying to avoid moving from the house she has lived in for 70 years, while the Ponca City School Board looks to take the property from her through eminent domain.
A hearing is set for Thursday to evaluate the property.
Harlan Hentges is the attorney for the homeowner, Frances Welch, and he said removing her from the house would be traumatic.
“If she’s not in a familiar surrounding, she becomes agitated,” said Hentges.
Welch has dementia. Her son, Fred Welch takes care of her at the home in Ponca City.
Hentges said these are times when the family needs to be left alone, and not burdened with the thought of packing up and moving Mrs. Welch.
“The individuals on the school board are each personally responsible for whether this process lasts another day,” said Hentges.
The Welch family was outside the house Wednesday afternoon. James Welch is Mrs. Welch’s nephew and Brad Whitsitt is Mrs. Welch’s grandson. Both reminiscing on old times.
“We had some targets set up between these trees and taught me a little bit about archery,” said James Welch, talking fondly of Frances Welch’s husband.
Whitsitt pointed toward the empty lot east of the house, describing how there used to be buildings that were built by his grandfather.
From across the street, a neighbor walked over to sit and strike up his own stories about Frances and her late husband.
Everyone discussed how losing the house was not in the best interested of the community.
In 2015, a bond issue was passed that granted money to Ponca City Schools for a new football locker room and training facility.
Ponca City School Board said in part in a statement:
“We have been very transparent with property owners in this endeavor and were open with the public on acquiring the property,” said Kristi Hayes, Ponca City Public Schools Public Information Director. “We are sympathetic and understand this is an emotional issue. We have exhausted all means. Eminent Domain was the absolute last thing we wanted to do.”
Brad Whitsitt said the school board never expected Mrs. Welch to live so long. And added that voters would not have said yes to the bond issue if they had known it would lead to an attempt on her house.
“Most people, many people that I talked to , they felt blindsided on the ballot,” said Whitsitt. “And they say had they known that they were taking this property, they wouldn’t have said yes.”
A petition has been created in support of Frances Welch.
There is also an event on Facebook for the hearing.