At a time when it seems police officers around the country have been targeted by those without respect for the uniform, that was not the case in Claflin, Friday afternoon.
After more than three months on medical leave, Claflin Police Chief Robert Gunder was on his way home with his family. He’d spent the summer recovering from complications that arose as a result of a planned surgery June 16. The city he serves was pleased to have him back, and they showed it Friday afternoon. A police escort met the chief as he approached the city at around 2:30 p.m., and led him home, lights and sirens sounding as the mall procession made its way north on Main Street.
Parking spots along the two block business district of Claflin became scarce beginning around 2 p.m. as residents and well-wishers began to line the sidewalks, chatting about their friend and catching up with one another. Soon, they were joined by students from Central Plains High School, where two of Gunders’ children attend school, who were let out of school minutes early to take part in the welcoming. It included all of the Central Plains Oilers football team, who were taking the time to greet their police chief before taking off in buses to Kinsley for the night’s football game.
Murine Prosser, owner of The Mane Event, Claflin’s sole beauty salon, waited with friends on the sidewalk holding a fall floral arrangement members of the community had ordered for him. Michael Urban, the town’s mayor, confirmed he had served as Claflin’s chief of police for nine years, and was a vital part of the community. Prior to his service in Claflin, he was a respected police officer on the Great Bend Police Department.
“We really want him to know we think a lot of him,” he said.
As the family updated the community via text message of their progress, excitement began to build. A group of students unfurled a banner signed by students at the school welcoming an emotional Gunder home. There were hugs and kind words for his daughters, waiting patiently for a glimpse of their dad, home at last.
Finally, Acting Police Chief Gary Vaughn turned onto Main Street, lights and sirens sounding as he led a surprised Gunder up to the crowd. Still visibly recovering from his ordeal, Gunder still made the effort to hug and greet well-wishers and his children as they approached his passenger-side window. There was even a bugle player on the street, who broke into a course of “When the Saints Come Marching In.”
The driver then signaled he was ready to proceed towards the family home, but at the end of the block, he made a u-turn so Gunder could make a pass along the other side, much to the pleasure of the crowd.
Finally, it was time for the football team to board the bus and head for Kinsley, and other students rushed to get their seat on the fan bus, while adults from the community continued to chat with their long-awaited friend and each other.