By: Kevin Slimp
Brother Jacob livens things up with “No Shoes” Church
In 1999, Reverend Billy Joe Raymond was universally recognized as the fieriest preacher in Lennox Valley, with good reason. Not a Sunday, or Wednesday night for that matter, passed at First Baptist Church without an altar call and at least two re-dedications by souls who had wondered astray, ultimately finding their way home during a latter verse of
‘I Surrender All.” Back in the 60s, Bob Dylan unknowingly prophesied the future of Lennox Valley when he sang, “The Times They Are a’Changin.” But change they did, when the Lennox Valley Lutheran Church called Jacob Gehrig, direct descendant Lou Gehrig, to serve as its assistant pastor. Assistant pastors were a rarity in Lennox Valley. First Baptist Church had an assistant on staff for as long as anyone could remember, but the other churches in town were too small for such gaudy, frivolous, behavior. That all changed with the hiring of “Brother Jacob,” as he liked to be called, in 1997. While associate pastors at First Baptist Church were known to preach a sermon now and then, almost always on Sunday or Wednesday night, Lutherans generally relegated their associates to working with the youth and visiting the sick. That changed in 1998 after Brother Jacob attended a church growth seminar in Kansas City, Missouri, held at a famous Methodist “megachurch.” To hear Brother Jacob tell the story, his heart was strangely warmed at the conference and he felt led to come back to Lennox Valley and begin a “contemporary service” at his church. Contemporary services, usually with drums and electric guitars, were all the rage, as he explained, at Methodist megachurches and he saw no reason they couldn’t do wonders for the good folks at Lennox Valley Lutheran Church. For sixteen months, Brother Jacob had led a group of 15 to 20 parishioners who met in the fellowship hall of the church at 8:30 a.m. every Sunday. Unable to find any drummers or electric guitarists to help lead the service, these hearty early risers made do with a young junior college student who came home on weekends to play the keyboard for the service. At least two things were different about Brother Jacob’s preaching style. First, he never wore shoes when he preached. It was bare feet every Sunday, even in the winter. He said it had something to do with Moses and a burning bush. Second, Brother Jacob always used a “paraphrased” version of the Bible when preparing his sermons. He picked up the habit in seminary, when he learned he could actually understand the “Good News Bible” better than The Lutheran Study Bible, the translation preferred by his professors. He hid his less favored Bible from his fellow seminarians and professors, but brought it to Lennox Valley, where he often used it during sermon preparation. There were times when that was problematic, as Lutherans preach from the “Lectionary,” meaning they used prescribed Bible passages each week in their services. Perhaps the most memorable such problem occurred on a Sunday when Brother Jacob was preaching in the main worship service in the sanctuary, while the senior pastor was on vacation. The Lectionary scripture that morning was Psalm 50, verse 9. In the Lutheran Study Bible, the passage had something to do with not removing oxen from a neighbor’s property. However, in Brother Jacob’s paraphrased Bible, the passage was translated, “I shall take no bull from you.” “Pastor” Jacob was not allowed to use his “Good News” Bible after that Sunday.
Elections have always been big deals in small towns and Lennox Valley is no exception. Winning an elected office is one of the few ways to be a big fish in a community like “The Valley.” About your only other options are serving on a church board or opening a law office.
1998 was an especially contentious election, as I remember. You see, it’s almost impossible to get re-elected in a small town, unless no one else wants to hold your office. It’s just too easy to make enemies when you personally know most of your constituency. A lack of willing candidates is rarely the case, because there’s always somebody who wants to be a bigger fish. Raymond Cooper was cast perfectly for the Moby Dick role.
Well, almost perfectly. It was well known that to win an election in Lennox Valley, there was a huge advantage in being a member of First Baptist Church. The Baptist Church was the closest thing to a political machine in our town. With close to 20 percent of the good folks of Lennox Valley on its membership roll and, just as importantly, more than 30 percent of the town’s voters, it was hard to win against someone with that many built-in allies.
Raymond, however, had a plan. A few years earlier, he had correctly predicted the upcoming boom in talk radio. He had begun listening to a nationally syndicated radio program based at a station in South Florida and quickly realized the potential of this “new” medium. At first, Raymond’s station was primarily an outlet for sharing his off-the-wall social and political views. But as time passed, he quickly came to see that there were additional advantages to owning the town’s only radio station.
In 1993, Talk Radio 88.3 moved to a ‘round the clock’ format, primarily filled with syndicated programming from far away places. The good folks of Lennox Valley were fascinated with stories about UFOs, corrupt politicians and, sometimes, religious programming. It took a lot to fill 24 hours every day.
The most popular show on 88.3 was “Renderings With Raymond,” which could be heard twice each weekday: live from noon till 3 or a repeat of that day’s show from 8 till 11 each night.
Most folks considered Raymond a political nutcase, but nutcases tend to attract other nutcases and such was the case with Raymond. It didn’t take him too long to realize that it only required 400 nutcases to win an election in The Valley and that’s just what he intended to do.
If he was going to win the mayor’s race, beating the incumbent, “Silver Tongue” Dick Bland, and few other yet-to-be-determined opponents, Raymond needed a hot button issue to get voters excited about the next election. He found just the issue.
Beginning in February 1997, “Renderings With Raymond” became a hotbed of fiery conversation centered on the Federal Reserve System. It was sheer genius. Sure, mayors of small towns have no influence on the Federal Reserve System, nor did most people give it much, if any, thought. But Raymond knew he only needed 400 good folks of Lennox Valley to care.
Heated debates concerning the system could be heard daily. Raymond pressed the idea that egg prices had risen 72 percent in just four years, all due to inadequacies in the Federal Reserve System.
In February 1997, no one knew that Raymond Cooper had his eye on the mayor’s seat. But as the price of eggs continued to rise, it was only a matter of time until Raymond officially threw his hat into the race.
The home of my childhood rests snugly between two lakes with names descended from ancient Native Americans. It’s been a while since I’ve had a mailing address in “The Valley” and through the years a lot of things have changed. In 1993, a traffic light was installed at the town’s main intersection, Bearden’s Corner. At first there was quite a bit of excitement concerning the light. The Lutherans, who occupied the northwest quadrant of “the corner” thought the light might encourage those who waited there to consider dropping by. It was the ultimate evangelism tool. The Baptists, on the other hand, occupied the southeast quadrant of Bearden’s Corner. There was great concern among members that the light would encourage drivers to consider a visit to the Hofbrau, a German eatery that caused considerable chagrin among the Baptists - and some Methodists - who recognized it as the only establishment in Lennox Valley that served beer. The “Brow,” as locals had come to know it, was the subject of at least six sermons at the Baptist Church since it first opened on the corner just after World War II. One of Brother Billy Joe’s favorite sermons was titled, “You can’t spell Devil without ‘Evil’,” and referenced the Brow at least once during each of his three points. After a while, parishioners came to expect Brother Billy Joe’s sermon on evil every year - on the Sunday before Octoberfest. On the other hand, Father O’Reilly seemed to have no problem with the Brow. As a matter of record (if Vera Pinrod’s phone calls to the members of the Lennox Valley Auburn Hat Society can be considered “record”), the “good father,” as she liked to call him, was often seen enjoying a Reuben Sandwich, sauerkraut and a Miller Lite at the famed eatery. What’s more, Father O’Reilly seemed to have no interest in Vera’s proclamations concerning his dining habits. Some thought he was taking a personal jab at Vera when, on the Sunday before Mother’s Day, he led a homily on the subject, “The devil wears a bright red hat.” Everybody thought the confrontation between Vera and Father O’Reilly would calm down in time. But with each passing year, it seemed to gain steam. That was, until Vera’s attention turned to something more important. You see, the Methodist Church decided to appoint a new pastor in June 1999. Methodists do this every few years and pastoral changes usually occur without too much fanfare. Nobody would know about the change for another month or so. But the bishop and his cabinet had made the decision and soon would be sending word to the good folks at Lennox Valley Methodist Church. The new pastor’s name was Rev. Sarah Hyden-Smith. And everybody thought the traffic light was big news.
Cooper Wages Media War Against Hometown News
Small town news is a bit different from what you might find in big city papers. Murders, bank robberies and other violent crimes weren’t to be found in The Valley, but that didn’t mean the local newspaper, The Lennox Valley Hometown News, was short on breaking stories. The editor, Iris Long, just had to be a little more creative than her metro newspaper comrades in sniffing out front page news.
In March, 1998, the headline on page one read, “New John Deere Spreader Just Arrived in The Valley.” While a new spreader might not be front page news in New York, or even 16 miles down the road in Springfield, farming equipment was big news in Lennox Valley.
When the local psychic, Madam Zorra, was arrested two weeks later, the headline read, “Local Psychic Arrested: She didn’t see it coming.” Iris got a good chuckle out of that one, even if it did get by many of her readers.
Fortunately there are usually Friday night games of one type or another, letters to the editor, ads for the local hardware store and a back page ad for Honest Worley’s Used Autos to fill the pages. And if the news wasn’t always interesting, it was generally good for a laugh or two.
Iris had a way with headlines and, on occasion, it was the wrong way. Like in 1996, when she penned: “Stolen Painting Found by Tree.” Most Valley residents still remember her front page headline from 1986: “Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge.”
Everyone in Lennox Valley understood the power of the press. It was a good idea to stay on Iris Long’s good side. At 76 years, Iris had been in the news game for a long time and she didn’t “put up with foolishness,” as she often reminded folks.
More than once since buying Talk Radio 88.3 in 1993, Raymond Cooper learned this lesson the hard way. As owner and host of the only radio station in town, Raymond found ways to butt heads with Iris Long with increasing regularity. This became more evident since his rantings concerning the Federal Reserve System began in 1997.
Iris, like most veteran journalists, saw right through Raymond’s “shenanigans,” as she like to call them. She wasn’t sure if Raymond’s Federal Reserve diatribe was just his way of gaining listeners or, as she suspected increasingly with each passing day, he had a more sinister ulterior motive.
Raymond, concerned that Iris’s snooping would hurt his secret plan to enter the upcoming mayoral race, waged his own misinformation war against The Hometown News. He liked to tell his listeners that Iris had it in with the federal government and that it was rumored that she had a relative on the Federal Reserve Board.
Temperatures were rising in Lennox Valley and, with the mayoral campaign getting ready to kick off, the Methodist district superintendent coming to town to announce the name of the new pastor and Claire Lapella’s plans to hold a protest at First Baptist Church, there would be no cool temperatures on the horizon as April 1998 came to an end in my hometown.
Readers can reach Kevin Slimp at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about The Good Folks of Lennox Valley at lennoxvalley.com.
Claire Lapella finds her cause
At last count, not that there is an official count of such things, there were six vegetarians living in Greater Lennox Valley in 1998. Four of them were Billy and Wilma Perkins and their two children. The fifth was a junior at the local high school, Sarah Goolsby, who declared her vegetarianism during a stand-off with her mother which started out as an innocent conversation about current events and somehow curved into an intense discussion about the Federal Reserve System. It quickly took a nosedive before ending up with young Sarah professing her newfound concern for all living creatures.
Vegetarian number six was Claire Lapella. Claire, like many 40-something single women, realized that her true love lived far away from her home. So in an act of passion, Claire packed most of her belongings and moved to Lennox Valley, where she could be forever with her soulmate and lifelong partner. Unfortunately, soulmates often find other soulmates and, eight months into the engagement, Claire found herself alone in a place where she didn’t really know anyone. Claire soon realized that she had lost a part of herself since moving to Lennox Valley.
Back home, she was involved in several causes. But in Lennox Valley, she had barely gotten out enough to know what, if any, causes needed her energy. That all changed in May, 1998 when Claire picked up a copy of the October 15, 1997 issue of The Lennox Valley Hometown News. She found the weekly paper underneath a phone book that hadn’t been touched in eight months and, for no reason, glanced over the community calendar on page one.
That’s when it happened.
As she perused the various potluck dinners, VFW meetings and Auburn Hat Society events, she saw it. Right there, on page one, printed in the blackest ink she had ever seen: “November 15: First Baptist Church Men’s Annual Breakfast & Turkey Shoot.” She didn’t know which made her most angry: The idea that people actually went out on a Saturday morning and shot turkeys in cold blood, after gorging themselves with pancakes, sausage and who-knows-what in the church fellowship hall, or the sheer audacity to hold such an event, as cold-blooded and grotesque as it sounded, for men only.
For those of you who have never participated in a turkey shoot, it’s probably the right time to explain something about this centuries-old activity. No turkeys are shot. At least, not in the last hundred years. Originally, men gathered with their weapons and shot at live turkeys, but things advance with time and by the 20th century, turkey shoots involved shooting at paper targets with shotguns brought from home.
Unfortunately, Claire didn’t take the time to research the intricacies of turkey shooting. For the first time in a long time she had found her cause. In the shadow of her small dining room, Claire mapped out her plan.
First, she would need allies, others who would be as chagrined as she was about this horrid practice.
Next, she would need a way to express her concerns to the masses. Raymond Cooper’s daily radio program would be the perfect opportunity to begin her campaign.
Finally, an event would be needed. Something to gather the troops. Letters to the editor? Certainly, but that would not be enough.
A full-page ad in Hometown News? Again, maybe. But still not enough.
That’s when it came to her. A protest march at First Baptist Church. Even better, a march on a Sunday morning.
Yes, Claire Lapella had found her cause.
No Place is Safe in Lennox Valley
Saturdays from April through September were always busy on Bearden’s Corner. That’s when the Farmers Market came to Lennox Valley and, with no malls or fancy shopping centers to speak of, the Farmers Market was the place to see and be seen. You could count on the usual vendors each week. There were local farmers selling corn, tomatoes and potatoes from the back of their trucks, housewives who spent their weeks preparing candles and other assorted crafts for the good folks of town, and, almost always, two or three community organizations who set up tables under tents bearing the name of Massengale Funeral Home, located 17 miles to the west in Springfield. Lennox Valley wasn’t big enough for its own funeral home, so the Massengale family was more than happy for folks to see its name emblazoned on tents bearing displays by the Ruritan Club, the VFW and the Lennox Valley Auburn Hat Society, just to name a few. However, these weren’t getting the usual attention on this Saturday in early May. You see, like many big events, there was some planning and structure that went along with the weekly Farmers Market. Vendors and community organizations submitted requests and were assigned spaces by Vera Pinrod, who not only served as president of the Lennox Valley Auburn Hat Society, but also served as secretary of the Spring County Chamber of Commerce. There weren’t many avenues to gain power in a small town like Lennox Valley and, as both president of the Auburn Hat Society and secretary of the Chamber, Vera was probably the most powerful woman in town. That was soon to change, but more about that later. On this particular Saturday, there was more excitement than usual at the market. It seems there was a new tent lined up at the far end, past all the usual vendors and, as Vera Pinrod skillfully noted, no one had reserved that spot. Even more, the tent didn’t bear the Massengale nameplate. Something was amiss and Vera was about to get to the bottom of the growing commotion. At first, Vera was chagrined as she saw Marvin Walsh sitting underneath the tent behind a folding table, wearing the denim bib overalls he purchased at a second-hand clothing store in Springfield just two weeks earlier. She was about to tell Marvin to pack up his stuff and come back another Saturday, when she saw the hand-lettered sign taped to the front of Marvin’s table: Save our eggs! Stop the Federal Reserve System Raymond Cooper, owner of the Valley’s only radio station and host of “Renderings with Raymond” every weekday from noon till three, grinned as he saw the would-be confrontation. He held back for a moment, then was pleasantly surprised as he heard Vera tell Marvin, “It’s good to have such fine, civic-minded individuals taking a stand for Lennox Valley.” And that was that. A half block east, toward the red light, Elbert Lee Jones was selling eggs out of the back of his truck. Raymond Cooper slyly grinned again as he noted the price of eggs was up a nickle over the previous Saturday. This was going to be a good week for “Renderings with Raymond”.
Radio Host Calms Nerves of Listeners
Her intentions were innocent enough as Claire Lapella purchased her very first copy of The Lennox Valley Hometown News on Tuesday, May 5, 1998. She had read The Hometown News once before, after finding an old copy under a phone book at the home where she and her “soulmate” lived before he found another soulmate and moved on. Now, stranded on her own in a place with no friends and no obvious place to make friends, Claire made her first trip alone to the town square.
Claire was unaware that the town’s newspaper normally came out on Wednesday morning. This week, however, Iris Long, editor, had rushed the paper to the press after learning late Monday afternoon about the Methodist district superintendent’s plan to appoint Sarah Hyden-Smith as the new pastor at Lennox Methodist Church in June.
Little did the good folks of The Valley know on Monday evening, as they watched “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “Murder She Wrote,” that the very foundation of their community was shaking with the first whispers of Hyden-Smith’s appointment.
The reaction to Long’s front page headline, “Turn up the volume for new Methodist pastor,” was swift. First Baptist Church pastor Billy Joe Prather’s call surprised Father O’Reilly of All Saints Catholic Church.
“Have you read it yet?” bellowed Reverend Prather.
“Just now,” answered “the Good Father,” as Vera Penrod liked to call him.
Both religious leaders were stunned when they were contacted by Long’s only reporter, Boyd Sanders, around 9 p.m. the night before. Boyd, a local junior college student, could barely get up the nerve to call the shepherds of the town’s largest flocks, but did as instructed. Seeing the news in print, however, made it seem all the more real.
The strongest reaction, however, came from Raymond Cooper, owner of the town’s only radio station and host of “Renderings With Raymond,” each day from noon until 3:00 p.m. Iris Long’s plan to get the paper on the streets of Lennox Valley before his Tuesday show worked to perfection, and Raymond was livid. He had been outsmarted by Long once again and his response would be harsh and swift.
The truth was that Raymond could care less who the new Methodist pastor would be. He hadn’t graced the entryway of a church, other than to attend a few funerals, in years. That would change, however, as he quietly prepared his secret plans to make a run for the mayor’s office in the upcoming November election. It would be important that he be an active church member. For now, however, he was much less interested in church news than the fact that Iris Long’s headline reached the eyes of most Valley residents before his show hit the air.
Unwilling to let the community think he had been outsmarted by Iris again, Raymond developed a strategy to turn his defeat into victory. He planned his words in advance. His audience was larger than usual as more than 700 good folks of The Valley tuned in to hear his reaction to the announcement.
“Yes, friends,” began Raymond, “I read this morning’s headline in The ‘so-called’ Hometown News.” Then, after a dramatic pause, he continued. “Of course, I received this information earlier, but decided it would be prudent to give the good folks at the Methodist Church time to make their own announcement before spreading this information like a small-minded gossip among the community.”
Rather than “besmirch whatever dignity the Methodist Church can muster after the local paper’s unfortunate decision,” Raymond informed the listeners that he had other, more important, issues to discuss. Opening the phone lines so listeners could call in, Raymond asked his audience to share any thoughts they had concerning Iris Long’s alleged connections to the Federal Reserve System.
Read more about the Good Folks at lennoxvalley.com.
Stop the Press!
History-making event replaces flamethrower
Todd Cecil, host of Revival Flames Ministries of Joplin,
Missouri, was just about the biggest celebrity to make an appearance in Lennox Valley during my childhood and early teen years.
He was a fixture on Sunday morning television since the 1970s and my dad and I watched the famed evangelist as we waited for the rest of the family to get dressed for church each week.
At 5:30 p.m. on Monday, May 4, 1998, Iris Long had just created a headline for the Wednesday edition of The Lennox Valley Hometown News, “Missouri Flame Thrower Heats Up Valley,” when she got the phone call from Vera Penrod, chair of the Lennox Valley Auburn Hat Society.
“I suppose you’ve heard the news,” began Vera, “but I felt it my civic duty to make sure you, as editor of our town’s newspaper, got the information from a reliable source.”
Iris was no stranger to Vera’s “civic mindedness” and could only imagine whether there had been another breech in protocol at the weekly farmer’s market or, perhaps, Father O’Reilly was drinking a Miller Lite at The Haufbrau again. For once, Vera, just off the phone with Diane Curtis, had something newsworthy.
Timing is everything, not just in the news business, but in most of life. If Reverend Whedbee, superintendent of the Spring County District of the Methodist Church, had just waited one more day to make the announcement about Sarah Hyden-Smith being appointed as pastor of Lennox Valley Methodist Church, it would have been too late for the news to make the front page of The Lennox Valley Hometown News.
As it was, Diane Curtis, chair of the church’s pastor-parish committee, received the call late Monday afternoon just as Iris Long, editor of The Hometown News, was laying out the headline for what she thought would be her next front-page story.
A new preacher at the Methodist Church wouldn’t normally be front-page news. Methodists tend to change preachers almost as often as underwear. But a woman minister? In Lennox Valley?
This was most certainly front-page news.
Iris slyly grinned as she imagined the impact of the story. The timing was perfect. A good portion of the town would learn of the news first in The Hometown News, and the explosion of letters to the editor would make her work that much easier in the coming weeks.
Iris made a monumental decision. She called Scott Critchlow, owner of the printing plant in Springfield, to ask if he could print The Hometown News overnight instead of waiting until the usual Tuesday afternoon. Wanting to keep his longtime customer happy,
Critchlow agreed, and Iris was going to have a special edition on the street Tuesday morning, in time to beat Raymond Cooper, of “Renderings With Raymond” fame, to the story.
She had to work fast. She called her lone reporter, a young intern from the local junior college, and told him to interview Rev. Billy Joe Prather of First Baptist Church and Father O’Reilly to get their take on the breaking news while she finished the rest of the paper in time to take the pages and pictures to the printer by 9 p.m.
The headline, in 120-point type, read:
“Turn Up the Volume for New Methodist Pastor.”
Kevin Slimp now makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee.
As April moved aside for May 1998, the good folks of Lennox Valley had no idea how their world was about to change on Monday, May 4. On Talk Radio 88.3’s “Rendering With Raymond,” callers were equally divided between two topics of vital importance. The first had to do with a book published a few months earlier that was all the rage among Lennox Valley teens. “Harry Potter,” barked the first caller, Martha Jean Bratton, was “of the devil” and ”has no place in the hands of any self-respecting young person.” Host Raymond Cooper felt certain, he told his listeners, that enthusiasm for this “Potter character” would wane soon enough. As for the second critical topic, the plight of the Federal Reserve System, which took up much of the next three hours, Raymond felt less confident. Especially with “insiders” like Iris Long fanning the flames in support of the government. Raymond noted, with a sly grin not seen by his listeners, that the Hofbrau had raised the price of a Denver omelette from $3.25 to $3.29 over the weekend, more proof of the havoc resulting from federal mismanagement. The big news of May 4 didn’t happen until 3:10 that afternoon, just after the show went off the air. That’s when Diane Curtis, chair of the Lennox Valley Methodist Church Pastor/Parish Committee, received a call from Rev. James Whedbee, Springfield district superintendent. Methodists, you see, donÕt select their own ministers like most Protestant churches. Their pastors are assigned by bishops and word is sent to the individual congregations through district superintendents. “Mrs. Curtis,” began the soft-voiced superintendent, “I’m calling with good news. After prayerful consideration, we have selected a new pastor for Lennox Valley.” Diane had been on pins and needles for weeks, wondering who the new pastor would be. Like everyone else at the Methodist Church, she hoped for a powerful orator, with a strong singing voice and, if the Lord felt especially gracious, a wife who played piano. Reverend Vickers had been very popular during his three years, but in a congregation as small as Lennox Valley, three years was about as long as ministers stayed before they were sent to a larger congregation. “The Reverend Sarah Hyden-Smith is being appointed to Lennox Valley,” Reverend Whedbee uttered before continuing, “and her first Sunday will be June 14.” There was a long pause before Diane responded, “Did you say “Sarah?” The district superintendent mentioned that Diane’s committee should start making plans to welcome the new pastor. “Perhaps a potluck meal after her first service,” he suggested tacitly. “Some music might be nice. Maybe someone could play piano,” he added. Wisely, Diane held back from responding with her first instinct, “I’m guessing the new pastor’s wife doesn’t play piano.” Instead, she replied, “Yes, I suppose we should.” As Diane Curtis, hung up the phone, Iris Long, editor of The Lennox Valley Hometown News, penned what she thought would be her next front page story. Like much in Lennox Valley, that was about to change. Kevin Slimp now makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee.
QVC reigns among the women of Lennox Valley
With all the craziness surrounding Raymond Cooper’s candidacy for mayor and the appointment of Sarah Hyden-Smith at the Methodist Church, it would be easy to get the idea that life was never normal in my hometown. Let me make something clear: I’m sure there were normal days during my teen years. It’s just that I don’t remember any of them.
Thinking back, 1998 was clearly a different time. There were no cellphones, iPads or texting. While our parents were watching “Saving Private Ryan” at the theaters, we were home playing Mario Brothers and Legends of Zelda on our Playstations.
In 1998, we liked to think that men were still men and women were still women. Men, when not annihilating paper plates at the annual First Baptist Church turkey shoot, spent much of their time discussing sports or playing dominos.
Women, however, had found a much more addictive pastime by 1998. When it first appeared on the TV screen ten or so years earlier, QVC shopping network took the women of Lennox Valley by storm. Indeed, women in small towns throughout America seemed enchanted by the glow of the screen, and more than one battle erupted following the arrival of a CD by Italian pop artist Giovanni, which sold more than 100,000 copies during a two-hour sales pitch on QVC in the midst of a cold stretch of weather in February.
You name it and you could buy it on QVC. Jewelry, music, wedding dresses and makeup were all available with a quick call to an 800 number. Payment was no problem because viewers were reminded they could pay for their purchase in “two easy payments.”
Lisa Robertson, a former beauty queen from Tennessee, was the favorite QVC host among Lennox Valley viewers. Watching Lisa each day was like spending time with your beautiful, 33-year-old, best friend. Women from small towns like Lennox Valley would call in and talk with Lisa, who would give them personal advice on air, much like any best friend.
Discussing a recent purchase of a “Hugs and Kisses” bracelet by Cheryl, from Hanover, Pennsylvania, Lisa was quick to point out, “Your mom is so lucky. I don’t think you could do any better, Cheryl,” with a loving smile.
It’s hard to know for sure, but rumor has it the FedEx box containing the Sandglass alarm clock was the final straw for TJ Bordewyck. It wasn’t so much that his wife, Sherilyn, had purchased her third alarm clock that year as it was seeing the red and blue overnight label and knowing that meant she had authorized a $12.95 surcharge to keep from waiting three to five restless days for her latest purchase to arrive.
TJ was livid as he burst out the door and made his way to the town square, where only the Hoffbrau and Pratt’s Country Store were open. Figuring that coming back home with the smell of Miller Lite on his breath might not be the best idea, TJ opted for a “cool down” period at the store.
The good folks of the valley could always count on Perry Pratt for a smile and a listening ear, and so it was at 7:10 p.m. on June 11, 1998, when TJ made his way into Pratt’s.
“You’re open late tonight, Perry,” TJ bellowed as he walked to the counter.
“Yes,” responded Perry, “I’m gathering some things together to take to Marvin Walsh.”
“Is something wrong?” asked TJ. “You don’t usually make deliveries.”
Perry was surprised that TJ hadn’t heard. “Deloris passed away this afternoon,” he said with obvious sadness. “They’ve been married 64 years. It’s hard to believe.”
He asked TJ if there was something he could do for him.
After a few moments of deep contemplation, TJ murmured, “I was hoping you might have some flowers.”
Entering his home with a bouquet of yellow daffodils for Sherilyn, TJ asked, “Where’s that new clock? I’m thinking it would look nice on our mantle.”
Kevin Slimp is a writer and speaker who currently makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. To learn more about The Good Folks of Lennox Valley, visit lennoxvalley.com
Lady preacher’s visit upstaged by election
It had been almost three months since the members of Lennox Valley Methodist Church learned their pastor, Rev. Glynn Vickers, was being moved in June of 1998. And it had been four weeks since that fateful moment on May 4 when Diane Curtis, chair of the Methodist Church Pastor/Parish Committee, received the call from the Springfield district superintendent to inform her that Sarah Hyden-Smith was being appointed as the new minister in Lennox Valley.
It’s funny how something can seem so important at one moment, then be almost forgotten the next. That’s kind of how it was with the news of Rev. Hyden-Smith. When word first broke out that Lennox Valley was about to get its first clergywoman, the news was so hot that Iris Long published The Hometown News a day early, something that hadn’t been done since August 16, 1977, when news broke Elvis Presley had died.
During my growing-up years, I was often reminded there is one thing that trumps just about everything else in small towns: Politics. And the good folks of Lennox Valley had just been surprised by the biggest political announcement since Helen Walker decided to run against her husband, Mayor Jay Walker, in his bid for reelection in November 1976.
Just four days earlier, on June 2, during the Tuesday edition of his daily radio program, “Renderings With Raymond,” the audience was divided between shocked and delighted to hear Raymond Cooper announce his “willingness” to acquiesce to the will of his listeners and run against “Silver Tongue” Dick Bland in the upcoming November election. Suddenly, news of a new woman minister took a back seat to the sizzling political announcement.
Just the same, Diane Curtis had arranged a meeting of the Pastor/Parish Committee at 4:30 that Saturday afternoon. Originally, word of the meeting was the talk of the town as Methodists and others who weren’t even members of the committee called Diane to ask if they could attend.
Some had heard stories of a female Pentecostal minister in the 1930s who came through town as part of a “Holy Ghost Revival.” The evangelist, it was told, dressed in a police uniform, sat in the saddle of a police motorcycle and blew the siren over and over. Next, old-timers like to reminisce, she drove the motorcycle, with its deafening roar, across the access ramp to the pulpit, slammed on the brakes, then raised a white-gloved hand to shout “Stop! You’re speeding to Hell!”
Sixty years had passed since the “Holy Roller Traffic Cop” came through town, and the idea of an honest-to-goodness woman pastor living right here in Lennox Valley was more than many folks could imagine.
So it was that Sarah Hyden-Smith, innocently enough, pulled into a parking space at the Methodist Church, expecting cake, punch and a lovely meeting with her new flock, probably around a Sunday School class table. Diane Curtis, who had been watching out the window of the fellowship hall, rushed out to greet Sarah to her new church. Diane seemed friendly enough to the new pastor, albeit a bit nervous.
Expecting the usual six or seven members who normally make up a Pastor/Parish Committee, Hyden-Smith was quite surprised to walk into a room with more than 60 folks seated in four rows across the fellowship hall.
Following a brief introduction by Diane Curtis, Sarah told the group she was thrilled to be appointed to Lennox Valley and asked the eerily silent congregants if they had any questions or thoughts they would like to share.
Looking back, I’m not sure why anyone was surprised when Elbert Lee Jones raised his hand and asked, “What’s your stand on the Federal Reserve System?”
Leaning back in his chair, near the end of the third row, Raymond Cooper grinned an almost evil grin as he sat, quite pleased with himself.
Learn more about the Good Folks of Lennox Valley at lennoxvalley.com.
Raymond Cooper for Valley Mayor!
In June 1998, the mayor of my hometown was none other than “Silver Tongue” Dick Bland. When he first ran for mayor in 1994, his campaign slogan was “Everybody’s Friend” and that seemed like a pretty good description of our leader.
“Silver Tongue,” as just about everyone called him, did pretty well as mayor. Sure, there were a few folks who got on the wrong side of Bland over the years, but overall he was loved by just about everybody.
I suppose I should have said that he was loved by just about everybody before 1997. That’s when Raymond Cooper started taking shots at the mayor on his daily “Renderings With Raymond” radio show.
It’s amazing how a nice guy like Dick Bland could be made out to be a scoundrel through the power of the airwaves, but that’s exactly what happened to “Silver Tongue.”
Iris Long, editor of The Lennox Valley Hometown News, was no fan of Raymond and she could see that Cooper was using his radio show to cause tension among the good folks of the valley. So on June 2, 1998, Long published an interview with Dick Bland titled:
Silver Tongue Debunks
In the interview, Mayor Bland fielded several questions about the Federal Reserve System. Long’s favorite quote was, “I have never been approached or contacted by the Federal Reserve System and I would gladly lend my expertise if asked.”
The mayor went on to describe the “outlandish” idea that egg prices had anything to do with “the feds.” He noted that a dozen eggs were selling at Pratt’s Country Store for $1.09. He went on to share that in 1992, eggs sold for 94 cents.
That, he told Long, was a 16 percent rise in 8 years, while inflation over that same period was 17 percent. If the Federal Reserve System was inflating egg prices over that period, it seemed to “Silver Tongue” that the price would be significantly higher than $1.09. “If anything,” he continued, “the feds have been holding the price of a dozen eggs below the inflation rate.”
They didn’t call Mayor Bland “Silver Tongue” for nothing. He knew how to drive a point home.
Anyone reading the June 2 edition of The Hometown News would think that Dick Bland had hit a home run, knocking the negative murmurings of Raymond Cooper right out of the park. Little did “Silver Tongue” or Iris Long realize that they had played right into the hands of Cooper.
“Friends,” began Raymond on his Tuesday show, “I feel as though my reputation has been assassinated in today’s ‘so called’ Hometown News.”
Bland didn’t have the only silver tongue in town. Raymond Cooper knew that listeners would subliminally associate “assassinate” with politics.
The first caller, Elbert Lee Jones, was furious that the local rag would attack a champion of the people like Raymond Cooper. He called for the mayor’s immediate resignation.
Cooper was quick to remind his caller that the mayor had a right to his opinion, no doubt influenced by some connection with the Federal Reserve System. And expecting Bland to resign wasn’t realistic, as a new election was being held in just five months.
“Maybe,” accelerated Raymond in a firm voice, “someone will rise up to speak for the people in the upcoming election,” although he admitted having no idea who that person would be.
“I nominate you!” blurted the next caller, Earl Goodman. “You are the leader we need.”
“That’s flattering,” Cooper said, “but I’ve never given political office a moment’s thought,” lying through his teeth. “I’m sure there’s a more worthy candidate out there.”
The next caller, Marvin Walsh, was even more intense. “I second Earl’s nomination!”
Cooper, feigning meekness, was silent for a moment, which was rare for Raymond, before responding in a soft, firm voice, “If my valley needs me, how can I turn away?”
Who would have thought that not one valley resident would call in about the new Methodist preacher on June 2? Things are surely heating up among the good folks of Lennox Valley.
Read more about the Good Folks at lennoxvalley.com.
It’s probably best to stay on Claire’s good side
Perry Pratt was the kind of man everyone would want living in their hometown. As owner of Valley Country Store, Perry was a friend of just about everybody in the Valley.
With the closest real supermarket 16 miles away in Springfield, the good folks of Lennox Valley relied on Pratt’s for their everyday goods like fruit, dairy products and Jello. It was comforting to know that Pratt’s was in good hands. Perry had inherited the business from his father, who had it passed to him from his father, the founder.
Perry was more than a grocer. He was friendly. He was fair. He never tried to get rich off his neighbors. Like his father, Perry just worked to make an honest living.
His honesty was a major reason people felt like they could trust him. As he rang up their groceries, Perry would listen to their stories, from sick children to dying parents to problems with the harvest. He had heard it all.
One of Perry’s funniest memories was listening to the three protestant ministers discuss their recent valley-wide revival. Father O’Reilly and his flock at All Saints didn’t go in for such things, but the other three churches on the square held a revival meeting together every four years, coinciding with the Summer Olympics.
“Brother Martin,” Brother Billy Joe Prather, pastor at First Baptist Church, asked the Lutheran pastor, “How were your results from the revival?”
“They were wonderful,” beamed Pastor Martin. “We added three souls to our flock. How did your congregation do, Brother Prather?”
Billy Joe grinned from ear to ear as he reported, “Oh, we had a wonderful revival. Six souls found their way to our congregation.”
Turning to Reverend Vickers, Brother Prather asked, “And how about the Methodists?”
Perry still laughs when he remembers the Methodist pastor’s response: “We had a better week than either of you. We got rid of our nine biggest trouble makers.”
Since venturing alone to town for the first time a week earlier, Claire Paletta had visited Pratt’s twice to buy groceries. As a vegetarian, Perry’s store was the perfect place to get the fruits and vegetables on which she survived.
By now, Claire and Perry were on a first-name basis and, for the first time, Claire brought up a topic that didn’t include produce. “Perry, may I ask you something?”
“Do you take part in the annual turkey shoot at the Baptist Church?”
Little did Perry know that the First Baptist Church Annual Men’s Breakfast and Turkey Shoot had been about the only thing on Claire’s mind for weeks, other than her “soul-mate” who had left her for a “girl in Springfield” months earlier.
Perry explained that as the only grocer in town, he had never been free to attend the breakfast or the turkey shoot. So what he knew of it, he learned from reading The Hometown News or hearing winning shooters brag about their victories in his store.
“I see,” she said, without asking more.
She left Pratt’s wondering if Perry was opposed to the idea of shooting turkeys at the church or, as may have been the case, he was just too busy to attend. She wished she had asked. For now, though, Perry Pratt was still on Claire’s “good” list.
She really hadn’t met many folks in The Valley, so neither her good or bad lists were very long. But she felt it necessary to carry mental lists, as well as to write notes on sticky-pads that she kept on her dinner table. Generally, those ended up on her refrigerator door.
As she entered her home, Claire could hear “Rendering With Raymond” on the radio. She quickly turned it off.
As she sat at her dining table, she jotted two notes and stuck them on the refrigerator door: “Good list: Perry Pratt” and “Bad list: Raymond Cooper.”
Kevin Slimp now makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. Learn more about the Good Folks at lennoxvalley.com
Radio Host Has Major Religious Awakening
Truman Capote once said that fame is good for only one thing: “They will cash your check in a small town.”
Famous people weren’t plentiful in my hometown as June moved into July of 1998, but we had one homegrown luminary, Raymond Cooper. Since buying the town’s only radio station a few years earlier, then converting it to a talk radio format, Cooper had become our local celebrity, and he cherished the role.
Like most of the town, Raymond was engulfed in the latest controversy. Fortunately for him, this created even more interest in his daily show, “Renderings With Raymond.”
As it came to pass, Independence Day landed on Sunday in 1998, and the members of First Baptist Church were vocal in their insistence that a fireworks spectacle should not be competing with their devotion to The Almighty on The Lord’s Day.
Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists didn’t seem too concerned with the potential competition for the Lord’s attention. There were a couple of reasons for this.
First, the Baptists were the only group to hold services on Sunday night, so non-Baptist folks of the Valley were free to enjoy their evenings as they wished. This was the subject of more than one fiery sermon by Brother Billy Joe Prather, pastor at First Baptist Church, but it didn’t seem to worry the other churchgoers much at all.
Secondly, most folks who weren’t Baptists figured that God enjoyed a fireworks show as much as anyone else. While I was a child, there were many 4th of July celebrations when I wondered what fireworks looked like from the sky.
As important as the present quarrel was to Raymond’s talk show, there was another matter vying for his attention. Though he’d rather put it off forever, Raymond realized that he had to deal with an important issue if he was going to be elected mayor of Lennox Valley: Where to go to church.
You see, while Cooper enjoyed a large listening audience each day, he knew that he was going up against “Silver Tongue” Dick Bland in the August election, and as a member of First Baptist Church, Bland has at least a couple of hundred votes in his pocket, maybe more.
Raymond realized that, for most folks, it would be hard to vote against someone they sat near in church every Sunday. And since he hadn’t attended church since he was a young boy, Raymond had no built-in church constituency.
Cooper carefully considered the pros and cons of each of the town’s four congregations. He jotted his thoughts on the back of a Hoffbrau receipt as listeners called in to his show, howling about the merits of the Federal Reserve System or the audacity of shooting fireworks on Sunday.
All Saints Catholic Church was the first to be trimmed from the list. There were classes involved in joining the church, and that could take weeks.
First Baptist Church would be the obvious choice, if it wasn’t for Dick Bland. They meet three times every week, where they almost beg for folks to come down the aisle to join the church at the end of each service. But with Bland there, he was unlikely to garner many new votes.
The Methodists were a possibility, but Raymond was concerned that he would lose votes if he attended a church with a female pastor.
The clear choice, it seemed, was Lennox Valley Lutheran Church. They wouldn’t insist that he be baptized, since he had been sprinkled as a baby, and he had heard that an “invitation” was offered at the end of the contemporary service, led by Brother Jacob, every Sunday morning.
His timing and performance would be critical. Raymond would need more Hoffbrau receipts as he devised his strategy for Independence Day, 1998.
Drama peaks as June ‘98 winds down in the Valley
When thinking back to childhood memories, people have a tendency to remember summer as a restful, peaceful time of life. In my hometown of Lennox Valley, summer was anything but restful as June of 1998 neared its end.
May and June were brimming with drama worthy of front-page mention in The Lennox Valley Hometown News. Just when it looked like life had gotten as bizarre as it could get, something even wackier would take center stage of Valley attention.
Just a year earlier, life in our quaint community was downright placid compared to the curious drama played out in front of us seemingly every day this summer. Sure, Raymond Cooper had sparked a mistrust of local politicians in his rantings concerning the Federal Reserve System, but by June of ‘98 momentum had built to the point that those flames seemed intent on overtaking the good folks of the Valley and driving Cooper directly into the mayor’s chair.
And while life at the Baptist and Catholic churches remained relatively unscathed, the same couldn’t be said about the town Lutherans and Methodists. Who would have guessed, just a year earlier, when word that the famous TV evangelist Todd Cecil would be visiting Lennox Valley sometime in 1998, that Cecil’s visit would be wiped off the front page and nearly forgotten as a result of an announcement by the district superintendent that the good Methodists of Lennox Valley would be the recipients of the town’s first female pastor?
Many Methodists secretly pined for the “good life” they had enjoyed, listening to Pastor Vickers pronounce his benediction, almost always with a quote from his favorite book (besides the Bible, of course), “Celebrity Quotes.” No one in the congregation was aware that the pastor’s parting words each week were actually quotes from famous celebrities. Most just thought their shepherd had a gift usually reserved for poets and composers of ballads.
Some were as simple as, “And whichsoever way thou goest, may fortune follow,” taken directly from “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” by Jules Verne.
Other times, like when he borrowed a line written in 1954 by J.R.R. Tolkien, they were a bit more poetic: “Farewell, and may the blessing of Elves and Men and all Free Folk go with you. May the stars shine upon your faces.”
Then, there were the benedictions that caused congregants to wonder if the good reverend had possibly stopped by the Hoffbrau for a Miller Lite – a habit generally frowned upon by many small town Methodists – while preparing for the next day’s service. For example, he would sometimes use lines from popular songs of the 1960s: “As you part from this place, whisper words of wisdom.” Then, instead of “Amen,” he dismissed the congregation with, “Let it be.”
The first time I remember hearing townsfolk whisper that it might be time for Pastor Vickers to consider retirement was after his most memorable benediction, in late 1997, “May the force be with you,” to which they instinctively responded, “And also with you.”
There were some who appreciated the summer drama of 1998. Maxine Miller’s column in Hometown News, “Rumor Has It,” had never been more popular. Between spinning tales about Sarah Hyden-Smith’s marital status, battles between Vera Pinrod, president of the Lennox Valley Auburn Hat Society, and Father O’Reilly, or guessing at the amount of money spent by Sherilyn Bordewyck on purchases from QVC, Maxine was thrilled with the crescendo that seemed to be building in Lennox Valley in June of ‘98.
Was my hometown bizarre? Sometimes. Was it boring? Never. And as June ended, one citizen of the Valley was deep in contemplation. Because this decision could determine if he would be the next mayor of our town.
Learn more about the good folks online at lennoxvalley.com or on “The Good Folks of Lennox Valley” Facebook page.
It’s finally Sunday! Can anyone save Sarah?
Sarah Hyden-Smith was usually a cheerful, confident woman. Lennox Valley Methodist Church was her third appointment, having served as an associate pastor at two larger churches since graduating from a fine seminary in Central Ohio five years earlier.
Sarah, however, was no longer in Central Ohio, and today was a day of two firsts: It was the first time she stood in front of the congregation as “the” pastor and the first time she faced a congregation following a column in the local paper suggesting that she and the Valley’s other young single pastor, Jacob Gehrig at Lennox Valley Lutheran Church, might create sparks not seen since the previous Fourth of July celebration.
The good Methodist folks of the Valley had burned the phone lines for weeks, sharing their thoughts concerning a supposedly single female with a hyphenated name. Was she divorced? A widow? Does she have a husband in some far off place, waiting to join her in their lovely village?
When she met with the parish committee a few weeks earlier, she never mentioned her marital status. And since Marvin Walsh had used up his question when he asked about Sarah’s stance on the Federal Reserve System, there was no one left in the room with the courage to approach Sarah concerning the subject.
Wearing nothing on her ring finger, and since Sarah hadn’t brought up the subject of a spouse, everyone assumed she was single, or divorced, or a widow. And now that Maxine Miller had pretty much announced to the entire community in her column, “Rumor Has It,” that sparks might fly between the two young pastors in town, it was assumed by everyone that Sarah Hyden-Smith was a single woman with a hyphenated name.
It was appropriate that the opening hymn, “O, For a Thousand Tongues,” was perhaps the all-time Methodist favorite. They love that song the way Lutherans love “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Sure, it may not carry the emotional baggage of the Baptist favorite, “Just As I Am,” but there was no doubt you were in a Methodist church when the Charles Wesley favorite started ringing from the pipe organ.
As Sarah faced the congregation, her right hand shook just a little as she placed it on the pulpit. Her opening prayer seemed to go smoothly, and she could feel the congregation’s eerie quietness as they seemingly waited for angels to appear or lightning to strike as the first female pastor in the history of Lennox Valley took the stage.
Due to the fact that it was the first Sunday with a new minister, coupled with that minister being a woman, the sanctuary of the old Methodist church was as full as it had been since a brief charismatic period following the release of “The Cross and the Switchblade” back in 1970. Smiles filled the congregation as 22 children came forward for the children’s sermon, which took place following the prayer. Sarah had been told that there were normally eight or ten children in attendance, so she was a little surprised when she saw the throng approaching.
Sarah’s plan was to have them each take a place along a rope, holding on as their pastor led them on a walk around the sanctuary. The idea behind the “rope walk” was that if anyone were to fall, someone would be right behind them to pick them up. Everything seemed to be going well as the new female pastor led the three to eight-year-olds around the sanctuary, with smiling adults watching and listening as their children and grandchildren starred in the show. Sarah was surprised, however, as she led the parade back to the altar area, when she saw young Brad and Elizabeth Albright sitting on the steps, just in front of the pulpit.
Sarah turned to Brad, the older of the two, and innocently asked, “Why didn’t you join us on our walk around the sanctuary?”
Brad’s response brought down the house and guaranteed that Sarah Hyden-Smithís first day as pastor was a success: “Because our daddy told us if we got up and walked around during children’s sermon one more time, he was going to beat our butts.”
No one remembered very much about Sarah’s first sermon, but her first children’s sermon was a huge success.
Oh, for the record, no one mentioned seeing angels or lightning at Lennox Valley Methodist Church on that Sunday in late June of 1998.
It didn’t take a Nielson rating to uncover the favorite local entertainment in Lennox Valley in 1998. Without our own TV station, the newspaper and radio were our outlets for local news.
Our paper, The Lennox Valley Hometown News, came out every Wednesday morning like clockwork. A group of retired townspeople could be seen sipping coffee at the Dairy Queen on State Highway 111, beginning around 6:30 a.m. each week, while they waited for the paper to arrive.
Everyone’s most anticipated column was “Rumor Has It,” by Maxine Miller. This is where we would get the news that wouldn’t quite make it in one of Iris Long’s more, shall we say, journalistic columns.
As you might guess, Maxine’s favorite phrase was “rumor has it,” and each of her columns began with those words.
“Rumor has it,” she would begin, “that T.J. Bordewyck was seen arriving home late in the evening on June 11, carrying a bouquet of flowers from Pratt’s Country Store.”
From that point, Maxine would elaborate on the reasons a man might bring flowers to his wife so late in the evening and why, with all the flowers in the world, he would choose to bring daffodils.
“As I remember,” Maxine wrote, “Sherilyn and T.J. were married in the fall, so those weren’t anniversary flowers.”
“If it was her birthday,” Maxine penned, “perhaps he should have thought ahead and ordered something nice from QVC.”
Maxine loved to stir up the dust, and Lennox Valley was one dusty place. Maxine used to write, “The nice thing about living in a small town is when you don’t know what you are doing, somebody else does.”
It seemed like most gossip in Lennox Valley was born in one of three places: Maxine’s weekly column, Raymond Cooper’s radio show, or Caroline’s Beauty Salon. To be sure, however, Caroline had enough problems of her own after marrying her high school sweetheart, Salter Tittle, in 1989.
Salter, it seems, was quite the physical specimen in high school and one of Lennox Valley’s most decorated athletes. In 1988, Salter reached the state track & field finals for the third straight year. His specialty was the pole vault, which won him a gold medal at the state meet his senior year.
One can just imagine the teasing Caroline endured during high school while dating “Salter the Vaulter.” Kids can be cruel, and Caroline was no stranger to cruelty.
That’s probably why Caroline tried to keep mean, spiteful gossip to a minimum, as best she could. Plus, she had her own personal issues.
No one had noticed, yet, that Salter had left three weeks earlier with a garbage bag full of clothes, along with most of the money from the family bank account, and hadn’t returned. This was no time for Caroline to be spreading rumors about anyone else.
That wasn’t the case, though, with Maxine. Iris Long, editor of Hometown News, wasn’t thrilled with many of the rumors she would spread but Maxine was a big reason many of the good folks of the valley read The Hometown News each week.
So it was on the week of Sarah Hyden-Smith’s arrival to the Valley. Just four days before her first sermon at the Methodist church, Sarah opened the paper to read, “Rumor has it that the new minister at Lennox Valley Methodist Church is single.”
Sarah was afraid to read further, but had no choice.
“Fortunately,” Maxine continued, “she won’t be the only single pastor in Lennox Valley,” referring to Brother Jacob at the Lutheran Church.
“I’m guessing,” concluded Maxine, that the Ministerial Alliance meetings are about to get much more interesting.”
Indeed, there was no shortage of entertainment in my hometown.
Kevin Slimp now makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Lambs, Mary Ann and the Federal Reserve System
Mary Ann Tinkersley was the prettiest girl in all of Lennox Valley during my teenage years, and truth be told, she was the primary reason for the drop in my algebra scores between the winter and spring semesters of 1998. My mother made me spend at least 60 minutes each night studying algebra. What she didn’t understand was that Mary Ann sat one row to my left and one seat ahead of me in class, and no amount of studying was going to make up for the confusion she stirred in my brain cells each day from 1:15 to 2:05.
Lennox Valley wasn’t big enough for its own high school, so Mary Ann and I both attended school nine miles away at Central Valley High School. CVHS was born through a merger of West Central High School and Lennox Valley High School back in the 1950s. It comprised of a mix of kids from Lennox Valley and the area west of Springfield, the county seat.
During my sophomore year, there were 103 students from Lennox Valley at Central, meaning that most of us had grown up together and knew each other pretty well. Mary Ann and I had been close friends in elementary school, but as is often the case, we parted ways as we grew into adolescence.
In towns like Lennox Valley, it’s the common practice for high school students to raise livestock during the school year, in anticipation of the FFA judging at the August county fair. As it happened in 1998, both Mary Ann and I were raising lambs.
It’s a big deal to raise a prize-winning animal, so teenagers went all out to get their livestock in the best condition possible. Beginning in March, when the weather was more supportive, I would walk my lamb, Archibald, every evening just before supper for 10 minutes.
Imagine my surprise when, on June 4, 1998, I came upon Mary Ann walking her lamb, Snowflake, one block from the town square, just around the corner from All Saints Church. Pretty soon, our “accidental” meetings took place every night at that same corner.
Ten minutes became fifteen minutes, and before long, we had the healthiest lambs in all Spring County.
As we walked, we’d help each other prepare for the livestock judging and the “oral reasons” section of the judging. Oral reasons is a process dreamed up by cruel farmers in decades past who obviously enjoyed watching future farmers forced to participate in their greatest fear, public speaking.
Basically, the idea was that we would judge livestock raised by other future farmers against the “ideal” animal. Not only did we have to group the unknowing contestants into categories, but we had to give oral explanations of why we placed each animal where we did. In short, it was worse than algebra.
Most of our walks were peaceful, but now and then we would encounter something memorable. Like the night we saw TJ Bordewyck slam his door and zip toward the town square, murmuring under his breath about overnight shipping.
We would hear arguments from time to time. More than once, we heard Sarah Goolsby arguing with her parents over her refusal to eat the “animal carcass” that her mother had prepared for dinner.
Most disagreements seemed to be over the Federal Reserve System or the new preacher at the Methodist Church. Funny, though, 15-year-olds don’t concern themselves with such things while walking their lambs through the town square near the end of the day.
There were more important things to think about. Things like the upcoming livestock judging or the class schedule for our junior year.
Yes, Mary Ann Tinkersley was the prettiest girl in Lennox Valley, and I was walking with her. The Federal Reserve System wasn’t about to do anything to mess that up.
Kevin Slimp makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. Read more about the Good Folks at lennoxvalley.com.
Poet Laureate takes aim at Raymond Cooper
Small town newspapers are a bit different from their counterparts in New York or Los Angeles. That’s true today, and it was true in 1998, when I was growing up in Lennox Valley.
Unlike papers in the big city, the Lennox Valley Hometown News wasn’t made up of a large staff of full-time journalists and investigative reporters. The total payroll of our newspaper included Boyd Sanders, part-time intern, reporter and student at the local junior college; Maxine Miller, who penned “Rumor Has It,” the most popular weekly column in the paper; and Iris Long, who wasn’t really on the payroll as such.
As editor, publisher and owner of the newspaper, Iris got whatever profit was left after all the bills were paid. Needless to say, she wasn’t rich, but she loved her work and knew that she was involved in something important. And for what it’s worth, that’s a lot more than most folks can say.
Until recently, the Hometown News had a part-time advertising person on staff, but demonstrating the power of printed news, she answered a want ad in her own paper and took a job selling real estate for an agency based 16 miles away in Springfield.
That left one other staff member, Elizabeth Barrett, “Lennox Valley’s Poet Laureate.” She would take deference to being called a staff person. It wasn’t that she was rude, she just tended to think of herself in more elevated terms. It was even rumored that Elizabeth, a widow, had married her husband, Millard Barrett, just for his last name. In 1997, Maxine took aim at her fellow writer in “Rumor Has It” with the headline, “Could Worley Browning be next?”
While Iris covered the hard news, Boyd was sent out to cover city council and school board meetings, high school ball games and church socials.
Maxine kept pace with the local rumor mill and was having a banner year in 1998. Her focus had shifted from the “budding” romance between the valley’s two unmarried clergypersons (at least she assumed that Sarah Hyden-Smith was single) to the latest murmurings concerning Raymond Cooper’s “conversion” at the most recent contemporary service at Lennox Valley Lutheran Church.
It was hard, even for a woman of sophistication and savoir faire, a term Elizabeth liked to use with regularity, to stay above the fray of the recent events of the valley. It was rare for her to get down into the mud, so you wouldn’t find Elizabeth writing about the annual turkey shoot or TV evangelist coming to town.
Barrett had a way with words. Her column, titled, “Free Verse,” always included the words, “by our own Poet Laureate, Elizabeth Barrett,” underneath.
In 1996, she penned one of her most memorable poems:
“There may not be much to see in my small town / but I tend to not let that bring me down./ For just when it seems no life is near, / I make up for that with what I hear.”
And there was much to hear during that fateful week in Lennox Valley. “Silver Tongue” Dick Bland, town mayor, was furious at Raymond Cooper, who on Monday slyly hung up on Mayor Bland just as he was getting ready to “out” Cooper for joining the Lutheran Church under false pretenses.
All he was able to say, before hearing the click and dial tone, was “I want to congratulate you.”
Now daily listeners of “Renderings with Raymond” were more convinced than ever that their champion of the airwaves would soon be their new town mayor.
But Elizabeth didn’t fall for Cooper’s performance. She knew something was amiss, and her weekly poem would be the topic of conversation for days to follow:
“Talk-show hero Raymond Cooper / fell on the floor in religious stupor. / To some, that makes him mighty super./ Please hand me a pooper scooper.”
“Silver Tongue” Dick Bland Begins His Assault
“Renderings with Raymond” was normally a labor of love for Raymond Cooper. After all, it was his “baby.” Started in 1997 as a camouflaged attempt to bolster his clandestine mayoral candidacy, the talk show drew close to half of Lennox Valley’s residents each weekday from noon until 3:00.
The casual observer would think his plan had worked to perfection. With just seven weeks until the election, Cooper’s most recent antics looked sure to take him to the summit of local politics.
With less than an hour left in his Monday show, Raymond was already looking ahead to some respite during Lennox Valley’s second favorite radio program, “Swap Shop.” From time to time callers would interrupt their latest laundry list of items to swap with other listeners to instead bring up something about the price of eggs or the “slanted” newspaper editor, Iris Long, but on most days Swap Shop made for a relaxing change of pace.
It was 2:40 p.m. on that fateful Monday, when Raymond took what he thought would be his last call of the day. He generally saved the last ten minutes of the show to deliver a monologue concerning the Federal Reserve System or some other pressing issue.
He answered the call with his usual greeting, “This is Raymond. What’s on your mind?”
The voice on the other end stopped Raymond dead in his tracks.
“Hello, Mr. Cooper,” the caller with the familiar, low-toned voice began. “This is Mayor Richard Bland, humble servant of the good folks of Lennox Valley.”
There was a discernible pause as Raymond frantically searched through the deepest recesses of his mind for the right words. He barely kept himself from sputtering out, “Well, if it’s not Silver Tongue in the flesh!” referring to the nickname of the town mayor, “Silver Tongue” Dick Bland. Luckily, he caught himself in time.
Instead, after several awkward seconds, he blurted out, “Well, yes. Hello, Mr. Mayor. Welcome to our show. What’s on your alleged mind this afternoon?”
“Well,” began Silver Tongue, “I just wanted to congratulate you.”
“Congratulate me?” murmured Cooper, knowing that his intentions were probably less than sincere.
The mayor’s plan was to congratulate Raymond on his newfound faith. After all, Cooper had received no less than six calls on his Monday show in response to his “conversion” at the Lutheran Church the day before.
Mayor Bland began going over his thoughts early that morning. Even with the nickname “Silver Tongue,” words didn’t always come easily to Bland. Before a speech, he would practice for hours to give the impression that he was a naturally gifted orator.
The mayor memorized his lines, even writing them down on paper so he wouldn’t forget something important. They were a work of art, beginning with, “Isn’t it true that you hadn’t been to a church service in more than 50 years prior to yesterday?”
Then, with his low, powerful voice, he would force his point, “Isn’t it true that the only reason you joined Lennox Valley Lutheran Church was to sway the Christian vote of this community, knowing they would otherwise vote for me?”
But Cooper was quick. Sure, there was a momentary lapse upon hearing the Mayor’s voice, but he recovered quickly. As soon as “Silver Tongue” Dick Bland began with, “I just wanted to congratulate you,” Cooper immediately shot back with, “Well, thank you, Mayor!”
Without his listeners knowing it, Raymond hung up on Bland and spoke for 14 minutes about the mayor’s kind gesture in calling to congratulate him on his spiritual “awakening.”
“I can’t help,” he almost whispered as he closed his Monday show, “that he was divinely inspired to make that call. Thank you, Mayor.”
Kevin Slimp currently makes his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. Read more about The Good Folks of Lennox Valley at lennoxvalley.com.
Raymond’s Fireworks Steal the Show on July 4
Raymond Cooper had been priming the pump all week on his daily radio show, “Renderings With Raymond,” as he prepared to carry out his evil scheme on the morning of Sunday, July 4, 1998.
Talk had been rampant on the show since Monday concerning three topics:
- The Federal Reserve System, and Raymond’s plan to address the problem by accepting his listeners’ outcry to run for mayor in the upcoming election;
- The uproar by Billy Joe Prather, pastor of First Baptist Church, over the town’s plans to shoot fireworks after dusk on July 4, which happened to fall on the Lord’s Day;
- Raymond’s constant reminder to his listeners that something was stirring within him, something so deep he couldn’t put it into words.
In truth, something was stirring alright. Cooper’s plan to join a church on July 4, in time to garner new votes in his election bid, was at hand.
His listeners were concerned. It wasn’t like Raymond to have a problem putting anything into words. Could he be dying? Could he be in some sort of trouble? Could the Federal Reserve System be breathing down his throat? Listeners wanted to know. But if Raymond said he couldn’t verbalize his inner murmurings, who were they to press their champion of the airwaves? He would, they trusted, explain in due time.
Raymond had a small problem as he prepared for his “religious awakening.” He settled on the church weeks earlier. For various reasons, the Catholic, Baptist and Methodist churches were eliminated from consideration.
That left Lennox Valley Lutheran Church. After some digging, Cooper found there was a “contemporary” service held in the Lutheran Fellowship Hall at 8:30 a.m. each week. The beauty of the contemporary service, Raymond learned, was that Brother Jacob offered an invitation to join the church at the end of each service, something that wasn’t done in the traditional service held upstairs in the sanctuary.
There was a slight problem. What Cooper knew about church invitations he learned during a brief period when he attended a Pentecostal church with his grandmother almost 50 years earlier. Surely, he figured, things couldn’t have changed that much.
Raymond made his way into the Fellowship Hall at precisely 8:28 a.m. Even though he assumed a place in the back row, with only 13 folks in attendance, everyone noticed that a celebrity was in their midst.
A Lutheran service, he learned quickly after taking his seat in a folding metal chair, was a bit different than the Pentecostal services he remembered. The songs were similar, though less energetic. It was a contemporary service, after all. There was no speaking in tongues or loud “Amens” as the minister spoke. Nonetheless, Cooper decided to stick with his plan.
Brother Jacob offered an invitation to join the church as the keyboard began playing “Lord of the Dance.” Imagine the suprise as Raymond ran down the center aisle, waving his arms and falling on the floor in front of Brother Jacob, in an attempt at being “slain in the spirit.” If he remembered one thing from his Pentecostal upbringing, it was that falling to the floor in religious ecstacy was expected during any authentic conversion.
That afternoon, as the good folks of Lennox Valley made their preparations for the firework festivities, word about the first conversion during a contemporary service spread like wildfire among the community. Could it be? Raymond Cooper? A Lutheran?
Iris Long, editor of The Lennox Valley Hometown News, initially heard of the miraculous event from Vera Penrod, president of the Auburn Hat Society. Iris’s first thought was, “What is he up to this time?”
As always, Vera Penrod was more than happy to offer a suggestion. “Why not call the story ‘Local Celebrity Couple: Cooper and Jesus?’”
Iris had a better idea, however.
Raymond Cooper Prepares For His Greatest Performance
July 4, 1998, is a date that will live in infamy in the annals of Lennox Valley. Let’s look back at the events that led up to this remarkable date in Valley history.
The daily talk radio show, “Renderings with Raymond,” is as good a place to begin as any, I suppose. It had been only 17 months since Raymond Cooper hatched his plan to use his celebrity to weasel his way into the mayor’s seat in the upcoming election. With each passing day, listeners became more enraged at Raymond’s favorite source of controversy, the dastardly actions of the Federal Reserve System. These actions, he claimed, were solely responsible for the soaring price of eggs.
Around that same time, the good Lutherans of the Valley called “Brother Jacob” Gehrig, direct descendant of Lou Gehrig, to serve as their first associate pastor. Not long after, following his attendance at a church growth conference at a Methodist “mega-church” in Kansas City, Jacob felt his heart strangely warmed and was led to begin the Valley’s first “contemporary” worship service. Having no drummers or electric guitar players in the congregation, the weekly 8:30 a.m. service made do with a keyboard player from the local junior college. Brother Jacob is perhaps best known for his habit of preaching in bare feet. He once explained to his congregation of 15 to 20 weekly attendees it had something to do with Moses and a burning bush.
1997 was an eventful year in Lennox Valley, as it was also the year that Claire Lapella moved to town, although hardly anyone knew it at the time. Claire moved to the Valley to be with her “soulmate,” Jay Molley, who, eight months later, did as soulmates often do, leaving her to be with his new soulmate who lived up the road in Springfield.
In May of ‘98, desperately feeling the echoing emptiness, Claire picked up a copy of Lennox Valley Hometown News, dated October 15, 1997, which had been lying underneath a copy of the Lennox Valley Phone Book for seven months. That’s when she learned of the First Baptist Church Annual Men’s Breakfast and Turkey Shoot. As one of only six vegetarians in all of the Valley, Claire was chagrined by the thought of Baptist men traipsing around the church grounds, shooting innocent turkeys. The fact that women weren’t invited made it that much worse.
Of course, the biggest news among the good folks in 1998 was the appointment of the first clergywoman in the history of Lennox Valley. Sarah Hyden-Smith became the pastor of First Methodist Church in June of that year, and life in my hometown hasn’t been the same since.
Who knew that so many puzzle pieces would come together on one extraordinary day? It was on July 4 that both Claire Lapella and Raymond Cooper awoke, unbeknownst to each other, in their respective homes earlier than usual for a Sunday morning. Both residents of the Valley were planning to attend church for the first time as adults, but for different reasons.
Claire, while still plotting her upcoming protest at First Baptist Church, had heard of the new pastor at Lennox Valley Methodist Church. In a moment of desperation, feeling the growing loneliness of a woman whose soulmate was gone for good, Claire made the fateful decision to quietly slip in among the Methodists and see what this Sarah Hyden-Smith was all about. Claire was grasping for hope, and church seemed as good a place as any to find it.
Raymond’s reason for attending church was a bit less noble. Coming to the conclusion that he must be a faithful member of a church to win the upcoming election, he realized that the clock was ticking and July 4 was to be the day he took the membership plunge. After much “prayerful thought,” a phrase he would repeat often in the coming weeks, he selected the contemporary service at Lennox Valley Lutheran Church.
It would be a performance to be retold time and again over the coming years.
New minister learns of Claire’s Fowl Thoughts
It took only eight minutes for Claire Lapella to get right to the point with her visiting pastor, and soon-to-be friend, Sarah Hyden-Smith. It just happened to be Sarah’s first official call on a visitor since preaching her first sermon at Lennox Valley Methodist Church nine days earlier. Heeding the advice of her predecessor, Sarah was attempting to make personal visits to newcomers to the church within a few days after their visits.
It was obvious Claire and Sarah felt comfortable with each other from the beginning. As she thumbed through the Bible on Claire’s coffee table, Sarah shared her bizarre encounter with Beatrice Justice just before leaving the church.
“What’s Exodus 2:22?” asked Claire after her new friend told her what she was looking for.
“It’s a verse in the second book of the Old Testament,” answered Sarah. “Exodus is the story of Moses leading his people out of centuries of bondage into a new promised land.”
“And that’s all she said?” asked Claire, as puzzled as Sarah. “Exodus 2:22?”
“That’s it,” Sarah almost whispered as she read the scripture silently to herself. “Beatrice asked me how I was getting along in my new hometown. After I told her I was beginning to get used to where things are, she responded with ‘Exodus 2:22,’ then turned and walked away.”
“Well, what’s it say?” Claire was on the edge of her seat.
Sarah read the words aloud slowly, with a bit of a puzzled look on her face, “And he said, ‘I have been a stranger in a strange land.’”
After a moment’s pause, Claire took the lead. “How do you feel about killing animals at church?”
“Do you mean animal sacrifice, like they did in Old Testament days?” asked Sarah.
“No,” continued Claire, “I mean like shooting turkeys every year at the Baptist Church.”
Sarah couldn’t comprehend what her new friend was saying to her. Eventually, however, she put the puzzle pieces into place.
Claire was upset about the upcoming men’s breakfast and turkey shoot at First Baptist Church. When she first learned about the annual event, Claire wasn’t sure if she was more upset about grown men trampling the church grounds shooting fowl or the idea that women weren’t invited. After a couple of months of intense contemplation, she decided she was more upset about the turkeys.
Although Sarah had been assigned to serve the church in Lennox Valley, she hadn’t always lived in a small town. Actually, she was more of a big city kind of girl. She explained to Claire that her mother was one of the early women ministers in the Methodist Church, and now, 30 years later, here was her daughter, pastor of Lennox Valley Methodist Church.
Sarah had moved around a lot, normal for a “PK” (preacher’s kid), but had spent most of her teen years in a large city where her mother served as an associate pastor. So, she explained, her understanding of turkey shoots was minimal.
This was 1998, and it wasn’t as easy to get information as it is today. Computers weren’t plentiful in the valley, and even if they were, Claire wouldn’t know how to look up such a thing.
Sarah assured Claire that she would look into details concerning the turkey shoot, still four months away, and let her know what she found. She was, she told her new friend, quite sure that no one would be running around the church grounds looking for turkeys to shoot.
“That just doesn’t seem right,” Sarah confided, “even for Baptists.”
Sarah suggested the two meet for lunch at the Hoffbrau on Friday. It was near the church and Claire was familiar with it, even though she hadn’t eaten out very often since moving to the valley months earlier.
“I’m off to visit Caroline Tittle,” Sarah said as she stood up from the sofa. “Do you know her?”
“No,” answered Claire in a soft tone, “I don’t really know much of anyone.”
Walking toward Claire’s front door, Sarah paused for a moment, before turning to face her new friend, “Well, now you do.”
A word of advice from Exodus 2:22
Beatrice Justice Keeps Everyone Guessing
Looking over the attendance pads from her first Sunday service, new Methodist pastor Sarah Hyden-Smith read, “Claire Lapella.” Next to the name, the box marked “visitor” was checked.
Just below, on the next line, she saw the shaky handwriting belonging to Caroline Tittle, owner of Caroline’s Beauty Salon. She had also checked the visitor’s box by her name.
It’s quite interesting that these two women’s names were listed in order on the attendance pad. That meant they were seated side by side in the pew. Since the sanctuary was packed for Sarah’s first Sunday, they must have been seated close together.
Leaving her office to make her first visits as minister of Lennox Valley Methodist Church, Sarah had no way of knowing that these visits would be with two strangers who happened to have so much in common.
Before she exited the building, Sarah was met just outside the church office by Beatrice Justice, a peculiar woman with the reputation for being a bit unusual. Beatrice, Sarah learned, had dropped by the church to pick up a copy of the Upper Room Devotional for a sick friend. At least that’s what she told her new pastor.
The real reason for Beatrice’s stopover was to get a close-up view of her new pastor. After all, she had never met a female preacher up close. Perhaps, she imagined, she might pick up some interesting tidbit concerning the new minister to share with her fellow members of the Lennox Valley Auburn Hat Society.
After a quick introduction, Beatrice asked her new shepherd how she was adjusting to her new home.
“I’m finally starting to learn where things are,” conceded Sarah. She had no idea how much of an adjustment she was in for.
Her new congregant took Sarah by surprise with her answer: “Exodus 2, verse 22.”
Then Beatrice nodded, turned and walked out the door. Reverend Hyden-Smith wasn’t sure what to think about the encounter.
Sarah would soon realize that Beatrice’s reputation was well-deserved. Instead of speaking in sentences, like most everyone else, she would often answer with a scripture reference.
It’s not so unusual for folks in a place like Lennox Valley to quote scripture now and then. Even Sarah might offer some pastoral advice like, “The Bible says God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”
The difference was Beatrice didn’t quote Bible verses themselves. She would just spit out the chapter and verse number, leaving most to wonder what kind of backhanded compliment or advice they had just been given.
Customarily when she did this, many had noticed, she had a devilish smile on her face, as if she had outwitted her less scripturally educated conversation partner.
Walking toward her car, Sarah took a mental note to look up Exodus 2:22 later and see what Beatrice was talking about. “Maybe,” she thought, “I should brush up on my Old Testament.”
Her first stop was at the home of Claire Lapella. The house looked like many in the valley: White, with an old-fashioned front porch, probably built 30 years before Sarah was born.
There was a porch swing that hadn’t been occupied in some time. A couple of planters with the remains of what used to be azaleas and geraniums nestled against the front edge of the porch.
Other than an occasional salesman or someone selling a religion, there hadn’t been many visitors to Claire’s home since her soulmate moved on to be with his new soulmate. She recognized her guest immediately from her visit a week earlier to the Methodist church.
It’s interesting how two strangers can form an instantaneous bond. She didn’t say anything about it, but somehow Claire knew they were going to be close friends from the moment they met.
Once inside, Sarah was surprised to see a Bible on the coffee table. “I believe it belongs to my landlord,” Claire told her.
“Do you mind if I look at it?” Sarah asked.
As the pastor flipped through the pages, Claire asked, “What are you looking for?”
Sarah faintly replied, “Exodus 2, verse 22.”
Write to Kevin Slimp at email@example.com
Advice for the new pastor
How will Reverend Sarah respond to news that the Baptists are shooting turkeys and she?s not invited?
It had been nine days since Rev. Sarah Hyden-Smith made her first appearance in the pulpit of Lennox Valley Methodist Church. Her schedule was filled with unpacking boxes, meeting with committees, preparing her first two sermons and other ministerial duties.
Thanks to the surprise remarks from the Albright siblings during her first children?s sermon, along with the large number of folks who had come out to hear the new preacher, Sarah was feeling pretty good about her first two weeks in the valley. Still, Sarah knew that the newness would eventually wear off, and her attention would turn from getting acquainted with her new surroundings toward shepherding her flock at the Methodist Church.
Three weeks before moving to her new appointment, Sarah made a visit to her predecessor, Glynn Vickers, who was retiring after 42 years in the ministry. She was eager to learn all she could about her new congregation and to gain any insights that could help as she prepared for her position.
Being newer to the ministry, Sarah didn?t know much about Rev. Vickers, but soon learned that he would be an invaluable resource. Glynn was an amiable sort, quick-witted and easygoing. Sarah took a quick liking to him.
They mostly talked about her new church. Rev. Vickers had enjoyed his years there, and Sarah could tell he didn?t want to force information on her. Finally, she asked him if he had any advice for her.
“I’ve been in the ministry a long time,” he began. “I know a lot of pastors spend most of their time in meetings and preparing for sermons.”
Sarah was on the edge of her seat, hoping for any information that would help her be a better pastor to her new flock.
“In my four decades, I?ve found that it all comes down to three things. As long as I did those, people seemed to like me, and congregations grew.”
“He must know what he?s talking about,? Sarah thought. In her research, she had found that the Lennox Valley church had increased in membership and attendance each year since Glynn arrived.
“What are those three things”
After pausing briefly, Rev. Vickers said, “First, make a personal visit to the home of every new visitor within three days”
“Three days” she asked pensively.
“It’s important to get to them quickly. That way they know they’re important to you. Wait any longer, and they’ve probably forgotten they even attended.”
“OK. What else” asked Sarah.
“Visit every member of the church in their homes at least once each year,” he said, as if it were common knowledge.
‘But how do you find time to prepare for sermons if you?re visiting so many people”
Glynn grinned knowingly, looking down toward the ground. “People will forget your sermon by dinner time. They will remember when you visited their home for years.”
“People come to church,” he continued, “because they want to matter. And when you visit them at home, they feel like they matter. It’s not hard. We have 104 family units in the church. Some live alone, some are families. If you get to two homes each week, you?ve visited everyone.?
Both were quiet for a moment while Sarah digested this new information.
“And what?s the third thing?” asked Sarah.
“Visit every member and their relatives every day while they are in the hospital.”
“But the nearest hospital is in Springfield,”noted Sarah.
Rev. Vickers rubbed his chin, as if to say, “I know. I go there just about every day.” However, no words came from his mouth.
Sarah left their meeting convinced she would heed his advice. So here she was, ten days into her first year as pastor, and it was time to start.
Looking at the visitors list from her first Sunday service, she read, “Claire Lapella.”
Quite fortuitously, at that very moment Claire Lapella was planning her march to protest the upcoming men’s breakfast and turkey shoot at First Baptist Church. Reverend Hyden-Smith’s first visit should be quite interesting.
Scoop of the Century!
Local editor uncovers truth about Federal Reserve, price fixing, and shady politician
In all the years Iris Long had served as editor of Hometown News, she had never felt faint while covering a story. Never, that is, until she stood on Marvin Walsh’s porch and listened as Elbert Lee Jones placed the blame for inflated egg prices directly on the shoulders of Raymond Cooper, local celebrity and aspiring politician.
As she sat to catch her breath, she realized the significance of what had just taken place. This story could destroy Cooper’s credibility within the community. At least half of the valley listened to “Renderings with Raymond” each weekday and saw the host as their knight in shining armor. Their champion was about to lose his most valuable weapon, and the ensuing reaction was impossible to predict.
Being Friday, it was four long days before the next issue of Hometown News would go to press. How in heaven’s name could she keep the story from leaking before Tuesday? She knew four days would be plenty of time for Cooper to weasel out of this predicament, just as he had many others.
As she sat in her car in Walsh’s driveway before driving away, she considered her options. To Iris, the most likely scenario was the two farmers rushing over to Cooper’s radio station to tell him what had just happened. Elbert Lee was furious, and she didn’t imagine he would be able to contain his rage at being implicated in the scheme. They might keep quiet, she thought, hoping Raymond would take the fall, but that wasn’t likely. The good folks of Lennox Valley weren’t known for keeping quiet.
As she started her car, she heard Raymond beginning hour two of his Friday show. It was unusual for Raymond to have a guest, as it took away from time for him to lecture his audience about the plight of local government, rising egg prices, illicit involvement by federal agencies and the “radical” press that was more interested in selling newspapers than informing the public. But on this Friday, he was joined by Brother Jacob, associate pastor of Lennox Valley Lutheran Church.
Brother Jacob expected to discuss upcoming activities at the church and answer spiritual questions from callers. Raymond had something else in mind.
“Pastor,” began Cooper, “it is a pleasure to have you in my humble studio.”
After exchanging a few pleasantries, Cooper moved straight to his first question: “Did you happen to hear my prayer to begin the show today?”
Brother Jacob responded he had heard the prayer and, for some odd reason, it seemed familiar.
“No doubt,” Raymond shot back. “We are both called to serve by the same Lord and we undoubtedly hear similar phrases echo from his voice as he inspires us.”
Cooper didn’t want his pastor to remember that the prayer was uttered by a famous church leader 1600 years earlier, so he quickly moved on to another subject. “Do you buy a lot of eggs, Pastor?”
By then, Iris had begun her drive back to town. As she heard Raymond’s words, she almost stopped the car to take it all in. She could barely believe what she was hearing, but having known Cooper for more years than she cared to remember, she knew it was true.
Hometown News had printed only two special editions in all the years Iris had been editor, and one was just three months earlier when news broke concerning the appointment of Sarah Hyden-Smith. Iris hated to give Cooper days to spin his version of the story before hers came out in print. On the other hand, she knew she needed more facts before printing the story. As it was, it would be Elbert Lee’s word against Raymond’s, and Iris knew Jones didn’t stand much of a chance in a fair battle.
“I bought four dozen eggs for the children’s Easter egg hunt at the church,” Brother Jacob acknowledged, “Otherwise I don’t normally purchase many eggs.”
“You know,” countered Raymond, “our country was founded on the separation between church and state. But it sounds to me like the actions of the state are causing our church to spend too much for Easter eggs.”
“I guess I wouldn’t know much about that,” muttered the pastor.
“I suppose,” Raymond quickly responded, “that’s why the good Lord sent me to you.”
Marvin & Elbert Lee have some Explainin’ To Do
Raymond Cooper was feeling pretty good about himself as he took to the airways on Friday, July 17, 1998. After all, with just five weeks until the mayoral election, Cooper felt like he could almost hear the victory celebration that would take place at the VFW Post on Highway 11, just south of town.
Little did he know as he began his opening monologue, Iris Long was exiting the office of Hometown News to make the drive to visit Marvin Walsh, one of two farmers who controlled nearly all egg production in the valley. Marvin lived just two miles west of town toward Springfield, the county seat.
Cooper began his monologue with a brief prayer, a habit that began with his recent conversion at the Lutheran Church. Unbeknownst to his listeners, all of his prayers were read from “Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers,” a favorite of pastors that contained prayers taken directly from scripture and from famous Christian figures through the centuries.
Today’s prayer came from Augustine of Hippo, although listeners assumed it was from the humble soul of Raymond himself:
“O Lord, the house of my soul is narrow; enlarge it, that you may enter in.
It is ruinous, O repair it!
Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord, and spare Your servant from strange sins.”
Raymond thought it was one of his best. So good, he imagined, that more than a few Baptists in his listening audience changed their votes as he prayed. Augustine of Hippo, who died in 430 AD, was probably turning in his grave.
Just as Cooper began his daily “Egg Report,” where egg prices in Lennox Valley were explored at length, Iris pulled into Marvin Walsh’s gravel driveway.
It was part of her job to know everyone in the valley, and Iris recognized both pickup trucks parked side by side. The red Silverado with the extended cab belonged to Walsh. The black Dodge Dakota, also with an extended cab, belonged to none other than Elbert Lee Jones, the other valley egg farmer.
Iris felt like she had hit the jackpot. She imagined she would have to work on Walsh, then make a trip to visit Jones, who lived south of town on Highway 11. Hopefully, she would be able to dig up the truth about egg prices out of one of them. As an experienced investigative reporter, she knew it would be easier to trap both of them while they were together. She grinned knowingly as she put her car into park.
Marvin and Elbert Lee were sitting in rockers on Walsh’s front porch as Iris approached.
Marvin stood and offered a friendly, “Good morning, Ms. Long,” as she approached the porch. “Selling papers door to door these days?”
Elbert Lee was the quiet one in the group.
“No, I’m not selling papers,” she answered with a smile, “but I am working on a story that is bound to sell a lot of papers. Not just here in Lennox Valley, but all over the county.”
“That must be some story,” said Walsh, a bit less enthused. He suddenly had a bit of concern in his expression. “What is it about?”
“I’m working on a story about two farmers in our community who have conspired to inflate the price of eggs for the past two years.”
“Now hold on,” Marvin shot back, “What in the world would make you write a story like that?”
“I thought it only fair to give you the opportunity to shed some light on the subject. It’s becoming fairly obvious that you two have concocted quite a scheme. Your neighbors are going to talk about this for years.”
Elbert Lee was suddenly interested as he rose from his chair, “Now hold on just a cotton-pickin’ minute...”
“Careful, Elbert Lee,” said Walsh as he put his hands on his friend’s shoulders.
“Careful, nothin,’” Elbert Lee barked, “Don’t blame this on us. It wasn’t our idea.”
“Then whose idea was it?” asked Long.
“That doggone radio man. That’s who.”
With that, Iris Long felt the need to take a seat while she caught her breath. She knew immediately that this scoop would make the Sarah Hyden-Smith story pale in comparison.
Kevin Slimp is a writer living in Knoxville, Tennessee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Things are about to get even more Egg-citing in the Valley
Iris Long was perplexed. She had just returned home from visiting her sister four hours away, where she realized that egg prices were 19 cents lower than in her hometown of Lennox Valley. A few phone calls to supermarkets and grocery stores in other cities confirmed her suspicion: Egg prices were more than 20 percent higher in her community than anywhere else she had checked.
Iris had been in the journalism business for a long time. Early in her career, she was actually an investigative journalist for a big-city newspaper. She knew how to dig through the muck to get to the facts.
Sure, she could run a story in this week’s paper, blowing the lid wide open concerning egg prices. She could write an editorial, sharing her suspicions that Raymond Cooper was somehow involved.
But Iris wanted more than suspicions. She had lived in the same town with Raymond Cooper for decades, and she knew he was an expert at weaseling out of situations just like this. If he had any idea she was on to his scheme, he would somehow explain away his involvement.
She needed more than facts. She needed proof. At first, she thought Raymond might have somehow convinced the grocery stores in Lennox Valley and Springfield to raise their prices on eggs. But it was unlikely that Cooper could get that many folks to go along with his scheme. There had to be something she was missing.
She searched back through old issues of The Hometown News. She found the story about Raymond buying the radio station and converting it to an “all talk” format in 1993.
She found ads for Perry Pratt’s store and for the grocery stores in Springfield. Egg prices didn’t seem to fluctuate any more than anything else.
That’s when it hit her. She searched through the editorial page dating back to June 1996, finding the first letter to the editor concerning the rising price of eggs in the February 11, 1997, issue. Every writer, and there were a lot of them, mentioned getting their information listening to “Renderings with Raymond,” Cooper’s daily talk show. Raymond had convinced his audience that the Federal Reserve was somehow at fault for high egg prices in Lennox Valley.
Next Iris looked through grocery ads, starting with the June 4, 1996 issue. Egg prices seemed to remain steady through the summer and fall months. Beginning in November, however, there was a two cent increase in the price of a dozen eggs. Moving ahead, she noticed that egg prices rose, almost as if they were scheduled, one cent each month.
That might not seem like a lot of money. But a one cent increase each month adds up to 29 cents. Assuming that eggs in other towns had risen a few cents over those two years, the higher prices being paid by the good folks of Lennox Valley were starting to make sense.
She set aside the theory of grocery store involvement right away. Even if some store managers would go along with some crazy Raymond Cooper scheme, Iris was convinced that Perry Pratt would never participate in something so deceptive.
Then it dawned on her. All of the stores in Lennox Valley and Springfield bought their eggs from two egg farms located between the valley and Springfield. One was owned by Marvin Walsh, who, Iris recalled, had more than once manned a seat at a display protesting the Federal Reserve System at the farmers market.
The other was owned by Elbert Lee Jones, a close friend of Walsh and, Iris remembered, the first to raise a question concerning the Federal Reserve to Pastor Sarah Hyden-Smith during her initial visit to the valley.
It would be four days until deadline for the next issue of Hometown News. Iris suspected they would be busy days, and she was quite sure she would making visits to see both Elbert Lee and Marvin to discuss the rising price of eggs.
Millions of readers follow Kevin Slimp’s work each week. To keep up with the good folks, visit lennoxvalley.com.
Hometown News uncovers Cooper’s Election Shenanigans
With six weeks to go until the “election of the century,” Raymond Cooper was feeling pretty good about his prospects. His plan, it seemed, was working to near perfection.
After purchasing the town’s only radio station and converting it to an all-talk format, then creating his own daily show, highlighting the faults of the current government while enhancing his reputation as defender of the masses, Raymond had gained a sizable following in the valley.
By his own count, Raymond needed approximately 430 votes to win the mayoral race in 1998. He estimated somewhere around 600 good folks of the valley listened to his show, “Renderings with Raymond,” each day. Assuming a majority of those listeners would cast a vote for him, Raymond was feeling pretty good about his chances.
His plan to join the Lutheran Church had been carried out with a precision seldom witnessed in small town politics. The “coup de grace” was Cooper’s handling of Mayor “Silver Tongue” Dick Bland’s reaction to his “conversion” during a call to his radio show a week earlier.
Since the beginning, Raymond’s biggest concern was Bland’s voting bloc at First Baptist Church. Being a member pretty much guaranteed “Silver Tongue” most of the Baptist vote. If Bland could count on the voting Baptists, he would have close to enough votes to win.
Raymond knew, however, a good number of those Baptists were listening to his daily show. Hopefully he had swayed enough of them into voting for him, primarily by fanning the flames of their fear of the Federal Reserve System. With egg prices consistently creeping up over the past few years, and Raymond placing the blame squarely on the back of the Federal Reserve System, voters were becoming convinced in growing numbers that Cooper was the only viable candidate to stand up to the federal government before it was too late.
One thing Cooper hadn’t counted on, however, was the watchful eye of Hometown News editor, Iris Long. She had mistrusted him all along, and his recent religious conversion was icing on the cake, as far as she was concerned.
She had written more than one editorial concerning the upcoming election. “How can,” she wrote in March, “a small town mayor have any effect on the central banking system of the United States?”
She knew she was preaching to the choir. Most of her loyal readers didn’t trust Cooper. Raymond’s listeners had developed a bias against the media. That is, any media other than Raymond Cooper.
On July 11, during a trip to visit her sister four hours away, Iris realized something was amiss. All along, Raymond had based his rantings on the price of eggs. Over the previous 24 months, the price of a dozen eggs had risen more than 20 cents at the stores in Lennox Valley and Springfield to $1.05. All the fault, reminded Cooper, of the Federal Reserve.
While shopping with her sister, Iris noticed egg prices were 86 cents. Why, she wondered, would eggs prices be so much higher in her hometown?
Iris began working the phone. Remember, this was 1998, and the Internet was in its infancy. Journalists still spent hours on the phone to get a story. That’s when Iris realized the truth: egg prices hadn’t risen in places other than Lennox Valley.
How could the Federal Reserve be the culprit if towns and cities outside the valley weren’t affected by rising egg prices? Iris decided to hold the story for another week while she dug further.
In the meantime, Raymond’s phone lines were jammed with callers wanting to discuss his conversion at the Lutheran Church.
“I felt,” he said with a whisper, “like I was totally clean for the first time.”
Little did he know Iris Long was about to uncover a little dirt he had missed.
Read more about the Good Folks at lennoxvalley.com.