Editor’s note: A new feature in our newspaper is a weekly serial named “The Good Folks of Lennox Valley,” written by Kevin Slimp. Kevin says the original idea for the serial came while visiting with a friend from the small town of Lennox, South Dakota, several years ago. For five years, he jotted ideas concerning the folks who lived in his fictional hometown and eventually put those ideas into stories you can read each week in this and scores of other newspapers across the country.
Kevin visits hundreds of small towns each year in his role as “News Guru” in the publishing world and in his travels for “Ken and Kevin’s Road Trip,” a blog (kenandkevinroadtrip.com) that follows the travels of Kevin and his friend, Ken, through the back roads of North America.
For 20 years, his syndicated columns related to publishing have been found in journals and industry publications on four continents. Through the years, he has garnered the nickname “Guru” from many in the journal-ism world.
Kevin says his inspiration for writing “The Good Folks of Lennox Valley” was to follow in the footsteps of his favorite childhood columnist, Lewis Grizzard, whose stories about his Georgia hometown were found in hundreds of newspapers each week. Through this weekly serial, we’ll meet the folks who make up Lennox Valley. We’ll get to know the clergy, the politicians, the local celebrities, the teenagers and others who call this place home.
In his lifetime, Kevin has been a minister, a technology guru, a consultant, a popular speaker and a writer. He says the people he’s met throughout the years make up the characters you will meet in Lennox Valley.
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 the Rev. Sarah Hyden-Smith.
And everybody thought the traffic light was big news.