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 the Rev. 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,” broadcast each day from noon until 3 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.
Each week, “The Good Folks of Lennox Valley” chronicles the happenings of a fictional American small town.