All the News from Walnut Shade, KS
August 4, 2011
Father Miguel (Mike) Garza was installed as the new pastor of St. Brendan’s on Sunday. Bishop Timothy Malone from Kansas City, Kansas, presided at the ceremony. After the service, a potluck was held in the Parish Hall. Father Mike and retiring Father Rick Randolph were surprised with a cake with their pictures on it. Father Rick was also presented with a certificate for a five-day Caribbean cruise, which he will be taking next spring, “well before hurricane season,” he says.
The Excelsior Book Club met yesterday at the Library. Lunch was provided by Jerry and Susan Hall. Jerry is the new chef at the K-State Faculty Club and Susan, of course, owns Bach’s Lunch. Dorothy Westover led a discussion of “The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine.” The next book the club members will read is “The Greater Journey,” by David McCullough. Their next meeting will be September 7.
Jeff and Pat Beck and Amanda and Curt Jackson saw “Cowboys and Aliens” at the Empire on Saturday. Curt, whom Amanda says thinks of himself as another Roger Ebert, says it is “a metaphor for our continuing struggle to contend with the unknown in ourselves.” Jeff says that it’s “a good action flick.” Choose your critic.
Alice and Pat McManus adopted one of the puppies from Dr. Cramer and they are taking “Roxie” to training classes in Fremont, sponsored by K-State Extension. When they complete the basic training, they plan to enroll her in classes to become a therapy dog at Miller County General.
Shirley’s was closed on Monday and Tuesday so Shirley could visit her sister, who was briefly hospitalized in St. Louis. Shirley said that her sister was hit on the head by a ball fouled off by Albert Pujols during a Cardinals’ baseball game. The doctors have said that there was no concussion and she is recovering at home. The Cardinals beat the Cubs 13 to 5.
Craig Duffy reports that he will be giving away samples of his milk, butter and ice cream at the Miller County Fair. His ice cream has been in taste-tests at Shirley’s and Bach’s Lunch.
Barb Wilson and Sarah Brown organized a surprise birthday party for Marie Green on Monday at the courthouse in Fremont. A giant card was signed by all the courthouse staff. Jerry Hall baked a cake for her and Craig Duffy contributed ice cream.
Don Norman was admitted to Miller County General on Saturday for observation. Dorothy says that he hasn’t been eating much lately, but she thinks that’s because of the new vegan diet she has been trying out. You’d think that at 90 he could have a little meat if he wanted it…
Well, until next week, with cheeseburger in hand, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent
Nearly the whole town turned out for the installation of Father Mike as St. Brendan’s new priest. The cynic in me thinks that it was mostly for the potluck after the service (there are some amazing cooks at that church, including a couple who attend a cooking school in San Francisco every year), but in reality it was as much to say “thank you” to Father Rick as anything. In every community, there are people who seem to be the glue that holds everything together. On more than one occasion, Father Rick has been that glue. When the tornado hit the north side of town, he was the person who took charge of the situation before the fire department and sheriff could get there. In the ‘80s, when the bank closed and several farmers were facing bankruptcy, Father Rick organized a countywide committee to provide assistance and counseling to everyone affected. When the Baptist Church burned to the ground, Father Rick offered St. Brendan’s Parish Hall for services for a couple of weeks until they found a temporary home in the old box factory. No matter what faith we are, we all realize how important Father Rick has been to the life of this town, not just to his parishioners.
Father Mike has been in town for about a month now, and everyone is quite taken with him. Young and enthusiastic, it’s a safe bet that he is going to carry on Father Rick’s tradition and do great things for the church and town. I hesitate to compare the situation with “Going My Way,” because Father Mike admits that he looks nothing like Bing Crosby and Father Rick would be highly amused to be thought of as Barry Fitzgerald (and besides, of the two, Father Rick is the one who plays serious golf), but I think many people in town were reminded of that movie, seeing the two together: youth and maturity. Father Rick knew that might be the case, so when he gave his last homily at Sunday Mass the week before the installation, he surprised everyone by taking his text, he said, from the fourth book of the Byrds, chapter nine (“My Back Pages”): “I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.” I understand it brought down the house, so to speak (as well as lots of tears to the congregated eyes).
I understand the sentiment of feeling like you are younger now than you were when you were in your twenties, for example. When you are that age, you want people to think you are older than you are, that you know more than you do. When you are in your sixties, if a clerk forgets to give you your Senior Citizen discount, you are flattered (though you don’t hesitate to point out that you should get one) and a sense of history is perhaps more salient than knowing everything. The facts of the changes in a community, for example, are important, but the awareness of the differences those changes are creating is critical, too.
In addition to the empty houses I see, I’ve been noticing new enterprises around town. Who would have thought that a town the size of Walnut Shade would have a software company? Admittedly, it only has two employees: Stuart Goddard and his eleven year old son, Miles, but Prairie Solutions is growing (I should have said that it only has two employees in Walnut Shade; Stuart contracts out quite a lot of the work to several people scattered across the globe). Amanda Jackson’s tax service has been doing reasonably well (even though for the last few years, most people in Walnut Shade have had pretty simple tax returns; the 1040EZ fits the kind of economy we have been experiencing). And Curt Jackson has been very successful with his packaging and delivery business. If you buy a painting from Sally Oswald, a piece of 19th century furniture or a knick-knack at one of the antique stores downtown, Curt will either wrap it up securely for you and take it to the UPS station in Fremont, or deliver it himself within a one hundred mile radius. As long as the antique stores continue to do well, Curt will, too.
One of the most interesting and fastest-growing enterprises in town is Duffy’s Dairy. For the last few weeks, I have been participating in taste-testing Craig’s ice cream at Shirley’s (not, of course, as an unwilling participant since I’ll admit that ice cream is my main vice). The Duffys’ story is nearly as inspirational in its own way as the work that Father Rick has done in the community. Consider: in 1940, there were nearly 2700 farms in Miller County and a few more than 2000 of those farms kept dairy cows and made a part of their living from the milk products they sold. Today, there is exactly one such farm: Duffy’s Dairy, owned and operated by Craig and Teresa Duffy of the long line of Miller County Duffys. I include this last piece of information because five years ago, that long line of Miller County Duffys nearly became the short line of Wichita Duffys. At the time, Craig was farming the land that his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had tended, but he says that he was within a few months of signing a contract to sell the farm and taking a job at Boeing. The late 1990s and early 2000s were not kind to Kansas farmers and Craig had not made a profit in several years. Farming costs had risen faster than prices for products and the number of farmers that sold out every year might have been considered a natural disaster had they been wiped out by a drought, flood or tornado.
On the brink of this change in the family’s life, Craig’s neighbor asked him if he would be interested in buying his dairy cows. Doing so would increase Craig’s herd by 200%, since he only had two, which he kept mainly for the family’s own supply of milk and because his daughter Andrea has raised Cecilia and Annette as her 4-H project. In what Craig describes as a moment of sheer lunacy, he agreed, knowing that the Browns were in worse financial shape than his family. Coincidentally, a couple of weeks earlier, he had attended a farm sale in a nearby county and among the equipment for sale was an old, but nearly-complete milk bottling operation, covered with dust, along with a thousand bottles in unopened boxes. At the time, buying that equipment didn’t enter Craig’s head and apparently it didn’t occur to anyone else, because the equipment went unsold. When Fred Brown offered to sell him his cows, a somewhat dim lightbulb went off over Craig’s head and despite the debts and doubts, he was pretty sure he saw an opportunity. He called the owner of the milk bottling equipment, made an offer and went into the dairy business.
Fred and most of Craig’s other neighbors thought he had slipped a cog. But with five years of hard work, more than a little help from K-State Extension and a small grant from Farm Aid, Duffy’s Dairy now supplies stores as far away as Manhattan and St. Joseph with milk, butter and soon, ice cream. Craig’s operation is what might be called a boutique dairy, so the production is limited and his fans buy everything available. When he looks back on his decision to begin the dairy, he realizes that if he had sold the farm, he’d be working forty hours a week building airplanes and getting three weeks paid vacation; now, he and the rest of the family and three employees are working sixty to seventy hours a week and vacation is usually a thing of the past. But he wouldn’t change that for anything. “We are doing what we love and Cecilia and Annette are happy now that they can spend the day chatting with their new sisters. They were getting pretty tired just talking to each other.”
Stories like Craig and Teresa’s make living in a place like Walnut Shade so interesting. There are no straight, simple paths to contentment at the end of the day. Speaking of paths, it’s time for Jerry’s walk. I think he wants to head downtown. I forgot to mention that he has been participating in the ice cream taste-testing, too. So far his favorite is Neapolitan; he never has been good at making decisions.