Kevin Slimp: Lennox Valley: Something’s up: Raymond Cooper just isn’t himself lately

By Kevin Slimp

Syndicated Columnist

Still just one week into his new career as newspaper publisher, Raymond Cooper was already feeling the weight of responsibility pressing on his shoulders. In the two months since his defeat in the mayoral runoff election, it was obvious some things had changed. Taken individually, they probably wouldn’t arouse suspicion, but together they provided overwhelming evidence something was up with Raymond.

Pastor Jacob was probably the first to notice Raymond’s absence from the 8:30 a.m. contemporary service at Lennox Valley Lutheran Church. With an average attendance of 12, it was obvious when someone was missing.

Near the beginning of his mayoral campaign, Raymond joined the church with the fervor of a new convert at the Jordan River. No one in attendance that day will ever forget his sprint to the front of the fellowship hall, home of the early morning service. Recalling his only previous religious experience as a 5-year-old attending Pentecostal services with his grandmother, Cooper flung himself to the floor, overcome with a spiritual awaking not seen since John Wesley felt strangely warmed at Aldersgate.

Since the election, however, Raymond hadn’t been seen at the contemporary service or any other event at the Lutheran church. Following such a dramatic conversion, it seemed strange for him to drop out of sight.

Listeners also noticed the absence of the daily prayers Raymond so skillfully offered on his show. Of course, they had no idea he was taking the prayers, word for word, from his copy of “Book of Famous Prayers.”

Heather Brooks, administrative assistant for the Federal Reserve’s offices in Washington, noticed a significant decrease in the number of letters arriving from the good folks of Lennox Valley. The mail room at 20th Street and Constitution Avenue was a bit less hectic than it had been just a few months earlier.

For two years, up to the election, Raymond spent hours each day bemoaning the state of the Federal Reserve, and his listeners responded by sending dozens of hand-written letters each day to their offices in Washington. Since the election, it seems as if Raymond and his listeners had forgotten all about the evils of the Federal Reserve.

After a six-week absence his fans were just thrilled to have their “champion of the airwaves” back. Most didn’t notice or care about changes in Raymond’s demeanor since the tragic events of late August.

When one did notice, as happened one Wednesday in mid-October when Helen Ashenfelter called the show asking Cooper where he had been on Sundays, Raymond proved adept at navigating the precarious situation.

“Thank you for your concern, Helen,” he answered. Turning to Marvin Walsh, seated next to him in the broadcast booth, he said, “Marvin and I have had much conversation concerning the changes which come with public service.”

“That’s right,” echoed Marvin, “We sure have.”

“You may have read in a newspaper or seen on the TV news presidents and other officials sometimes are forced to stay away from public worship services and other events to keep the Lord’s House from turning into a media circus.

“As much as I’d love to be in my house of worship on Sunday mornings,” he continued, “I’ve chosen to keep my worship private, for the sake of the people.”

Raymond’s last call of the day came from Beatrice Justice. You may remember Beatrice had a peculiar custom of speaking only in Bible verses. No one living in the Valley at the time will ever forget the incident when Cooper made a snide remark concerning Beatrice’s habit.

The following week, a letter to the editor, penned by Ms. Justice, was limited to the words, “Numbers 22, Verse 29.”

By the time Raymond learned who was on the phone, it was too late for him to do anything to stop it.

“Yes, Ms. Justice,” Marvin spoke into the microphone, “What’s on your mind?”

The timid voice on the line responded, “Proverbs 19, Verse 1.”

Raymond couldn’t even imagine what Beatrice was talking about, but as he ended his show, more than 300 good folks in the Valley had opened their Bibles.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original idea for “The Good Folks of Lennox Valley” by Kevin Slimp came while visiting with a friend from the small town of Lennox, S.D., several years ago. For five years, Slimp jotted ideas concerning the folks who lived in his fictional home town and eventually put those ideas into stories. Share your thoughts with Candy Allan via email at callan@pioneergroup.com or by phone at (231) 592-8386.

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