Ever since Malcolm Mabry received a March 2015 edition of the Kenyon Leader in his mailbox, he became actively invested in the town he considered his second home, even though he’s never been here. It’s believed that the postmistress in Dublin, a town smaller than Kenyon where Mabry lived, knew him pretty well and would put any type of reading material without a home in his box, since he loved to read. Although he was never physically in the city of Kenyon, Mabry’s legacy will forever live on in the “city of roses” through the various connections he made.
“It’s amazing what a man [who] only one person [from Kenyon] met, from miles away… shared with us, he adopted Kenyon,” said local resident Debb Paquin, honored to call Mabry, a Mississippi native, her friend.
Paquin said Mabry was so taken with Kenyon that he purchased a subscription to the paper right away, and he would read The Kenyon Leader every week. He especially loved reading there were no shootings or murders in the police report, and the biggest item on the report, someone’s dog barking, because that was not how it went in his small town.
“That’s why he called us Mayberry,” added Paquin of Mabry’s interpretation of the peaceful ‘heartland of America’ type of place.
Mabry, 87, who died June 12, took on many roles in his life as an animal lover, a teacher, a farmer, a senator, a representative, a delegate, a poet, a Methodist and a philanthropist. He was known for his smooth southern drawl, his self-assured and outspoken manner, and his sometimes “formidable” temperament, traits most often seen as a politician protecting the rights of the oppressed on the senate floor, as a Delta farmer fighting to preserve the environment, or when advocating for the welfare animals. It was common for Malcolm, when arguing such points, to strike his iconic senatorial pose, holding up his hand with raised forefinger pointing determinedly straight up and locking his piercing blue eyes on yours as he lectured home his point.
He devoted 24 years to the Mississippi Legislature, serving in both the House and the Senate between 1964-1988 and counted among his mentors Albert Schweitzer, Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Mabry was also known as one of the last handwritten letter writers, regularly writing to his many friends around the nation in his “distinctive, flowing calligraphic script.” For many years he exchanged letters with several political notables, including a former U.S. president.
He continued to help farm his land until he was 84 and regularly mowed his beloved pecan groves and pet cemetery with his tractor and bush hog, keeping them in “pristine, park-like condition.”
Lee Sjolander, who has corresponded with and visited Mabry in Mississippi added, “He’s also an example of how life can give you different opportunities … he took things as they came, I admire that too. He’s the epitome of let’s try new things, he did great at that.”
A growing friendship
Mabry even introduced the paper to one of his longtime friends, David Cook, who says Mabry’s Kenyon connections have impacted him more than he would’ve ever expected.
“I feel like I’ve continued his friendship,” said Cook of Mabry’s impact on his life. “I’ve met Debb, (Police Chief) Lee Sjolander and Frank Peterson, I feel like I know them and I definitely plan on making a little trip up there someday sooner rather than later. Malcom would be pleased the way things worked out.”
Cook confirmed that Mayberry came up a lot during Sunday evening conversations at his house when Mabry would talk about his week, including stories he read in the Leader. The Mayberry references were mostly due the “charming” small town atmosphere and character of people. He considered reading the Leader, “refreshing,” and agreed that reading that the extent of crime in the police reports was “comforting” and “warm” to read. Cook intends to continue on with the relationships Mabry created, and to keep reading weekly editions of the Leader.
After Mabry read an article about the school’s After Prom party fundraisers, Paquin said Mabry sent a donation to Terri Malloy, former Kenyon Leader editor/reporter. After Malloy brought Paquin the donation, Paquin wrote him a “thank you” letter. Since then, Mabry and Paquin have written to each other back and forth, throughout the last five years. Mabry had become so accustomed to Paquin and her family that he even made tentative plans to attend her children’s weddings.
“I feel like he adopted me as family and we adopted him as family,” said Paquin of their friendship. “You get on the phone and it was nothing to be on the phone with him for three hours, he had so much to share and talk about. I just soaked it all in because he knows way more than me.”
Like Paquin, Peterson and Sjolander also wrote to Mabry, something they both enjoyed getting. Peterson said he had a lot to say about the world, and would send material from the New York Times and studies from Harvard.
Mabry used Paquin as his contact and for her extensive knowledge of the area to be in charge of distributing the funds he would generously send.
Mabry has contributed to the Kenyon Lions Club, the VFW, Lutheran churches and some individuals. Paquin estimates that he has donated thousands of dollars over the years. Some donations were gifts, including packages to 2015 Kenyon-Wanamingo High School graduates and beautifully hand-painted rocks. Mabry distributed the rocks to individuals he corresponded with including Paquin, Sjolander and Peterson. After Mabry’s funeral, which the three local residents attended, they were also invited to a private dinner where Mabry’s friend asked guests to take a painted rock with them. Paquin learned that he had security deposit boxes full of these rocks, signifying to how much he valued what he did.
Sjolander rode his motorcycle down to Clarksdale, Mississippi in the late summer 2017, to meet Mabry and spend some time exploring the area.
“He was one of the most gentle men I’ve ever met,” said Sjolander of Mabry. “Very sweet, kind and in to helping anyone with a need, a person, an animal. He was also a big family man.”
Through conversations over the phone, by mail and in person, Sjolander says Mabry has impacted him in many ways.
“It just shows how kind people can be, to take the time, the older I get the more I value time, the more I value time filled over receiving things,” said Sjolander of the time Mabry took to correspond with local residents in Kenyon. “He took time to write letters, talk to some Minnesota police chief riding down on his motorcycle, and that is important, and that’s what matters.”
Sjolander also reflected on the pride Mabry showed with his area and his state, something he thinks people can benefit from, to take pride in where they live and what their communities are known for.
Falling in love from a distance
Paquin said Mabry really wanted to come to Kenyon and visit his Kenyon friends. He wanted to come in the winter and go ice fishing, something that just thrilled him, and to go to Concordia for the Christmas programs. Ironically, Cook added that Mabry could go anywhere he wanted, but he was a set in his routine and afraid to fly, so leaving the Mississippi delta was a sort of a fantasy for him.
Added Peterson, “We tried to get him to be grand marshal at the city’s Rose Fest … to honor him, but he didn’t want to leave his dogs.”
Although unfortunately Mabry couldn’t see Kenyon in person, Mabry’s ability to fall in love from a distance with a little town in Minnesota is something Sjolander found to be a “really cool thing.”
Throughout his last decades of life, he rescued and cared for stray dogs. People dropped off dogs at his house and he made sure they were all cared for and received veterinary care, each dog with its own kennel, mattress and air conditioning unit, spending whatever money it took to care for sick animals, even if they didn’t end up getting better. After receiving word one of his dogs, Lulu, was diagnosed with cancer, Mabry almost single-handedly raised more than $700,000 to create a veterinary oncology department at Mississippi State University to treat Lulu’s cancer.
Peterson added he received money from all over the world and found Mabry’s initiatives quite interesting. Sjolander found it ironic that during Mabry’s funeral, a stray brown dog ran around his grave site for 10-15 minutes and left, almost like the dog was paying its respects to Mabry, the man who spent the last part of his life going to the extremes to make sure the stray dogs were properly cared for.
Paquin said dogs were one of the things he was passionate about, calling them his ‘babies.’ The most dogs she has ever known him to have is 34. Although he showed his love for dogs, his love for people also grew deep.
“He actually knew President Reagan, Jimmy Carter, William Faulkner, John Grisham, but you would’ve never known that he also knew me,” said Paquin. “He was just a really caring, kind, humble man, and he loved Kenyon, he really did.”
Added Cook, “He never married, but he was married to the nation and the state, and looked for the greater good of all more than his own need.”
The Wanamingo City Council appointed a local man to stand in its stead, part of an effort by Emerald Valley residents to streamline and simplify the neighborhood’s rules.
As written, the rules, Emerald Valley residents Howard Moechnig and Luke Swanson say, are preventing potential buyers from getting financing so they can purchase lots in the neighborhood. There have also been concerns over bylaws and agreements relating to all lots, and agreements relating to town home lots due to lack of authority to approve applications by an architectural committee as outlined in the regulations.
At last week’s council meeting, Moechnig, Swanson and their attorney suggested Moechnig act as proxy for the city, which owns several lots within the subdivision designated for Torkelson Park. That means Moechnig will attend Wednesday’s meeting and vote per the city’s instructions in an attempt to change the rules and make the lots marketable.
Proposed changes mean there would be no additional restrictions beyond the city of Wanamingo zoning ordinances and the Minnesota State Building Code.
“In other words, perhaps Emerald Valley will look more like a typical, modern plat without the ‘upscale’ rules and regulations associated with a golf course type development,” they said.
“We want to see it succeed, it’s a beautiful area, it’d be nice to see some new houses built down there,” said Mayor Ryan Holmes.
If 75% of all owners (79 single-family lot owners and 42 town home lot owners) in the subdivision and attending the meeting agree to the proposed changes, a potential buyer would only need to work with the city to obtain a building permit and build either a single-family home anywhere within the plat or a town home if they choose, within the designated lots of block 1, instead of having the architectural control committee oversee building standards.
Moechnig and Swanson worked with Attorney James Burkhardt to put together proposed changes in or to modify the bylaws, agreements relating to all lots and agreements relating to town home lots. The restated documents boil down to the following changes:
1. All lots within the plat will be simply subject to the rules, regulations and ordinances of the city of Wanamingo as opposed to an architectural control committee from the plat owners, building standards and certain prohibitions on activities within the plat. The construction of buildings within the plat and the use of properties within the plat would be dictated by the rules, regulations and ordinances of the city, like any plat within the city is.
2. Specifically related to block 1 (except lots 33-36, block 1) which are designated town home lots, while town home construction would still be permitted, single-family homes would now be permitted within that block as well.
Although the Rose Fest committee took as much time as possible to try and make the annual town festival happen, it couldn’t avoid the inevitable.
Following the July 15 committee meeting, the group decided to err on the side of caution and cancel the event, known for bringing the community together.
Rose Fest Committee Chair Heather Kerr announced the cancellation with “great” disappointment through the Rose Fest Facebook page.
“With public health experts recommending the cancellation or postponement of large public gatherings, it is our responsibility to accept and follow the guidelines in order to keep our community healthy and safe,” stated Kerr in the post.
While a majority of the main events like the grand parade, citywide garage sales, 5K, car show and street dance have been canceled, there will still be some events to look forward to.
Kerr says the medallion hunt will still go on as planned, with the first clue making its appearance in the Kenyon Leader July 29. Additional details about the hunt are being worked out by organizers. Although the citywide garage sales typically held during the three-day Boulevard of Roses festival, Kerr says anyone is able to host their own garage sale whenever they would like to, however they cannot use the Rose Fest logo for advertisement or any other purposs.
Kenyon Public Library Director Michelle Otte confirmed the library will still host book sales Aug. 21 and 22 in the City Hall Council Chambers next door, as they are able to aide by state guidelines and control how many people are inside the Chambers at one time. DVDs, CDs, and gently used books can be dropped off at the library during regular hours.
Events requiring a permit from the city like the street dance and the parade were canceled at the July city council meeting due to concerns with liability. Although the city is covered for holding events with up to 250 people, it would be difficult to enforce social distancing measures during those two events, and for the parade, keeping track of how many people are attending would prove to be tricky to control.
At the Kenyon Muni, Manager Matt Bartel said the outdoor area will be slightly extended, but not out into the street as previously decided at the city council meeting. Considering the cancellation of the majority of the popular events, Bartel said they didn’t see the need for extra space and costs.
Several council members reflected on the difficulty of making those decisions, but ultimately, they hope the community understands their reasoning.
Dan Rechtzigel said the council would like to open as much as they can and they are also wanting to do as much as they can, but they also need to recognize/abide by the guidelines.
Added Rechtzigel, “We’re doing what we can and we hope people understand that.”
In terms of the cancellations of gatherings and events in towns, Tom Gard said it breaks his heart thinking of the amount of things that have been affected by the pandemic.
“I hope that the day happens very soon where we can get back to normal and have our small town events and our history,” said Gard.
Looking ahead to next year
One positive aspect, Kerr says, is the committee will have additional time to plan something bigger, and brainstorm to create newer events to be able to offer to a variety of all ages and celebrate next year’s 20th annual Rose Fest celebration.
“We’ll have a good amount of money, we’re very appreciative of companies who continue to give donations year after year, and the people that support them,” said Kerr. “It’s difficult, because some people leave town and there’s conflicting events with the Steele County Fair, but every other weekend is another city festival.”
Looking ahead to next year’s festival in terms of the car show, Kerr said they are in need of someone to take over the organizing one of the most successful events during Rose Fest. Going forward, the previous car show organizer, who Kerr said has done a “fantastic” job, has decided to step down, so the committee is looking for someone to take that over. In general, Kerr said they are always open to volunteers who are willing to help with planning/making events possible.
Kerr, who’s been chair of the celebration for 10 years or better, enjoys the aspect of Rose Fest bringing the community together.
“I like to see that, it’s positive and can bring people in town that maybe haven’t been to Kenyon, and may see something they like,” said Kerr.
However, that was just one of several ideas around the discussion that brought concerns of bringing in people from other areas, and additional issues that could arise by hosting a large gathering. Especially with festivals and events around the area canceled, the risk was too great, and it’s a risk the committee, made of local volunteers, didn’t want to liable for.
“Everyone was in agreement, like ‘yeah we’re totally disappointed,’ but in hindsight, we knew this would happen even though we tried and held it out as long as we could,” said Kerr.
In terms of feedback from the community, Kerr said she is ver” pleased with the positivity of those commenting on the Facebook post, as everyone has been very understanding, although let down.