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Not often does an entire town conspire and plot and plan together for weeks, thick as thieves strategizing a bank heist ... planning every detail, right down to asking police for permission to use the handicapped parking place next to the KESA front door.
But that is exactly what happened when the residents of Kerens got together to honor one of its own. Janie Quinn, retired local banker and community volunteer, was the honoree at what began as a cookies and punch reception, but evolved into a full-fledged dinner with program and personalized cakes for dessert.
While her niece and other family kept her occupied with trips to Wal-Mart, through the cemetery, and an obliging young nephew who visited the men’s room at every stop, the townspeople of Kerens scurried about preparing food, gathering everyone into the KESA building, and putting last minute touches on the decorations.
Each table had a centerpiece made of Dr Pepper cans (Quinn’s favorite) tied with raffia bows atop red bandanas, with paperback books (she is president of Kerens Library) and chocolates scattered about.
Her total surprise was evident the minute Quinn stepped in the door. She had received a call to come to the KESA building, which she’d been told was rented out for a quincenara, to check on the electricity. Little did she expect to be greeted by the majority of the town, not to mention her entire family.
“Janie, I hope you realize just how much we love you,” said event organizer Danny Combs. “I thank everyone who donated food, sent emails, or worked on this in some fashion. Everyone wanted to be involved. Special thanks go to Betty Partain, Barbara Latta, David Foreman — and this person was instrumental — Tresa Darby.”
Combs joked that folks told him he’d better double his life insurance, because “Janie’s going to kill you!”
He said that even at a young age, he was cognizant of the fact certain people stood out — gave of themselves to the community, to others, and made a positive impact on his life. They were people who led by example, rather than preaching, but simply gave of themselves to the town.
“I remember some of those people from Kerens, and wish I could go up and shake their hand and say ‘Thank you,’” he said. “We have those individuals today, who give of themselves to our town. We all love this lady — if it happens in Kerens, she is the first one to stand up and say, ‘What do you want me to do?’
“She does it for the right reasons, not for any acclaim, but to make Kerens a better place.”
Former Kerens resident Ken St. Ama of Diboll took the podium and reeled off a list of Quinn’s service, of late: the very first president of KESA (Kerens Ex Students Association), president of the Kerens Library, treasurer of Cotton Row Run, treasurer of Cotton Harvest Festival, delivers Meals on Wheels, volunteer food judge at Navarro County Youth Exposition, serves on the housing authority board, is a member of the Kiwanis Club, and serves as chairperson of the KESA Scholarship Committee.
“Good things in the community happen with good people like Janie ...” St. Ama said. “If the city of Kerens counted its blessings, would Janie Quinn be one?”
Frank Upchurch, a preacher from Cross Roads and former Kerens resident, said Quinn came from a good family, married into a good family, and created a good family.
“That’s what is wrong with our nation today — the tearing down of the family,” Upchurch said. “During her husband’s illness, Janie took great care of him, and took care of the bank ... any young lady could use her as a role model.”
Dock Hanks paid Quinn the highest compliment in his book — he compared her to his mother. He said his mama’s philosophy in banking was to “follow the rules, work hard, and take care of your people — and Janie took really good care of her people.”
Nancy Combs mentioned their group of ladies who take day trips, and weekend trips, and how they “made a pact we would not ever talk about what happened out of town,” and therefore could not mention the time Janie got locked out of the hotel in her pajamas.
“She doesn’t put on airs,” she said. “She is genuine.”
Son Jeff Quinn said now he knew why he couldn’t ever locate his mother.
Senator Brian Birdwell sent a certificate of recognition, and the townspeople gave her a plaque. As a slideshow of old photographs from her childhood, high school, marriage, babies and banking years played on a side wall, Quinn herself finally took the podium.
“I am a behind-the-scenes person, not a public speaker,” she said. “This has been such a surprise, and totally unbelievable. I do the work I do because I love it. I love my family, spending time with them, and you are all special.
“ ... I’m just a person who does things. It’s unbelievable the lives you touch through the years ... all volunteers, not just me, are what keeps Kerens going, and keeps all these organizations running.”
Deanna Brown may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: email@example.com