MAGNOLIA SPRINGS, ALABAMA – Karen Biel’s response was typical.
“I’m not a native of Magnolia Springs, but I know people who have lived here their entire lives. They know the history of the town. I can call the mayor or a woman who lives near here. She married twice. Both were doctors and both died.”
I explained I am not writing a book on the small towns I visit, nor do I produce complete biographies of those I meet.
I am just offering a quick (experienced) impression of our nation for the people of America. Then I noted that as town clerk I was interested in her as a person. I suggested everyone is interesting. Each of us have had experiences that would be helpful to others.
I began asking questions and Karen started responding. Here is roughly what I learned in my unexpected and brief visit to the Magnolia Springs town hall.
Karen Biel’s husband, who was in the Navy, became critically ill. He was stationed in the area and they, with thousands of others, attended the day long Alberta German Sausage Festival, held by the fire department in the spring and the fall.
Both Karen and her husband, came from Long Island, New York. In time Karen suggested she liked the Elberta area so much she would like to retire there. Her husband then found and bought some land in the area that later became Magnolia Springs. He died two months later.
Karen’s mother and father attended the funeral. They also fell in love with the area. Her mother remained with her daughter, a new widow, in Alabama while her father returned north and sold the family home. Karen moved onto the property her late husband had purchased. and still lives there. Her mother has since passed on, but Karen’s father, who is 84, continues to live in Magnolia Springs, near the town hall.
In time Karen went to work in the clerk’s office at the Elberta town hall. When the people in what was to become Magnolia Falls in 2006 decided to incorporate as a town one of the new council members suggested Karen would make a fine town clerk, since she had worked as an assistant in that office for seven years in Elberta. She could, they decided, take on the assignment and do it well.
From what I observed in my brief visit they were right. It is fair to say I have seen many town clerks in my travels. Karen Biel is not only intelligent, she has a gentle,kindly manner that makes visitors feel welcome. The impression one gets of Magnolia Springs is very positive.
She comes by it honestly because one reason she wanted to live there before her husband died was because she admired the gentle, warm, kind people she met during her earlier visits.
As we have said, people matter most, and there is something special about those who live in our many small towns. Which reminds me of the sign I once saw in Michigan. I’ve forgotten the place or exact number, but it said something similar to this: “Welcome to (name of town), the home of 647 warm and kind people and one sorehead.”