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From A Springfield Front Porch, A Slow Summer Tale

Summer is the time for front porch stories with a folksy character.
Summer is the time for front porch stories with a folksy character.

Summer is the season for front porch stories — stories with a folksy character. When 83-year-old Donna Parks came up reporter Tom Stafford’s Springfield sidewalk with a story to tell, Tom set up his recording equipment. Her story begins 15 years ago in the middle of Kansas.... with an ugly piece of folk art.

DONNA PARKS: I had never heard of Mullinville, Kan., until I started playing bridge on the internet with a lady who lived in Mullinville, Kan. And she was a Methodist like me, a church organist like me. Her name was B.J. Torbush. And she sounded very despondent one night as we were ending up bridge and she’s typing on there she thought she was going to die.

TOM STAFFORD: Meet, Donna Parks, one of the most distinctive storytellers in Clark County. Donna’s also the type of lady who, when she sees a woman in distress does something about it. Which is why she called B.J. Torbush’s pastor.

DONNA PARKS: And he said, Oh, yeah, well, she’s the church character and everything and she’s a toughie, and she’s been in the service and she plays the sousaphone and all kind of stuff. And he said, but people from the church take food over there and she just leaves it sit on the porch. So, I called her and I talked to her and I said, “Why don’t you come out here for the holidays?“ Long pause. “I don’t have the money to get there.” I sent her a ticket. Ten years later, she was still here.

TOM STAFFORD: B.J. brought with her two metal sculptures by Mullinville, Kansas’ premier folk artist and the other town character, Myron T. Liggett. To Donna each sculpture was uglier than the other. Nevertheless...

DONNA PARKS: … We brought them home, and we set ‘em as far away from the house as possible.

TOM STAFFORD: The sculptures sat there, year after year until Donna took one down to the Clark County Heritage Center. After looking up Myron T. Liggett, the Center added the piece to their collection right away. But the other sculpture languished in a far corner of the yard — until, one day, eventually, B.J. was no more. And the years kept going by, until...

DONNA PARKS: The other day, I thought, I’m going to get rid of this thing, I’m going to put it in the trash. And my friend that lives in Plattsburg said, “Oh, don’t throw it away, I kind of like it.”

TOM STAFFORD: So, Donna brought it over to her friend Corda Gullet’s house, in an old converted gas station.

DONNA PARKS: She sleeps in the chair with her dog. And you can tell her anything and she never repeats it in the wrong places.

TOM STAFFORD: Donna and Corda had met some time back — when Corda was short on cash at Donna’s garage sale.

DONNA PARKS: I went over there with the box, banged on the door. She came, and I gave her all the little figurines. And we became friends. Cause she’s my age of 83, and I’m not sure she’s always eating right.

TOM STAFFORD: So just as she’d given Corda the dog, she gave her the ugly sculpture. And Corda loves it as much as B.J. ever did. Especially after her neighbor, Don, cleaned up.

DONNA PARKS: And guess what it was? The Kansas University whatever, Jayhawk.

TOM STAFFORD: No, it isn’t the Maltese Falcon. Just a summer story about a piece of folk art — ugly on its own — that made its way from Mullinville, Kan., to Plattsburg, Ohio. And a cast of characters along the way, perhaps chief among them, the storyteller herself, Ms. Donna Parks. Reporting for WYSO from my front porch in Springfield, I’m Tom Stafford.

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