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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Preacher was valued member of community

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Although he was born in Ash Flat and spent his formative years in Viola, Preacher Roe is indelibly linked with the city of West Plains.

Just try getting around town without crossing "Preacher Roe Boulevard," the street named for the legendary Brooklyn Dodger.

Preacher's love affair with the Howell County town bloomed in earnest after he hung up his spikes, playing his last game with the Dodgers in 1954. Preacher's brother Glen (who was at one time Mayor of West Plains) had moved to West Plains in the mid-40s and that's where the five-time All-Star decided to call home, also.

Once there, Preacher went into business for himself, opening a grocery store.

Many local residents can recall shopping at Preacher Roe's Super Market, a bustling grocery store just off one of the city's busiest intersections.

Preacher opened the grocery store in January of 1955 and owned the store for almost 20 years, before he sold it to Gene Nelson. Nelson later changed the name of the store to Nu-Way Super Market.

Today, a flower shop occupies the former home of Preacher Roe's Super Market.

But more than just a businessman, Preacher genuinely meshed with the community of West Plains and quickly became just another member of town -- blending in, instead of trying to stand out.

"I think everyone will tell you this about Preacher -- he wasn't just an outstanding baseball player and a sports legend for all of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas -- he's what you call a true gentleman. That's what he was," said West Plains Mayor Joe Paul Evans. "He was always friendly and courteous to everybody. And he was a humble man. He didn't have a big ego like a lot the stars of the sports world do."

Although Preacher didn't use his stardom to try and make himself bigger than his neighbors, he did use it to help benefit the community, much like an ambassador might.

"This is just the kind of guy he was. Before I was mayor, I was president of the chamber, and several years ago, an older couple came in there (West Plains Chamber of Commerce) and they were traveling around the United States," said Evans. "They saw West Plains and remembered that this was were Preacher Roe lived. They came into the office and asked if Preacher Roe was still alive and if he still lived in West Plains. I said, 'Yeah, he's still alive and still lives here.' The man says, 'Oh, he was my sports hero over the years and I just loved that guy. I don't guess there's any way I could meet him, is there?' I said, 'Well, let me see.' I had Preacher's unlisted phone number and I called him and told him what the situation was. Preacher said to me, 'Give me 15 minutes to change my britches and I'll be down there.' So he did. And he sat down with this couple and talked to them for a good long time. And he gave them an autographed baseball. When those people left, you could see in their eyes that he made the whole trip for them. Those people went on with their trip feeling good about Preacher and about the city of West Plains, too. And he didn't have to do that, you know. But he just hardly ever refused to do anything he was asked to do for the community. He was always involved in the community and in trying to improve the community. He was truly a spokesman for West Plains. And he was really a special friend to me -- we're going to miss him."

Preacher was also involved heavily in supporting Missouri State-West Plains and its athletics programs.

"He was a member of our Grizzly Booster Club and his son Tommy is now a volunteer assistant coach for our Grizzly golf team," said Dr. Herb Lunday, MSU-WP dean of student services. "Preacher was just such a special guy and our lives are richer for having him in our midst for all these years."

Though he had many accomplishments in the big leagues to be proud of, Preacher was not one to brag about them, or even to talk much about himself at all.

"I always knew that Preacher was a legendary, Hall of Fame, professional athlete. But to me, Preacher was one of the most gentle, humble and gracious people I have ever known," Lunday said. "He had no assumptions -- he told me once that he hoped he'd leave this world being at peace with all men -- and I'm sure he accomplished that, just because of the person he was."

But not just West Plains, Preacher, too, would help out his native Fulton County at any and every chance he could.

Just witness the city ballfield just off Highway 9 in Salem that bears the name "Preacher Roe Park."

The reason for the park's name?

The bank loaned money for lights at the ballfield, on the condition that when Preacher came home in the fall, he would pitch a game there, every year, until the lights were paid for in full. And true to his word, Preacher pitched there every fall, for eight years, until the debt was paid off. In honor of his refusal to accept any kind of payment for his help, the city of Salem gladly dubbed the ballfields "Preacher Roe Park."

A fitting honor indeed for a local boy made good.

"He could have lived anywhere after he retired," Lunday said. "But he came back home. And we're thankful for that."

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