Nancy Harris receiving the prestigious 2019 Governor’s Service Award for her volunteer work on the Greenbrier River Trail. 

Ken Springer
Watoga Park Foundation

The Generosity
of Mayor Stumple

My friend Delbert up in Mudwallow, Ohio, created quite a stir last week at a ceremony honoring him for his volunteer activities in maintaining the trails at Mudwallow State Park and the adjacent 1.1-mile Mudwallow bike path.

I decided to drive up to Ohio and accompany Delbert on his trip to Columbus to receive the first annual Governor’s Award for Volunteer of the Year in Ohio.

Most of our three-hour drive was consumed by Delbert’s soliloquy about how if you have enough faith in a project, such as trail maintenance, the necessary equipment will darn-near fall right out of the sky and into your hands. I dryly commented at the conclusion of his monologue, “No more bake sales, huh?”

“No more bake sales,” Delbert affirmed.

He rattled on so long about his good fortune that we arrived in Columbus before I could extract the facts about how he managed to get two chainsaws, a limb saw, come-along, and a 4-wheel drive city-owned pickup (complete with a snowplow) when he was not granted a budget by the city council. So, I just figured the citizens of Mudwallow must be extraordinarily generous in purchasing cakes at the trail crew’s bake sales.

But something deep inside me said that there is probably more to his windfall than just pastries and faith alone.

You see, saying that Delbert is a little bit naïve is like saying that the Pope is a little bit Catholic.

The ceremony was held in the ballroom of the downtown Sheraton and the attendees were dressed to the nines. I could tell that Delbert was now getting a little nervous when his voice went up an octave or two, and he started fiddling with his necktie.

Once we were seated at our table I asked him how he managed to obtain the trail tools, the truck and even a bike repair station on a 1.1-mile bike path. He said he wasn’t real sure but he thought that the Mayor of Mudwallow, Denton “Digger” Stumple, was just being grateful to him for inviting the mayor and his family to stay at Delbert’s house while the mayor’s house was being fumigated. 

Then Delbert went on to tell me that back in March he was returning home from a doctor’s appointment in Marietta, which is about 70 miles from Mudwallow. He said that when he passed the Shady Place Motel, situated between the two towns and set back from the road a piece, he noticed Mayor Stumple’s car in the parking lot.

Already my mind was striding way ahead of Delbert’s words, but before I could inquire any further Delbert digressed from the subject by saying, “I just cannot understand why they call that motel the Shady Place. Heck, it’s bordered on one side by a cornfield and on the other by soybeans. Why the closest tree is a good mile down the road.”

So to get Delbert back to the subject at hand I asked him why he thought that the mayor’s house was being fumigated.

“Well,” he said, “I knock-ed on the door of room number 14 which was the one the mayor’s car was parked in front of.”

Delbert went on to say that there was a lot of commotion coming from the room, and he figured they were tidying it up before opening the door.

“The door finally opened as far as the security chain allowed and, sure enough, there was Mayor Stumple who must have been fixin to go to bed because he only had his underwear on,” Delbert said.

I interjected “But Delbert, what made you think that his house was being fumigated?”

“Because I asked him,” Delbert replied. “I said, Mr. Mayor, I saw your car on the way back from Marietta and figured your house must be being fumigated, what with you staying in this motel and all. So I thought I would stop and invite you and your missus to come and stay with me and my missus until your house is aired out.”

Delbert went on to tell me that Mayor Stumple readily agreed with him, and said that in fact his house was being fumigated, but that they were only there one night and really didn’t need to impose on Delbert.

Delbert said that he could see a woman sitting on the bed through the narrow door opening. He said she looked younger than Mrs. Stumple and wore an awful lot of makeup, but he concluded that she must have been the Mayor’s aide, and the mayor was probably conducting city business right out of that motel room so as not to fall behind on his duties.

“I still don’t understand how you got the funds to buy the equipment,” I said.

“Well, the mayor seemed in a real hurry to get back to city business so I thought I should leave and let him get back to his work,” Delbert replied. “But as I was leaving, he slipped two $50 bills through the crack in the door.”

“For what?” I inquired.

“I think he was just showing his gratitude for me stopping by and offering him a place to stay in his hour of need,” Delbert said. “And every time I ran into Mayor Stumple after that, he would wink at me and slip me a couple more $50 bills. By mid-summer, the trail committee was flush with money.”

I was just about to tell Delbert that he may have greatly misconstrued the entire situation when his name was called out to accept his award. My last words to Delbert, as he nervously walked up to the front of the crowded ballroom was a plea, “Please Delbert, please, just take your award, say thank you, and promptly return to your seat.”

But alas, Delbert is Delbert, and when the host of the ceremony announced that Delbert had managed to supply his trail crew with the necessary tools without any apparent funding source, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. One fellow in the back of the room shouted, “Delbert, tell us how you managed that.”

I gulped hard, my heart seemed to stop, and I silently prayed “Lord, please don’t let him tell that audience what he told me, please Lord, stop him now.”

But, like always, my prayers were ignored when it comes to Delbert, and I knew a storm was coming when Delbert called Mayor Denton Stumple, whose face was as red as a beet, to the podium to stand beside him.

Delbert, whose voice was now reaching that of a falsetto, put his arm on the mayor’s shoulder and started to speak. Mayor Stumple looked as stiff as a cadaver and kept glancing back at his table where Mrs. Stumple was watching the unfolding catastrophe like a hawk.

Clearing his throat, Delbert said “If I hadn’t stopped at the Shady Place Motel to invite Mayor Stumple and the Missus to stay at my house while their house was being fumigated, why, our trails would be an absolute mess.” 

Speaking like an old-time politician, except in falsetto, Delbert continued, “We owe the great condition of the trails of Mudwallow to the fine support of our mayor. And though his honor is much too humble to recognize his own generosity, I will simply ask Mayor Stumple to say a few words to the good people assembled here tonight.”

At that Mrs. Stumple slid forward onto the edge of her seat and shouted to the murmuring crowd “Pipe down, you idiots, I want to hear what that weasel has to say.”

Mayor Stumple was now as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. And he had a look that coroners and homicide investigators call the “Dead Man’s Stare.”

The mayor was totally and irrevocably speechless.

About this time the total silence that followed Delbert’s revelations was broken by the collective gasp of the whole audience as a picture took shape in their minds. This lasted only a short time; then the crowd erupted into the kind of laughter that starts with a giggle here and a chuckle there. And then, like a contagion, it spread throughout the entire gathering, erupting into a fit of laughter that can go on for some time – time enough to escape with Delbert.

I took advantage of the laughter and the distraction of Mrs. Stumple leading the mayor out of the ballroom by his ears, and forced Delbert into a run for my car. Delbert didn’t have much to say on the drive home. He was most likely the last one in that entire ballroom to grasp the situation and ensuing chaos.

When I dropped him off in his driveway I asked him about his plans.

He thought for a moment and said, “I guess I will start planning some bake sales.”

There is something to be said for persistence! 

From the wonderful trails of Watoga,

Ken Springer
Ken49bon@gmail.com

This edition of the Watoga Trail Report is dedicated to Nancy Harris who is a real trail volunteer on the Greenbrier River Trail. She received the prestigious 2019 West Virginia Governor’s Service Award for her unparalleled volunteerwork. Congratulations, Nancy, your tireless efforts make a huge difference on our beautiful 78-mile bike trail.

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