Occasionally, you get to witness something that reveals so much truth about a person, or a situation, or circumstance that all you can really do is sort of stand there and be in awe.
It happened last week.
Leader News Editor Lori Freeze asked me earlier in the week if I could arrange a meeting with Jim and Sandy Qualls, Mountain View’s Distinguished Citizens for 2022, who will be honored just a few days from now.
Jim and Sandy retired from their work at the Stone County Resource Council and the Dorcas Thrift Store and Food Ministry after 20 years of service last September. We needed a photo of the couple and hoped to ask a few additional questions of Sandy to accompany the story found on Page 1.
I’d spent an hour or more gathering story information from Jim back in August as his retirement neared. It was his “second retirement” after moving to Mountain View from California 21 years ago on a tip from a truck driver he met in West Plains, Mo. With time on his hands, Jim volunteered as a driver at the SCRC and within a year “pretty much inherited the whole thing.”
“It was supposed to be my retirement moving here. I think I’ve been fishing three times in 21 years,” he laughed.
Knowing there was an icy forecast ahead for later in the week I called the Qualls residence immediately to see if we might set something up. This is one of the hazards of the news business on a weekly publication schedule. You get what you can get when you can get it. A missed opportunity early may be a missed opportunity altogether. The Qualls’ had a doctor appointment in Mountain View the next morning at 9, so we agreed to a quick meeting at the Resource Council at 8 that would take care of my business and allow them to get on with theirs.
It was cold, damp. and overcast Tuesday morning. You could feel the winter weather coming. I arrived right on time at 8. Jim’s pickup was already parked in front of the building and he and Sandy had made their way inside. I made sure my truck windows were rolled up tight. It felt as though a good rain might start any time.
As I walked inside Jim and Sandy were in the back of the building, busy. I’m not sure what they were doing, but it certainly wasn’t as if they were sitting on a couch waiting on my arrival. They were doing things. I yelled toward the back, and they made their way toward me, and without any transition at all, I was interviewing Sandy right there in the hallway amongst the stuffed animals and used kitchen appliances.
Sandy is a modest person, and she doesn’t like to talk a lot about all the ways that she gives. What impressed me most is how she said her time managing the food room was mostly about being by Jim’s side.
“Just about everything we do, we do it together and that’s the way we like it,” she said.
As Sandy and I conversed, I took notes and Jim disappeared to a side room somewhere. You could hear noises – things being moved around – and Sandy and I continued our conversation.
She spoke about how pleased she was that the local food room had increased its capacity for giving food to families during her 20 years, and the disappointment of seeing hunger as one of Stone County’s “generational” problems. She said their work would have never been possible without such generosity from the community.
We wrapped up our interview and headed over to the food room for a quick photo and then we said our goodbyes. I packed up my camera bag headed for the door and just as I walked out a local community member was leaving a big pile of clothes and appliances right at the doorstep just as it was beginning to rain.
Then I walked on to my truck so as not to begin the day soaking wet.
It was almost as if a voice from another realm spoke to me saying, “Stick around and watch this.”
Jim and Sandy were just a couple of minutes behind me walking out the door. I knew almost instinctively what was about to happen.
As Jim passed out the door his eyes went directly to the pile of donated goods near the door. They were just becoming damp.
He never hesitated. Not a blink.
It was as if he’d never left the job. Walking in and out of the rain, he made several trips inside with an armful of items.
That’s the heart of a true volunteer and the definition of character – those things you do when no one’s watching – or at least you think no one’s watching.
And that’s why Jim and Sandy Qualls are this year’s Distinguished Citizens in Mountain View.
They don’t compartmentalize or use a lot of labels or look around to see whose title matches what job. When they see something that needs doing, they just get the job done.
See you in next week’s newspaper.
(Steve Watkins is a writer/columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org).
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