Special to the Tribune
The phrase “Small Town USA” evokes an image of a close-knit community, a place where neighbors aren’t just neighbors but friends, a place where everyone knows everyone and everyone lends a hand. Such is the town of Mercer, Missouri, close to the Iowa border, and it was the childhood home of Chanutian Herb Shepard.
Growing up in Mercer, population 300, Herb remembers stores staying open until the last costumer left and Saturday nights meant that the residents of Mercer were playing cards in the homes of friends and neighbors. Bands would play as Herb’s dad called for square dancing. Even though Herb grew up on a farm outside of Mercer, Herb says he felt a great sense of community.
Herb would work in the field, then milk the three or four cows that they owned, then at night he would ride his horse into town where there was sometimes a free show in the park. Gene Autry and Roy Rogers were just a few of the stars who were immortalized on the big screen.
Herb remembers one day when he was working in the barn, a storm started brewing and lightning hit the barn with Herb in it, burning the barn to the ground in 30 minutes flat. He also remembers when tragedy struck the Shepard family. Herb’s brother was admitted to the hospital, but he had gotten better and was waiting to be discharged when a nurse administered the wrong medicine. He died 20 before he was to be discharged.
Herb started working at 16 years old, first in gas stations then in produce at the local grocery store. He also drove a truck unloading coal.
Herb says he liked to work; he looked forward to it and would stay up just to be the first to work hauling rock in Missouri.
The climate in Mercer was not conducive to his father’s health, so they left Missouri and made their home in Burlington. In Kansas, Herb worked for Texaco and also drove trucks.
Herb joined the Army National Guard and was sent to boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, then went on to Fort Gordon in Georgia. One of his jobs for the Army National Guard was to haul troops to various camps. He would drive soldiers to Fort Riley in Minnesota, Camp Guernsey in Wyoming and Fort Carson in Colorado. He also drove an artillery truck and the sand that was used at the John Redman Reservoir on the Neosho River was hauled in by Herb. He has hauled everything from coal, sand, cattle and people.
In Burlington, Herb met Carol, who worked at a restaurant called the Giant Hamburger. He asked her out in January of 1964. Carol said she could tell he was a man of character, who had morals and did not drink. She agreed to go out with him in August and the two got married on June 18, 1965. They raised two boys, Galen and Harlen, and a girl named Donna, who lives in Chanute.
Herb worked for a farmer, then worked in Yates Center for the highway department. He eventually started working in Chanute, traveling from Yates Center to his job in Chanute before moving to Chanute in 1984. He worked in several capacities for the highway department including on the paint crew, hauling equipment and mowing. If a farmer lost a hubcap, they would ask Herb to be on the lookout. Herb would find the hubcaps that they lost and even some that they hadn’t. Herb says he always had fun at work and liked all the guys he worked with over the years.
Even though Herb has retired from the highway department, he has not retired from life. He likes to tinker in his shop, he helps his friends and neighbors with yard work in the summer and with snow removal in the winter. Up until last year, he helped build fence working for Charlie Isle before having coronary bypass surgery. While recovering from his surgery, Herb was visited by Carol’s pastor David McCoy and his wife Nancy from Ambassador Christian Church. Carol was a core member of the church and now Herb and Carol together have been a blessing to the church family. Once again, Herb helps keep up the church yard by mowing. And if any members of the church get their picture in the paper, you can bet Herb will cut them out and present it to them on Sunday morning.
Herb and Carol both feel blessed by their great-granddaughter Mileena, who they have raised since she was seven months old. Herb will tell you he has lived a blessed and full life.