From Mississippi, a love for Kenyon

Malcolm Mabry Mississippi State University

Malcolm Mabry really loves Kenyon, Minn.

The Kenyon Leader newspaper says he donates money to the after-prom fund, the VFW, the Lions Club, Lutheran Churches, and helped fund a cheerleaders trip to Florida.

He also donates items to Kenyon schools, giving his old books, DVDs and VCRs to the history and science departments.

That’s not particularly unusual for people who love their small community in Minnesota. But Mabry is different. Mabry has never set foot in Kenyon. He lives in Mississippi.

Somehow, a copy of the Kenyon Leader ended up in his mailbox, the newspaper’s publisher and editor, Gunnar Olson, wrote last month.

At first glance, Mabry assumed the foreign paper was a Mississippi weekly. After a careful look, he realized it was from the distant Minnesota. That day, he penned letters to both a local congressman and to former Editor, Terri Lenz to tell them that he was impressed with the paper.

Not long after, Lenz and he began correspondence. Lenz kept him apprised of the events of the town, which Mabry found appealing.

“I see Kenyon as an ideal, middle America, good, little town with no crime, just like its supposed to be,” he said.

Not like his town, apparently.

“We have so much crime here. It’s just terrible,” he began. “We have a paper and every headline is about crime or murder. It was such a relief to read about Kenyon.”

As for what in these pages caught his eye, Mabry cited examples of reading about 9-1-1 calls regarding dogs barking and cell phone traffic stops as some of the things that caught his eye from The Leader’s police report.

“I said, that is a place I would love to live. If it weren’t for the cold up there, I think I would,” he joked.

Olson and Mabry have since struck up a long-distance friendship.

He reports that Mabry was once an “ardent segregationist” until he campaigned for the Mississippi Senate in a district that was 70 percent black.

“The Mississippi Delta is a world in itself. The wealthiest people and the poorest people are right next door to each other. It cannot go on like this. The difference between the haves and have-nots is too great. People will eventually rebel,” he said.

In his most recent article this week, Olson says he heard from some of his readers who wished he hadn’t included some details of Mabry’s life in his earlier article, though he didn’t say which ones.

So he provided more.

A photograph of Pearl, the yellow Labrador, and Mabry came up next in the stack. To the naked eye, it also appeared to be a generic picture of Mabry until he disclosed, in his letter, that the photo was taken by members of the Art Institute of New York who chose him as a subject.

“Yankees love to come down here and make pictures and do studies about us,” joked Mabry in his ornate, cursive letter. “This lady probably had heard that I’m weird and that I have over thirty five strays that I had picked up.”

Finally, the last thing included in the packet was an article by Karen Ott Mayer that chronicles Mabry’s artistic life. Entitled, A poet, painter and politician, the piece looks at Mabry’s prolific doodling that manifested itself in the art form of rock painting.

What began as a way to pass the time during lengthy appropriations in the Mississippi Senate turned into the hobby of rock painting. As Mabry is prone, he dove whole-heartedly into the endeavor, bringing in special rocks from Jackson, Mississippi.

Oh yeah, he’s a poet too.

Mabry isn’t new to charity. He once found a dog by the side of the road. The 13-year-old canine needed radiation treatment for cancerous tumors. When he found out there were no such facilities in his state, he funded one.

Maybe Kenyon is the grass that’s greener for Malcolm Mabry. Or maybe it really is the slice of heaven it appears to be when you live in Mississippi.

He holds out hope that someday he’ll visit, according to Olson.