April 26, 2014

Marionville focuses on healing town’s stained image

After the killings at two Overland Park Jewish centers, the mayor of Marionville, Mo., Dan Clevenger, gave his town a black eye by proclaiming his friendship with murder suspect F. Glenn Miller Jr. and agreeing with Miller that Jews were responsible for much of the country’s problems. After the city council began impeachment proceedings against Clevenger, he resigned. Now the town is trying to shed its shame and disgust.

As townsfolk stepped to the microphone to ask the mayor to resign, countering yells came from the back of the crowded fire station.

Police took one guy out of the special meeting. Another man swung a crutch at a reporter.

Down front of all the hubbub sat Mary Ellen Brundle, 94, a member of the city council. She heard it all, saw it all, including the mayor’s supporters in the rear, silhouetted against the evening sky.

She knew what she had to do, but maybe not the necessary parliamentary procedure to make it happen, so she just let it rip — and became a hero to some here:

“Well, I don’t know exactly how to do this, but I think we ought to impeach him.”

Donna White, a couple of seats away, quickly seconded the motion.

With a 4-1 vote, the Marionville city council agreed Monday night to begin impeachment proceedings against Mayor Dan Clevenger and to begin cleaning up a painful and messy spring for this little Ozarks town previously known for mysterious white squirrels and the annual Applefest.

On April 13, a self-proclaimed anti-Semite and white supremacist who lived just outside the city limits was arrested after three people were fatally shot at Jewish centers in Overland Park. The man, F. Glenn Miller Jr., also rattled off a “Heil Hitler!” while being arrested.

Clevenger, who had been elected only a week earlier, then publicly proclaimed friendship with Miller and told reporters he agreed with him that Jews were responsible for much of the country’s economic and health care problems.

Marionville quickly hit front pages and websites all over the country. Once famous for its peach and apple orchards, the town now bloomed with shame and disgust. And anger — much at Clevenger, but also some in his defense.

National media flocked to Marionville, population 2,225, about 25 miles southwest of Springfield. A Holocaust survivor from New York called City Hall to voice her dismay. Bad press flooded the town once called “The Land of Seven Springs.” One council member and the city attorney resigned.

Tension built. Brundle knew the mayor had to go.

“Mary Ellen Brundle is my hero,” said Debbie Sallee, one of those who went to the microphone and asked Clevenger to resign that night. “When nobody else knew what to do, she asked for the floor and she might not have known exactly what to say, but she got it done. She’s 94 and didn’t care what anybody thought. She did what was in her heart.

“And when she did it, she freed up the others to follow.”

Brundle, who worked in Washington, D.C., for the Navy during “the war,” merely said: “Somebody had to do it.”

White’s 11-year-old grandson had asked what an “Aryan” was. Over the years, she and her husband, Glen, had hosted 38 foreign exchange students.

White called Monday’s special meeting at the fire station. Earlier in the day, she posted on Facebook: “If you want me to do this, don’t make a 66-year-old woman do it alone.”

Drive in on U.S. 60 and you’ll see a billboard: “Marionville Welcomes You!”

It shows a white squirrel upright on hind legs.

Too easy.

Talk to locals about the albino critters and it gets


too easy. Seems the white squirrels don’t get along with the gray and brown squirrels in town.

“Yeah, I know,” Glen White said of the temptation to draw an analogy to recent events.

He grew up around Marionville. His mother worked at a tomato canning plant. He now serves on the park board and takes great pride in the clear waters of the spring-fed creek that runs under walking bridges and between ballfields in the city park.

With his wife on the city council, son on the school board and grandchildren in school, recent events saddened him.

“People used to come into town and ask where they can see the white squirrels,” he said. “Now, no telling what they’re wanting to see.”

Sallee wonders too.

“Google-search Marionville now and that’s all you get,” she said of the killings and the aftermath.

Sallee, 57, is a full-time college student at Drury University in Springfield. She came to Marionville six years ago and helps with the Applefest.

“Those stories about the mayor ran all over the country, and I read them online and read the comments at the end,” she said. “People were saying they weren’t going to come to Applefest anymore. People who grew up here said they were thinking about moving back here but not anymore.

“My mouth fell open — this wasn’t coming down on Danny (Clevenger). This was coming down on Marionville.”

At Alice Irene’s Restaurant on U.S. 60 last week, a Loretta Lynn song played to the lunch crowd. The restaurant does big business during the September Applefest.

“It wasn’t good what happened here,” said owner Bradley Thomas, who named the place after both his grandmothers. “First the shootings and then what happened next. You never want that light on your town.”

He lives outside the city limits and didn’t go to the firehouse meeting. But what happened had to happen, he said.

“It was important to let the outside world know that’s not what this town is about.”

Authorities say Miller, also known as Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., gunned down a doctor, the man’s teenage grandson and a mother of three outside the Jewish Community Center and the Village Shalom senior living center in Overland Park.

It’s quite likely that at age 73, he may never return to the Marionville area.

Shortly after, Clevenger claimed Miller as a friend and told the Springfield News-Leader: “The futures market, the Federal Reserve, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health — every time I see that on the news, there are Jewish names and they run things.”

The mayor resigned the day after the meeting. He is now back to fixing lawn mowers and weed trimmers in his small-engine repair shop.

Less than a week after that raucous council meeting, the town is set to gather at 5:30 p.m. Sunday on the square for an event to “Heal From the Past and Go Forward.”

But nobody in this little town will forget any time soon what happened here. Even though some people got what they wanted at the fire station meeting, no joy came from that showdown.

“Nobody won here,” Sallee said. “The town lost. We had to deal with some things, and we have. Now it’s time to heal.

“I want my grandkids to grow up in a good town.”

She’d be happy to see you at this year’s Applefest. Third weekend in September.

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