A stranger passing through Lennox Valley would naturally think there wasn’t much going on during my growing years.
In fact, I would be hard pressed to name a single uneventful week in my hometown. Whenever it seemed as if the drama was settling, something would happen to stir our emotions in a big way.
Raymond Cooper was responsible for more than his fair share of stirring. I can’t imagine what The Valley might have been like during those years without him.
Most would have thought Raymond would settle down after his narrow defeat in the mayor’s race. However, there he was, two months later, mixing up as much trouble as ever.
As usual, Cooper devised a villainous scheme to guarantee a steady audience for his radio show, "Renderings With Raymond," while also boosting readership of his weekly rag, The Valley Patriot.
Declining interest in The Patriot was the cause of much concern to Raymond in late October, though he never admitted it. To hear him talk, his "newspaper" was about to topple Iris Long’s Hometown News and would soon be in line for a Pulitzer or two.
Concerned about his "baby," he came up with a sinister plan. Cooper and Maxine Miller, of "Rumor Has It" fame, wrote most of the copy in The Valley Patriot, and Maxine reported directly to Raymond.
Cooper quickly realized by including stories in The Patriot, then using his radio show to galvanize the audience, he could exploit the most insignificant "scoop," turning it into a matter of national urgency.
As readers scrutinized the front page of The Valley Patriot on October 27, 1998, they soon learned their peaceful village was under attack from exterior forces. There were two main stories, plus a brief update of the A.J. Fryerson drama and the table of contents.
Filling the bottom-left area of the page was a headline in 28-point type, "Baptists Take Turkeys to Task in Upcoming Event."
The story was nearly a carbon copy of one found a year earlier in the Hometown News regarding the annual Men’s Breakfast and Turkey Shoot at First Baptist Church.
A more ominous headline filled two lines stretched across the top of the page. In 80-point type, the apocalyptic banner read, "Foreign Power Attempts to Manipulate Valley Youth!"
Imagine the newspaper headlines proclaiming the end of World War II, and you have a fairly good idea of the impact of Cooper’s story.
Valley residents couldn’t help but pick up Raymond’s paper after seeing the headline. The story detailed an evil book that had made its way across the Atlantic directly into the hands of Valley teenagers.
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone" was the rage among teenagers in Britain and, as Raymond "uncovered," was gaining steam among high school and, in some cases, middle school students living in The Valley.
Cooper ignored the fact he had dismissed the book six months earlier saying, "It’s nothing to worry about. It will be forgotten in a couple of weeks."
At the time, Raymond was more concerned about getting himself elected. However, the book now was growing more popular by the day and was perfect fodder to stir the emotions of the listening, and reading, public.
Cooper’s guest on Tuesday’s show was Brother Jacob, associate pastor at the Lutheran church. It took only a moment for Jacob to regret accepting the invitation.
"How do you feel about evil forces attacking our children, Pastor?" Raymond almost shouted.
Brother Jacob thought for a moment. He had been the victim of Cooper’s on-air manipulation before.
"Well, no one wants evil forces attacking anyone, especially our children," Jacob responded. "But . . ."
Cooper jumped in before the pastor could finish his sentence.
"You heard Brother Jacob. Sinister forces are attacking our children. I ask you, where is our so-called mayor while all this is taking place?"
Jacob tried to jump in, but Raymond would have nothing of it. After a moment Raymond thanked him for being on the show and urged his listeners to visit Jacob’s 8:30 service some Sunday morning.
"It is, after all," Raymond whispered, "where I was converted."
It wasn’t the first time Brother Jacob wished Cooper had been converted at the Methodist or Baptist church.
"The Good Folks of Lennox Valley: The Book" is now available at Amazon.com and other booksellers.