Autumn's nighttime chill cut the Kansas air, but inside the old family home of Huck Boyd, the hospitality was warm. There, over a round of bourbon, Boyd, 72 and the publisher of a small-town weekly newspaper, told a story of 10 people and the community in which they live.
It was a story as old as barn raisings, yet it is as current as the milo crop now coming to harvest.
Boyd told a group of old people who found themselves innocently and abruptly adrift in the threatening crosscurrents of inflation and governmental regulation. He told of how their neighbors, with the communal spirit and resourcefulness that their ancestors brought to the Great Plains, came together to help them.
Along the way, the neighbors kept a handful of elderly people of welfare rolls, found a way to do without federal assistance for some others and saved a lot of pride and dignity as well as tax money.
The dollar savings in this town of 3,500 will to be sure, go lost and unnoticed in the final few digits of the national debt. Huck Boyd's story, therefore, is most valuable as a counterpoint of hope to the roundelay of national distress sung by America's national leaders -- the crisis of confidence, the moral decline, the lack of leadership.
McDill Boyd -- he acquired his nickname as a trombone-playing boy from his bandleader -- began his story with a Monday in August, when Connie Chestnut, manager of the Borum Gentle Care Home, walked into the offices of the Phillips County Review and announced that the Borum home would close on Sept. 1.
Her 13 residents -- 11 old and 2 retarded -- would be homeless.
For 23 years, the Borum Gentle Care Home had provided shelter, food and care for people too infirm to care for themselves yet not so helpless that they needed a nursing home. Just a little something in between.
Here they could tend to the garden or to each other's needs, drive or walk to town, do some chores and then sit down as a family for supper. Maybe even help a little with the cooking.
The family circle has been broken.
"When we started out," says mrs.C.F. Borum, "we named it the 'Gentle Care Home' because people in their later years need loving care, and we always attempted to provide it."
Now Mrs. Borum herself has reached the later years, and a year ago she turned over to Connie Chestnut her operation.
The home is green asphalt shingle, an old farmhouse moved in from the countryside. There is a cinderblock annex, and room for 15 people. Thirteen lived there Aug. 6, when Connie Chestnut waved the white flag of surrender: the $305 monthly charge no longer covered soaring food and fuel costs, and the expenses and burdens of governmental regulations that however well intentioned, had somehow gone haywire for Phillipsburg.
Six of the 13 had been able to pay their way; the other seven received basic public assistance plus a $4.19-a-day housing supplement from the federal and state governments. But with the $4.19 suddenly came an oppressive list of federally mandated regulations: the administrator must have a bachelor's degree, residents' every activity must be monitored and recorded daily on complicated charts, and on and on.
It was too much for Connie Chestnut, who was working 85 hours a week trying to do everything and, by all accounts, doing it quite well, without a college degree. She rented the facilities from Mrs. Borum, charged $305 a month, and whatever was left over was her income.
It worked out to about $1 an hour.
So she told her story to Huck Boyd, and in the Review of Aug. 9, he broke the bad news over Phillipsburg. But in the ways of small town newspapering, he was not going to let it end there. Long active in the affairs of the public (he is currently a Republican national committeeman), Huck Boyd began a crusade and publicized it in his own paper.
He wrote in an editorial that day: "folks who have lived together for a good many years, satisfactorily and in comfort, will be out on the street unless some way can be found to provide them the services they need.
"Do you have any ideas? Some very nice people would appreciate it if you do."
One idea that never did arise was one to let the government solve the problem it had helped to create.
"Can a community like this," Boyd asked in an editorial, "band itself together and take care of its own without government payments and control? With a little help from a lot of people, this can be done, and how nice it would be -- for once -- to do something for ourselves without asking the government to do it for us."
There were two concerns. If the Borum Gentle Care Home closed, the residents would be forced into more expensive nursing homes, and at taxpayers' cost. Once there, they would be cared for beyond their needs. Said Garner Hale, a First Christian Church elder who is working to save the Borum home, "If you throw 'em into a nursing home, pretty soon that's the only place they can be."
Bob Kendall, chairman of the board of county commissioners, estimated it could cost government up to $50 a day to place the welfare residents in other facilites. Not to mention the people who were able to pay their own at $305 a month, but who would be forced onto welfare when faced with higher rates.
So on Aug. 21, Huck Boyd brought together civic and church leaders at his house. There, he reported two days later, "it was agreed to raise the funds necessary to keep the (borum place) opens as a residential boarding home."
What eventually evolved was a non profit corporation to collect donations and to run the home; Connie Chestnut would remain as a salaried employe. The $4.19-a-day state-federal subsidy would be refused, and community contributions, not tax money, accepted instead. "You just go ahead and keep your money," Garner Hale, the elder, would say later of the community attitude toward government. "We'll just go out and keep it going ourselves."
The nonprofit corporation, Concerned Citizens Inc., would help those who couldn't meet the new monthly charge of $400, and a fund-raising goal of $25,000 was set.
That way the home would become self-supporting.
In no time, Concerned Citizens raised $6,600 -- contributions from local businesses and individuals ranging from $10 to $500. In some cases, church groups redirected their chairty from missionary work overseas to alms-giving across town.
"It's time people started doing things themselves instead of sitting around and waiting for a government handout," said Hale, a 57-year-old asphalt chemist at the Co-op refinery here. He made it clear it was not the old folks he saw waiting for the government handouts, but the community residents who would let the government pick up the expense.
And so on an October day, five weeks after the Borum home was scheduled to have closed, Karen Tebbs, 30 and retarded, was watering the houseplants there and helping to set the table for lunch.
Erl E. Haskett, born 93 years ago in a sod house in Phillips County, the son of a homesteading couple who grew up to raise oats, wheat, corn and hogs, still had a home.
There was confusion about whether the home would close. "I don't know what I'll do when they kick me out of here," he said.
"Well," said Connie Chestnut, "we hope we don't have to."
In the uncertainty, three residents moved away.
But if all goes well with the fund raising -- it is not completed yet -- Haskett won't have to move out.