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Pleasant Grove Youth Memorial Park a vision of many people

At the Pleasant Grove Youth Memorial Park dedication monument behind the
Pleasant Grove Baptist Church are, from left: Brandon and Alex Welch; Lorane and
Mike Runyan. Lorane is a Conard and sister to the memorialized late S. Glenn Conard
and grandmother to Alex. Alex’s mother, Melissa Brooks is also memorialized and
was Lorane’s daughter.
Published: 7:15 PM, 11/15/2013 Last updated: 7:16 PM, 11/15/2013

Author: David Popiel
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

Just past the middle of the month, November is bewildering our hometown with a mixture of winter weather and sunny still days not allowing us to see a clear path for the forecast.

In between my visits with several folks we have been chatting about and with, I got a chance to revisit some old friends and remember and share their loses through this column. A celebration of Christian life blended with memories of loved ones who have passed on took place at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on October 27. The gathering of friends of the Conard family and church members celebrated the youth memorial park as a tribute to Melissa Hale Brooks and S. Glenn Conard.

So let me tell you their story and why a large stone and bronze plaque commemorate their lives on a sloping hillside behind the church. A thick blanket of thin fall leaves covers the area that had just weeks ago been filled with summer play, green leaves, and the rolling roar of the Pigeon River not a hundred yards away.

When Brian Beretta of Newport Sand and Gravel selected the massive stone, he may not have noticed its  heart shape. And perhaps backhoe operator and veteran excavator Jimmy Wright did not pay attention to this, when he placed the stone. Both did their work at no charge.

Yet, there it is, a heart shape with large flat plaque at its center. The church and steeple rise above it in the background. Mums, now dry, were blooming and beautiful weeks ago, a reflection of the lives of Glenn and Melissa. Lorane and her husband, Mike Runyan had invited me over to the church’s community pavilion and youth park. Many already have enjoyed for years the walking track and basketball court. The congregation is generous and friendly. I am not surprised when I think of its association with a man you have known, Rev. Ransom Hall, He preached there for many years.


Too young to die


Lorane is a Conard, Glenn Conard being a brother. Melissa was Lorane’s only child. They were inseparable friends. She died March 28, 1995. Five weeks later Glenn died, May 12, 1995. Lorane still tears up when she remembers how Melissa had a sore throat for many weeks. She was diagnosed with leukemia and died within nine months. I have come across her tombstone at union Cemetery and maybe you have seen it too on the newer eastside. There is a color photo of Melissa on the stone.

As we sat at the pavilion on the cool afternoon last week, I got to know the connections to the Conard family and others as we talked: Lorane and Mike; Melissa’s child Alex with her husband, Brandon Welch. His father is the late Jimmy Welch and Mom is Gayla (Gregg) Miller married to Jeff Miller, a Knox native. During our chat I found out that Alex and the Plain Talk are neighbors because she runs Max Movement, dance and exercise studio. I wish her an early happy birthday when she celebrates November 25 and turns 26. That’s how old her mother was when she died. Alex was just age six and living with Melissa and Dad, Jimmy Brooks, off Fugate Road at Wood Yard Road. Alex is glad to have the memorial in place and you know mother loved her much when Alex said, “She couldn’t stay mad at me.”

I also learned that Mike Runyan, who refers to his family as the “poor Runyans,” is a nephew to Bob Ford. You recall we stopped in on Bob years passed. Mike’s father is Paul Runyan married to the former Dorothy Ford, Bob’s sister. Although Mike retired not long ago after 37 years as a rural mail carrier, he still raises cattle. Mike was there for Lorane during the loss and he put in a lot of work at the Pleasant Grove Church park. They are quick to say their contribution in money and labor is only a small portion because many church members, friends and family contributed time and money.


Seeding the youth park


Lorane had gotten a life insurance policy for Melissa, who was a child at the time. Proceeds from this went to aid in the creation of the youth park and memorial. Those who remember the former White Way store at the Food City East center may recall that Lorane worked there for years, when Johnny Rader was manager. She was there for about 10 years as associate manager until the store closed about 1985. Then she began insurance sales and service, first with Home Beneficial and continues with American General. So she has been doing this for 28 years.

The idea of the youth park is not theirs or current pastor Kelly Reed, who spoke at the dedication. Former pastor Gary Smith presented the idea to build the park and pavilion in an area between the church, parsonage and the river. He talked about this since 1996. It was overgrown with shrubs and trees. Lorane has attended the church for years. Pastor Smith envisioned a place for Christian youth rallies. Gary got called away to another church, and, when Pastor Reed arrived, he liked the idea, too. The church is able to provide plenty of room for volleyball, swings, horseshoes, picnics, Bible school and studies, outdoor Gospel singing around a nighttime fire. You might say they get plenty of exercise for body and soul.


You know the Conards


Let me get back to the Conard family for a minute. I’ve known various members of the family for 40 years. Glenn was one of my students in 1972-73 at Cosby School. J. B. Conard worked for Newport Utilities and always was helpful when we had electrical problems at the Plain Talk. Off duty, he would assist in the power hookups for our cooking schools in the 1980s at Cocke County High School. J.B. was at the dedication. I have early memories of visiting J.B.’s grandfather’s home with its huge rhododendron hedges. Rev. James Blaine Conard married Myrtle Wood and they lived a long time at Dark Hollow. He was a farmer and Glenn followed in his footsteps. Myrtle was a humble and dedicated housewife and raised nine children. 

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