Sunday, December 13, 2015

Ninety Years Ago Today in West Plains

by Pa Rock
West Plains Peacock Rancher

For being just a relatively small town in south-central Missouri, West Plains (population 12,000) has been home to many famous Americans - most notably several country music stars and sports figures.  Many of these local icons have gone on to have streets in town (often referred to as "boulevards") named in their honor.  Three of the bigger town thoroughfares in fact are Porter Wagoner Boulevard, Preacher Roe Boulevard, and the Jan Howard Expressway.

However, one other very well known American originated in West Plains and inexplicably has no local markers.  Actor and comedian Dick Van Dyke was born here ninety years ago today.  One reason for the historical marker oversight might be related to the circumstances of his birth.  Mama Van Dyke, it seems, was unwed when she showed up here to live with relatives until her baby was born.  That's how it often was back in the day.

Baby Van Dyke was in town only briefly before moving on to Illinois where he grew up and flourished in the city of Danville.

West Plains is still a bit on the provincial side and perhaps some of today's city fathers remain so out-of-tune with the times that they fear naming a street after the world famous actor and comedian would somehow tarnish the town's wholesome image through his out-of-wedlock origins.

Most of our other "stars" actually grew up here, which also might give them a bit more purchase when it comes to road-naming rights - but I understand that Porter Wagoner, who used to play his guitar and sing at the Avenue Theatre as a young man, was disdainful of West Plains in his golden years.

But back to the celebrity of the day - Dick Van Dyke - the most famous individual ever produced in West Plains, Missouri.  Just for the record, I loved the old Dick Van Dyke Show on television with its amazing ensemble cast of very funny people.  And who couldn't help but love Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?  I also liked a movie that he did later called Cold Turkey where, as a small town minister, he lead his community in an effort to have the whole town quit smoking.   Undoubtedly tossing the smokes at that critical time in his life was, at least in part, responsible for the American icon reaching the age of ninety today!

Happy 90th birthday to you, Mr. Van Dyke!   May your day be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious - and may you enjoy many, many more!

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