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Lerlene Hill

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The Santa Fe Depot means more than a historical museum to Lerlene Hill, who daily serves delicious food to those that visit Kathy's Kitchen in the Union Street Station.

Lerlene, after the divorce of her parents when she was only 14 months old, made her home with her grand- parents, Jacob and Nancy Young, Brooksville. She says that hers was a happy childhood, as the grandparents were such loving and considerate friends and parents.

She had many friends among the people of Brooksville, and at the age of 12 she entered Dunbar high school in Shawnee. Daily she was bused to Shawnee, but on bad stormy or icy days the bus did not make the daily run. When the bus could not make the trip from Brooksville to Shawnee, Lerlene was undaunted, she purchased her ticket for perhaps a cent a mile to Shawnee on the Santa Fe railroad. Thus many times a small girl would be found descending the early morning train at the present museum and she would walk from there to Dun- bar school. One winter day, the snow was so fierce that Lerlene lost her way from the station to the school. She could not see the familiar landmarks, but she prayed and before too long she was at the school.

In the spring of 1961 Lerlene, then 16, received her diploma and recognition of the fact that she had a perfect attendance for the four years she was enroll- ed even though she lived more than 12 miles away. As she reflects on this part of her life, Lerlene says, â??I could never have had that perfect attendance if it had not been for the Santa Fe trains. I owe much to the Santa Fe line. As I waited in the depot for the departure of the evening train, I had time to prepare for my next day classes. I have a real affection for that station."

In 1965 Lerlene and her husband Archie opened Kathy's Kitchen, named for their only daughter Katherine Abass, Mt. View, California. In 1976 the Hills left Shawnee for Arizona where Lerlene felt the Lord was calling her to go study to preach His Gospel. For eight months, Lerlene studied and preached in Arizona and California. Then she felt the Lord talking to her again, telling her to return to her childhood background and re-open Kathy's Kitchen. The Lord told her that there were people in Shawnee that needed her love, as well as her food.

Undoubtedly she heard correctly, for scores of people enjoy the foods prepared by Lerlene and her staff. Many eat her specialties on the premises of the Union Street Station or take her delicacies to their homes or to others that need such ministrations. She has broadened her menu and now also operates Kathy's Sideboards. You can easily recognize Lerlene and her staff members by their bright white aprons embellished with flashing lights spelling LOVE. The Santa Fe station holds a special spot in her memories and she is thankful that the Historical Society has converted the station into a museum in order that future generations can see and read the history of early day Pottawatomie County.*

Lerlene's philosophy of life is â??to live every day to help someone - to be a mother, a friend, a teacher.â? She has lived this philosophy in her work at the Shawnee Community Center, where she helped to renovate and furnish the building in 1993. The lives of many senior citizens have been improved through Lerlene's work at the center. She also does personal ministry to young people who have been sentenced by the courts for community service. Lerlene is an active member of the OSU; 4-H Board of Directors; Campfire Council, Shawnee Beautification Committee and Operation Christmas. She is a volunteer at Masonic Lodge Children's program; member of COEDD and Kiwanis; member of the advisory committee, worker and recruiter for the Heart Association.

Lerlene is the author of two books about the love of God. She received the DIANA Award (Distinguished International Academy of Noble Achievement Award) from the Zeta Gamma of Epsilon Sigma Alpha International. The City of Shawnee proclaimed February 14, 1998, â??Lerlene Hill Dayâ?.

* Reprinted with permission of the Santa Fe Depot Museum