- Fred Spriggs

An important date is fast approaching for local business owners who need financial assistance to offset costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

At stake is $246,000 ... Seymour’s share of Webster County’s $4.6 million in federal-relief funding.

Today marks only 24 days before the Sept. 7 application deadline to Terry Penner, the city of Seymour’s administrator for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (C.A.R.E.S.) Act funding to Webster County.

Terry said the actual final deadline to submit applications for Phase of the C.A.R.E.S. Act funding arrives Sept. 18. However, the Sept. 7 deadline will give her time to ensure applications are correct and all required documents are included.

Look at it this way: Compare the way Dan Wehmer would submit an application that’s letter perfect — versus someone like me who would submit an application that would take Terry hours to correct, countless calls to me telling me I’d forgotten some documents, with a final, frantic rush to meet the deadline.

Several applications have required Terry to dedicate hours and hours of work getting them ready for submission to the Webster County Commission, which is the final step in getting approval and, ultimately, a check.

In fact, I had to laugh when Terry told me how Dan sold her on the idea of taking the C.A.R.E.S. Act job for the city with the assurance that she would only need to work on Mondays.

However, Terry doesn’t mind spending countless hours of her time on the applications. She told me all she cares about is to help her friends and neighbors as they struggle to stay in business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I could tell she truly cares about what’s she’s doing.

“When I look back on my life, I’ll always remember doing what I could to help during these trying times,” Terry told me with the emotion in her voice reflecting how sincere she was on her mission to help small businesses in the county.

Worrying about your business teetering on the edge of financial ruin, paying the bills and putting food on the table for your family can bring out strong emotions. Terry told me a couple of stories about just a few of the people she’s helped file C.A.R.E.S. Act applications.

“One lady had tears in her eyes,” Terry said.

Another person told her, “Now we’ll be able to pay the bills this winter.”

Although she was hired by city officials to manage applications inside Seymour’s city limits, Terry has voluntarily taken it one step further and has helped applicants from Fordland and Rogersville — even from north of the James River.

Terry told me she recently was contacted by a business owner from Niangua who told her, “I want to get in on some of that money you’re giving away.”

I guess the word is out, courtesy of publicity in this newspaper, that financial assistance is available no matter where you live in the county, thanks to the wise decision made by the Seymour Board of Aldermen and City Administrator Hillary Gintz to hire a community cheerleader as the local administrator for C.A.R.E.S. funding.

Probably a good way to gauge the success of this decision is that Seymour’s small businesses, churches and community organizations who have received C.A.R.E.S Act funding is nearing the $100,000 mark.

Terry told me that in cities like Rogersville, where no local C.A.R.E.S. Act coordinator was hired, only one application had been submitted, and it had been turned down.

There’s no doubt small businesses need help to survive the current pandemic. I’ve seen estimates that nationwide, 7.5-million small businesses are in financial trouble, with an estimated 100,000 small businesses already permanently out of business.

During our chat, I mentioned to Terry that living in northern Stone County with my wife, Julie, I hadn’t noticed many shuttered storefronts in Crane, adding that the same went for Seymour.

First thing the next morning out of Julie’s mouth was, “Have you heard, V-Mar is closing?”

For the “silver-haired readers” of this newspaper, V-Mar is to Crane what the old MFA was to Seymour — a place where you could loaf with your friends and get everything from feed for your chickens to spark plugs for your tractor.

It was also a great place to run to when you needed just the right nut to replace the one that you dropped in the grass and couldn’t find.

I stopped by the local grocery store that same morning, and the checker at the counter asked me if I’d heard about V-Mar closing. The checker told me that she knew the woman who owned the store.

“The owner told me, with tears in her eyes, that no sooner had the announcement went out on Facebook that the store was closing and marking down everything, they were just swamped with customers,” the checker said. She said the owner added, “We hadn’t even finished marking down the first two aisles, and the store was full of people looking for a bargain.”

The checker explained that V-Mar had been in business for 47 years.

She concluded, “The owner told me, ‘We’ve been here forever; why didn’t all these people come in and buy a little something every week?’ If so, they might have been able to stay in business?”

That pretty much sums up the mindset of so many people today — me, me, all about me.

Fortunately for our country, there are people like Terry Penner, as well as thousands and thousands of other people across this country, who are volunteering, doing whatever they can to help.

One thing that’s easy to do is to shop locally to help local small-business owners stay in business. Look at it from the health perspective — those big stores just put you in contact with a hundreds of strangers who are carrying around who knows what in the way of illnesses.

Maybe with more attitudes like this, we can start putting the “US” back into the old U.S.A.?

Because right now we need a lot more “US” and a whole lot less “me.”

I see Seymour as being one place where folks are going to join together in the “US” movement.

Fred Spriggs is the former news editor of the Webster County Citizen, a position he held for nearly 15 years and where he won dozens of national and state awards for journalism excellence. He now lives in rural Stone County in retirement with his wife, Julie, who also is a Seymour native.

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