The Lincoln County Courthouse has been the location of many events. Trials have been held there, deeds have been filed, marriages performed, and many of the decisions affecting the county have been made there. But on Chritmas Eve, 1933, an event occurred that very seldom takes place in a courthouse – a baby was born.
George and Olive Pepper, farmers near Barnard, were expecting a child. The due date was getting close when a terrible winter storm hit the area. Olive’s parents, James W. and Laura Heminger, were custodians of the Lincoln County Courthouse. Part of the Hemingers’ payment as custodians was having living quarters right in the building. The couple urged their daughter and her husband to come stay with them until the storm was over. The Peppers did and, because of the storm, a child was born in the courthouse Dec. 24, 1933.
Dolores (Pepper) Valenti enjoys calling the building “her courthouse” because she was the little girl born to the Peppers that Christmas Eve. “It’s not everyone who can say they were born in a courthouse!” she joked on a recent visit to the area.
“My grandfather, John Wilson Heminger, was the custodian and then the Deputy Sheriff or Assistant Sheriff or something,” she related. “The room they lived in was downstairs, toward the front,” (The room was located in the basement of the courthouse near where the elevator is now.)
Valenti grew up near Barnard on the “old Pepper place.” She was baptized at the Lincoln Presbyterian Church and attended Sunnyside School. She then attended nurses’ training in Salina where she met her husband at Smoky Hill Air Force Base. Her husband was career Air Force and the couple and their seven children moved around a lot. Her husband and retired from McGuire Air Force Base 13 years ago and they now live near Atlantic City, N.J.
Whenever she had the chance, Valenti returned to her roots. “It rejuvenates me,” she commented. They made several trips over the years, visiting the “Pepper relatives” in Cawker City, the relatives and friends near Barnard, and, of course, her birthplace, the courthouse.
“I come back every year now, swinging up from the south and picking up any of my children or grandchildren who want to go with me,” she explained. “The kids grew up in the military so they didn’t have the roots we did. I think they’ve enjoyed the trip down memory lane with me.” Valenti started driving to Kansas two years ago because “flying out and having to follow a schedule is no fun.”
Valenti enjoys showing her family where she was born and where she grew up. When she visited the courthouse Monday, July 8, she saw one of her cousins, Wayne Wallace, who helped show the group around the building. She pointed out the carpentry and craftsmanship in the woodwork of the courthouse.
The family lived in Rome, Italy, for three years and have traveled to many different places but Valenti commented there’s just as many interesting things in this area if you look for them. “This is still neat,” she related. “You find out you don’t have to be in a foreign country to find really neat things. We just came from the Catholic church and it’s simply delightful.”
Valenti seems to enjoy driving through the area also and she especially enjoys the trip from Lincoln to Beloit. “My father helped build that road. It makes me feel like, ‘This is my road,’” she commented. The wide open spaces of the plains are quite a bit different from the east coast. “In the east, you do not drive by fields with nothing on top. When you top out [on a hill] you can see forever,” she explained.
Valenti plans to continue her yearly trip. “It’s my history – my roots are here.”