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Church benefit concert draws Texan to return to hear his ballad

By Staff | Nov 27, 2015

JOHN BENDICK/For The Luminary Church members, left to right, Gary Fox, Picture Rocks; Carol Mordan, Sonestown; Sue Sprout, Picture Rocks; and Jimmy Roberts from Texas sing out their folk ballads at a concert Sunday, Nov. 8 at the Tivoli United Methodist Church.

TIVOLI-Five years ago, 43-year old Texan, Jimmy Roberts followed the natural gas industry to Pennsylvania and found the state where he wanted to spend the rest of his life. Jimmy, his wife, Marla, and daughter Megan, bought a home in Picture Rocks across the street from Gary and Sheila Fox.

The friendship between the two families was instant. Sheila was from Arkansas, having moved to this area in 2001. “In my heart, I’m from the south, but this is better than I thought,” said Roberts. “Some of my friends had a fear of leaving Texas for Pennsylvania, but the people here are not aliens,” he smiled. “These are good people; it’s just a good feeling here. I love the countryside, the mountains, a community where my daughter walks to and from school, alone, safe.”

Roberts recalled the time he visited a local real estate office and the receptionist was so taken by his accent, she called out the rest of the staff to join him in conversation just to hear him talk. Jimmy said it was done in such a comfortable and agreeable way, it made him feel appreciated and welcome, another “good feeling” encounter that sealed his conviction that this is the place to call home.

The closeness of the Roberts and Fox families continued, and about three and a half years later, a guitar strengthened the alliance. Jimmy Roberts always owned a guitar but never played the instrument. Gary Fox had played most of his life. While Gary was on his way to the church one day, Jimmy called out, “Where are you going with that guitar?” Gary replied, “I’m going to church and we’re going to have a good time.”

Jimmy answered, “I have a guitar.”

Tivoli United Methodist Church members were in awe as they listened to some favorite bluegrass gospel tunes during a benefit concert.

Gary told him to grab it and come along. “But I’m not dressed for church,” said Jimmy Roberts. But Fox was quick with his welcome, “Come as you are.” Gary Fox stretched his skills to the eager Texan and said, “What took me years to learn, Jimmy picked up almost instantly,” recalling the time the church was looking for a new song for its Easter Service.

Jimmy announced, “I can write songs,” and one week later, the church had its new ballad. The Roberts family had found a church. Pastor Richard DeMarte of the Picture Rocks-Tivoli Charge of the United Methodist Church said, “We’re blessed to have him, grateful that the church was able to reach out to someone. This is our mission, and it was a neighbor who invited him.”

But as this past summer was ending, changes were chasing the dream of the new Pennsylvanians. Jimmy’s wife got the bad news. Her Dad had died and her mother was facing health issues. The Roberts family returned to Texas. Jimmy said he and his wife had been together for 26-years and they had never been apart for more than three days in all that time. He had to go back to Texas. Before he left Pennsylvania, Jimmy told Gary Fox, “If it can happen, I’ll be back. I’m keeping the house in Picture Rocks.”

But his home in Texas is one-thousand, six-hundred miles away. A trucker, Jimmy found work hauling logs in nearby Arkansas to support his family to be as close as he could to his wife and daughter. Few thought the Texan would be seen again.

However, on a cool Sunday in November in the Tivoli United Methodist Church, there he was. At the urging of best friend Gary Fox and Pastor Demarte, Jimmy caught a flight to Pennsylvania to be here for the annual church benefit Bluegrass Concert on November 8. The congregation was ecstatic. The flow of smiles flooded the church. Jimmy Roberts was back.

While the established band, The Greenwood Valley Boys were the headliners, Jimmy Roberts took the stage.

Gary Fox, Sue Sprout of Picture Rocks, and Carol Mordan of Sonestown, all guitar players, singers and songwriters, delivered their original spirituals during the interlude. One of the songs was a Jimmy Roberts’ written ballad, ‘Come As You Are’, a poetic anthem revealing his friendship with Gary Fox that brought him to the church and his welcome by Pastor DeMarte. Roberts told tales between songs and the stories captivated the churchgoers. It was a long interlude, and it was obvious the audience could have listened to him all afternoon.

Roberts went back to Texas two days later. His friends insist he will be back for good. Whatever happens, the Fox family, his church family, Pastor DeMarte, the community, will always be recognized for the chronicle of a warm welcome to a stranger from a far away land, that of Texas. Whatever the legacy of the natural gas industry is in Pennsylvania, it must include the tale of a Texan here in Tivoli.