Goodbye to 2016

2017-1This past year has had more than its share of downs, but some good things happened as well. As I always do, I’m sharing the Merkels’ annual Christmas letter. Let’s pray for a good year next year.

Christmas Greetings, 2016.

This year, Jim came out with a book. That’s not new. He’s always coming out with a book. Lorraine spent time in the best job she’s ever had, helping senior citizens as a part-time home health aide. That’s not new, either. She does that every year, as she develops deep friendships with them and helps them to stay in their homes. We spent another 12 months loving and serving our church family in Jubilee Church. The church helps us stay Christ-centered. In many ways, 2016 was like other years.

But there were differences. We spent a wonderful Thanksgiving at the Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park in Western Kentucky with Jim’s brother Charles and his sister Lois, his brother-in-law John and his nephew Garrett from Atlanta. We filled our bellies with Charles’ stuffed turkey breast and thighs, Lois’ delicacies and Lorraine’s homemade pizza. Yum!

Jim finished The Colorful Characters of St. Louis, a book about oddball local characters like Phyllis Diller and Yogi Berra.  He did signings, speeches and TV and radio interviews after it came out in September. In 2017, he’ll finish and promote a picture book, The Unique Homes of St. Louis. He’s adding to his income by writing for various local publications. Rest, please!

Meanwhile, we’ve grown to love the people in our church. Those coming to our midweek community group meeting include a doctor from Nigeria and his wife, a mixed-race couple and their kids, a man on disability and us. Talk about colorful characters! We had the pleasure of hosting the group in our home this fall. The church moved us from running the coffee ministry at Sunday services to overseeing a group picking up trash in the parking lot and making sure things otherwise are tidy before church starts.   We’re still running a monthly service at the Manor Grove Nursing Home in Kirkwood with our friends Dale and Yvonne. We’re not sure how long we’ve done this, but we know we started doing it before 2000.

This year, we said goodbye to our aged cat, Nathaniel. He was about 18 and was suffering from kidney disease for some time. But he was always ready for a snuggle until the day he died at home in October. Our other cat, Sammy, died the previous November of the same ailment. We haven’t decided yet whether we want to get another cat. Jim graduated from Obamacare to Medicare when he had his 65th birthday on June 19. He’s in good health, but could stand to cut out some glazed doughnuts. Lorraine is doing well in six-month cardiac appointments. She has a new diagnosis: severe obstructive asthma. That means she could go from feeling fine to needing a breathing treatment any time. She’s thankful she has a good doctor who skillfully watches over her health. Jim’s always telling her she’s cute. That helps her morale, but his frequent bad puns lower it. Like everybody else, this year we dealt with a threat to our health otherwise known as the presidential election. The next four years promise to be, um, interesting.

As always, we’ve “learned to trust in Jesus,” as Andrae Crouch wrote. Whatever happens, we look forward to another year of trusting Him and thanking Him for relatives and friends like you.


Jim and Lorraine






A Great Time With Don Marsh

Don Marsh

I had fun today talking with Don Marsh of KWMU on St. Louis on the local public radio station’s  St. Louis on the Air program about The Colorful Characters of St. Louis.  “St. Louis has a colorful past filled with interesting characters, so it makes sense that local author Jim Merkel would turn his next literary sights on the people that made St. Louis what it is today,” said an item on the station’s website. “Merkel was looking for people in St. Louis who had obsessions, saying that obsessions don’t have to be negative.”

As you’d expect on KWMU, Don’s questions were thoughtful and brought out insights I hadn’t made anywhere else.

Here’s what the KMWU website had to say about the interview. The link includes 

the segment itself.

On the Air at St. Louis On the Air

stlpr-logo-300hAn after-Christmas treat is ahead. Half way through the noon hour on Thursday, Dec. 29, I’ll talk about The Colorful Characters of St. Louis on St. Louis on the Air on St. Louis Public Radio, 90.7 KWMU. Don Marsh of St. Louis on the Air and Charlie Brennan of KMOX are by far the best two local radio interviewers.It’ll repeat at 10 and  stream here.

It’ll be available later for listening here.

Don Marsh

Donnybrook Gives a Thumbs Up


The fine folks at Donnybrook, the superb current events round table discussion on local public TV  Channel 9, had some nice things to say about The Colorful Characters of St. Louis in their program last Thursday, Dec. 15.  I was out giving a speech that night and didn’t know about it until a couple of people mentioned it to me on Monday. Provocateur Charlie Brennan urged viewers to consider the book in their holiday shopping and noted that Donnybrook panelist Ray Hartmann is one of the characters. The mention starts about a minute into the show, right here.

In my mind, this is the nicest plug I’ve received so far about my book. Donnybrook has one of the best ratings of local PBS stations in the country. Its panelists  are among the best journalists in St. Louis. I can’t remember them ever recommending another book. Their endorsement is humbling.

Some visitors to my home

interviewIt’s always interesting what will come of my books. On Friday, a crew making a documentary about the area’s black-white divide and a North Side minister who’s taken a stand against the killing in his area visited me to get my thought about those topics.

The minister in question – the Rev. Kenneth McKoy – was one of 80 people I interviewed for my latest book, The Colorful Characters of St. Louis. He left a pastorate in a black church in Webster Groves and started a new church in a dangerous part of northwest St. Louis. He now leads a group of clergy and others who walk around North St. Louis at night as a way to fight that area’s violence.

The crew spent forever setting up cameras in our living room and positioning me on the right side of our love seat. They brought a table and potted plant in from other rooms and set them next to me to provide color. Seth Ferranti, who is making the documentary, spent much of his time in the interview asking about my own thoughts about what McKoy is doing. Frankly, his willingness to leave a safe area for the worst part of St. Louis impressed me enormously. I told him that the most dangerous place you can be  is where God doesn’t want you.

When the conversation turned to race, I said St. Louis is a great place to live, but that the divide between whites and blacks is doing horrible things to our area. Kenneth McKoy is one of those taking mighty steps to heal that divide.

The Rev. Kenneth McKoy