The Rev. James Patterson, who pastored the Durham Community United Methodist Church from 1972 until 2003, was instrumental in starting the first Durham community Christmas party. The 1973 celebration featured a live tree and a nativity donated by businesses, clubs and residents. As Karen S. Read notes in her article for the Friends of the Library Forum in 2007, "the baby Jesus was stolen two or three times and each time returned, but then several years ago the baby was set on fire and destroyed by vandals. A doll was used for several years, but a replacement lighted baby Jesus was procured in 2006." And so, in the midst of a world of woe, the Christmas story is told again.
The celebration is a gift of the Durham community, but those like James Patterson are gifts to Durham. He and 170 others are recognized for their exemplary contributions to the town in "Nonpareils of Durham," compiled by longtime Durham resident Adriana "Rian" Langerwerf Farley. (The spiral-bound paperback is available for $25 from Tozier's Hardware Store in Durham or directly from Farley at email@example.com.)
Farley writes that her friend Norma Willadsen Munson came up with the title "for this book of biographies, as she said: 'Some 38% of almonds grown in California are the nonpareil variety.' At first I groaned, and then the name caught a life of its own. I muttered to all and sundry: 'Oh, Lord, they're going to think I wrote a book about nuts!'" ("Nonpareil" means "peerless.") Though Farley writes that the accounts cover only a sample of the town's role models, she notes that "many were named Parade Marshall, Woman of the Year, or were recognized by the Durham Friends of the Library Honors."
The alphabetical entries include Samuel Neal, the first settler in the area. He was involved in the Donner Party rescue in 1847; "Neal Road," contributor Larry Nagel writes, "was blazed as a route to summer pasture for his cattle." Farley herself is here, with her deep love of local history, as is her father, Mel Langerwerf, who, his eulogy says, gave Rian her "perfectionism." There's musician Sam Lasell and Durham High teacher Linda Sundquist Nassie. And many more.
The book is a tapestry of small-town America, a reminder that grace is still alive.