On our way home from the Restoration Studies Symposium, Mike and I stayed overnight Sunday at “Balmy Gilead Farm” — the home of Jan and Tony Shipps, nestled in the woods just east of Bloomington, Indiana. The visit was a mixture of southern country hospitality and reminiscences of the golden age of Mormon studies, alongside discussions of current research and events in the field. Jan has hardly let her eighty-two years slow her down, as the list she shared with us of her upcoming lecture trips, projects, and books proved.
Right: Tony, Jan, and myself (holding Mr. Darcy) yesterday at Balmy Gilead Farm.
Jan and Tony’s home is in an idyllic setting. Every day Tony feeds the deer and in the summertime Jan feeds dozens and dozens of hummingbirds (it’s not quite the season yet, but the many hummingbird feeders were set out on the kitchen counter in anticipation). This trip, much of the wildest activity and attention centered around the newest member of the Shipps household: Mr. Darcy, a young dog Tony acquired while recovering from illness a few years ago.
The road to Balmy Gilead Farm.
The home of Jan and Tony Shipps.
Where the bucks literally stop.
Tony playing harmonica while Mr. Darcy sings. (In the foreground, the Shipps’ granddaughter’s dog wags his tail appreciatively.)
Jan has been a close friend and mentor for many years. Jan was president-elect of the John Whitmer Historical Association back at the first conference I attended in 2003. When she invited me to serve on her program committee for the 2004 conference, it marked my first real foray into Mormon studies. (Although I was relatively well-read in the field, all my previous work had been in my actual area of specialty, Medieval European history.) Since I now hold the position Jan had held at JWHA, we both saw this visit as something special, completing a circle. There was, I think, some justifiable (mutual) pride, when Jan observed, “you and I have accomplished some great things together.”
Jan is a southern lady and her home, her hospitality, and her cooking all embody that. After a drink or two in the living room, we moved our visit to the kitchen, where we helped prepare a delicious southern meal: country-fried steak on rice with gravy and creamed corn cut fresh off the cob. The cooking part of the visit could almost have been a story from “A Prairie Home Companion” with southern Methodists taking the place of Minnesota Lutherans. The croissants that were served with dinner — and the next morning at breakfast with home-made cherry jam — were from the Methodist ladies’ auxiliary. Each spring the Methodist ladies’ auxiliary sells croissants as a fund-raiser and because you just can’t find rolls quite so good any other time in Indiana, Jan buys three whole bags which she keeps in the freezer for use all year round.
Helping (and visiting with) Jan in the kitchen.
Southern goodness: country-fried steak, rice and gravy, creamed corn cut fresh off the cob, broccoli, and a croissant from the Methodist ladies’ auxiliary.
Coupled with this wholesome, homely goodness was talk about current events and projects. Jan’s current book — as yet untitled, but focusing on Mormonism since WW2 — included unprecedented access by an outsider to LDS leaders. She spent months in Salt Lake, conducting interviews with the apostles and presidency that were conducted 1×1 with just her and her recorder. She shared a number of insights (which I won’t repeat), but which will surely will make her already much-anticipated work even more anticipated.
In turn, I shared recent and upcoming releases from John Whitmer Books and JWHA and related some of what had been presented at the recent conference. In particular, I told her about a conference “after-party” that Mike and I had with the other BCC folks in their hotel, which I thought was reminiscent of Jan’s famous “Smokers” — as Stan Kimball dubbed the parties Jan traditionally held in her hotel room at conferences of the Mormon History Association. Then and now, half the insights (and more than half the fun) of scholarly conferences are had through these informal visits.
Much has changed in Mormon Studies since the early days of MHA, but I’m glad you can still catch a glimpse of that golden age when you visit Balmy Gilead Farm.