SLAYTON — Leroy Prahm’s store is filled with shoes in need of tender loving care.
They’ve come to the right place.
Leroy’s Slayton Shoe Repair is one of the few spots in this area where fatigued footwear can discover extended energy.
“It’s a dying trade,” Leroy says.
The building, on Slayton’s Broadway Avenue, for decades housed a newspaper business operated by the well-known Weber family. These days the office is less conspicuous, with Leroy working in relative obscurity.
But make no mistake: Leroy Prahm’s handiwork speaks volumes. For he is a cobbler with a cause.
Leroy, 73, graduated from Slayton High in 1947. He served in the U.S. Air Force, then returned home and worked at several places that eventually went out of business.
Needing a job about 40 years ago, he landed a non-paying position at Slayton Shoe Repair, which had been owned by Paul Harmsen and, before that, Darris Snelling.
Leroy bought the business and, eventually, the building that once was home to the Murray County Herald newspaper.
That was more than 35 years ago. And he’s still in business.
“I don’t advertise or anything,” he says.
He doesn’t need to.
The best thing about it?
“I’m my own boss,” he smiles. “I can close up whenever I want.”
But that doesn’t figure to be for years.
“I like what I do,” Leroy says. “I always have.”
Many others in this town like him. And for good reason.
While Leroy’s vocation is repairing shoes, his avocation is restoring hope. One of the ways is his lengthy involvement with an endeavor called the Murray County Christmas Project. It’s an annual drive to collect gifts for needy children.
Bonnie Friesen directs the effort, which produces more than 100 donated presents from generous folks throughout Murray County. Leroy travels extensively to pick up the gifts and stores them in his shop.
His white beard is suitable, but he’d make a most slender Santa Claus.
No matter. The name fits.
“It’s for the kids,” Leroy says. “I do it for them.”
One day last month within the walls where once a newspaper thrived, Leroy sat between the silence of shoes. And he told stories.
Like all main streets in rural America, much is different from days gone by. Leroy recalls when business boomed and teenagers pounded endless laps in downtown Slayton.
“Things have slowed down a lot,” he says softly. “My business has for sure. I used to fix a lot of shoes. Now they’re all throwaways.”
The memories are worth saving. After all, it’s said there’s nothing more comfortable than an old shoe.
Leroy grins at the suggestion.
“I still fix them throwaways,” he says, eyes twinkling. “I sell Red Wings (boots), too. I’ve got some regular customers.”
He’s also got some regular duties, at Christmas and throughout the year.
“I guess I’m a go-to guy,” Leroy smiles when discussing his volunteer work for the kids and others.
He looks after his older sister, Gwen. She lives in Fulda and doesn’t drive. Leroy’s work week includes chores for his sis.
“And,” he says, pointing to a man waiting quietly in the front of the store, “I take care of him.”
Sitting in the shoe repair this day is Jack Sweely, a Slayton native robbed of sight by diabetes years ago. Jack lives alone and would be sitting by himself in the dark these days, if not for Leroy, who picks up his old pal each afternoon. Jack has his own chair in the shop, his own routine that includes short walks up and back Slayton’s main street. Many greet Jack upon entering the repair shop and Jack always responds.
It’s not a stretch to say that Leroy brings a little light to Jack’s life.
What would Jack say about Leroy?
“Nothing but good things,” Jack says. “He’s been a whole lot of help to me.
“He’s just a real good guy.”
Irene Moline and her husband, Jerry, own a business next to the shoe repair shop. They’ve known Leroy for decades.
“He’s such a caring man; just a very, very caring man,” says Irene.
On this day, Jack sat quietly except when visitors came into the shop and said hello. Then Leroy told him to head out for his little walk.
Jack doesn’t need his sight to find the door. Nor does he need to see to walk the short path up a block and back on this familiar street.
But he couldn’t make it without Leroy.
“It’s my heart, I guess,” Leroy says with one more gentle smile. “I try to get him out of the house and do a little walking. I can’t quit now.”
Leroy has spent virtually his entire life in Murray County.
“I know everybody in town,” he says.
Enemies? He has none.
“I hope not,” he says. “I hope not. I used to know a lot of the old-timers, but now they’re all gone.”
Don’t call Leroy an old-timer, though. He’s still a businessman intent on working for a living — and working to make his hometown a better place.
“I’m going to keep going as long as I can,” he says. “What are you going to do at home?”
“I’d rather come to work,” he says. “Plus I’ve got to get Jack down here every day.”