Southern hospitality breaks barriers

Published 8:11 am Sunday, August 20, 2023

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

In a world where headlines often highlight discord and division, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) showcased the genuine kindness and inclusivity of small-town Southern hospitality and the impact it can have on breaking down barriers. 

Stephen’s Garage in Luverne found its way into the prestigious pages of the WSG when Indianapolis writer Daniel Lee highlighted the power of human kindness and unity in a July 22 article titled “Down the Old Dixie Highway Through the Cradle of the Civil War.”

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Lee’s article explored the historical significance of the route but was focused on an unexpected encounter he had while passing through Luverne that displayed the genuine kindness of the community. His journey to Luverne began on a less-than-ideal note when a flat tire forced him to seek help at Stephen’s Garage. 

But what he discovered within those worn walls transcended mere tire repair.

“A lot of people are in transit during the summer, many of them Midwesterners like me, headed to the beaches of Florida…It might not seem a great place to break down,” Lee wrote. “There’s a tongue-in-cheek internet meme these days featuring an illustrated map of the U.S. with comical state stereotypes and the Deep South walled off as “The DO NOT TRAVEL ZONE…”

However, Lee was quickly put at ease by the friendly service at Stephen’s. 

“A grizzled guy at the parts counter talked an African- American woman through repairs made to her weed-eater and helped maneuver the thing out the door… A smiling woman took us under her wing as soon as we explained our problem. She pulled a workman off another job to check our tire. It was good news, but a greater relief was that we had fallen among nice people.”

As Lee described the bustling scene at Stephen’s Garage, he illuminated the moments that might have otherwise gone unnoticed, serving as a poignant reminder that compassion and respect are universal values that can bridge even the widest divides. 

Luverne is often referred to as “The Friendliest City in the South”. While opinions on such labels may vary, in this instance Luverne lived up to its reputation, proving that in a world filled with cynicism, the power of simple kindness and the profound impact of civility can transcend preconceived notions and make a lasting impact.

Since the article’s publication, the garage has received an outpouring of support and appreciation from readers across the nation. Kim Jinright, the service manager at Stephen’s Garage, shared that they’ve been receiving mail from places like California and Daytona Beach.

“They read it, looked us up and sent it to us,” Jinright said. “It made my day. I even looked up and called the guy from California who took the time to find us and mail us a copy. I just wanted to thank him for taking the time to do this for us. He said he read it in the WSJ, and it reminded him that there are still good people in the world.”

The gestures of those that have reached out to Stephen’s Garage, according to Jinright, deeply touched her heart and highlighted the power of genuine human connections that transcend geographical boundaries.

One enthusiastic Wall Street Journal reader, Marian Tomblin from Daytona Beach, applauded the way Stephen’s Garage exemplified genuine human connections. Tomblin mailed a copy of the paper and a thank you note to Stephen’s Garage that read, “Please know how much this Alabama born reader appreciated your representing the South so beautifully!” .

Tomblin, who reads the daily paper cover to cover, was particularly touched by the portrayal of a place where people of differing backgrounds could find common ground and genuinely enjoy each other’s company.

“I was thrilled to read such an uplifting article,” Tomblin said. “It’s just so refreshing when people who don’t think alike can find common ground, and actually enjoy the time they spend together instead of seeing it as an opportunity for combat.”

Luverne’s recognition on the national stage underscores its unique position as a town that embraces the true essence of Southern charm. While differing opinions and perspectives may always exist, stories like this remind us that a smile, a thank you, and a helping hand have the remarkable ability to bridge gaps and division and mend even the most fragmented parts of our world.

According to Lee, the U.S. has traveled a long and unfortunate distance from a bone-jostling network of rugged roads intended to help heal the Union to a sleek system of four- to eight-lane highways that, for all their speed and comfort, can’t seem to keep the nation from pulling itself apart. 

“As we were leaving the Stephens family’s garage to get back on the road, I decided to buy a T- shirt and then-as is my tendency-forgot to take it with me,” Lee said. “They mailed it to me. That was nice of them.” 

To read Lee’s complete article, visit