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Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014

'Our hearts have a hole now'

Friday, June 1, 2012

(Photo)
A floral arrangement and a closed sign appear on the front of Jeri-Lins Donuts Friday morning. Store owner and community icon Jerry Musser died Thursday at the age of 75.
Longtime Blytheville business owner and donut icon, Jerry Musser of Jeri-Lin Donuts, passed away Thursday at the age of 75. He and Linda, his wife of 53 years, opened the shop in August of 1969.

Musser was known for his involvement in the community, and his daily deliveries of free donuts to local charities, businesses, Little League games, families or city offices made him a welcome sight to friends wherever he went. He was a veteran of the United States Air Force, a member of the Blytheville Kiwanis Club, a charter member of the Blytheville Lions Club, and was a member of the Blytheville Very Little Theater for 15 years. He and Linda were also charter members of St. Luke's Methodist Church, which they helped to start during their time living in Kansas City.

Linda said his great love was boats, and that many locals may not have known that he was an excellent water skier, and often took groups of Blytheville children to Kentucky Lake to teach them to ski.

Also locally famous for playing Santa Claus, which he began more than 20 years ago, he participated in Blytheville's Christmas parade every year, and also made appearances at countless holiday parties and events.

Musser moonlighted as Santa at local stores, nursing homes and schools, along with serving as Santa in the Blytheville Christmas parade.

"I try to be Santa all year long," he told the Courier News in December 2000. "

Musser got interested in playing Santa in the early 1990s.

"I was in a play called 'How Santa Saved Christmas.' I grew a beard and got a good suit for the play," he said in 2000. "People started calling me and asking me Santa, and it snowballed from there."

Musser's grandchildren would call him "Grandpa Santa."

"I do it because I love it," he said. "I just do it, and if I do get money for it, I donate it to the children's ministry at my local church."

Musser always felt strongly that he had a responsibility to point out the real meaning of Christmas.

"I always try to bring out the main reason for Christmas, which is, of course, the birth of Christ. I want the children to know that Santa brings presents, but we get presents in memory of the Christ child."

Liz Smith, director of the Greater Blytheville Area Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the annual Christmas parade, remembers Musser fondly.

"Jerry was a terrific person," she said. "Santa Claus suited him because of the joyous and kind person that he was. We were privileged all these years to have him as part of our parade. You never heard him say a cross word to anyone; he was the perfect Santa. And as a business owner, he made a great contribution with his iconic donut shop. Visitors to Blytheville from all over the country have been treated to the best donuts they've ever had thanks to him."

Musser's passion for making donuts, and also giving them away, has now been passed on to Melissa Grant, who has worked with the Mussers for the last 18 years, and who will help to continue the shop in his absence.

"I have so many good memories of Jerry," she said. "He would give you the shirt off his back, all you had to do was ask. He and Linda were married for over 50 years and worked together for over 40, and he was just like a father to me and a grandfather to my children -- just like family. He was very sweet, very quiet, but when he did say something, it was loud. Going back into the shop will be hard without him. He really loved what he did. And everybody got donuts! Sometimes he made more just so he could give them away. It was never about the money."

The Musser's son, Bob, confirmed that the family's business will carry on.

"For the last few years, as Jerry's health has declined, Linda Musser and Melissa Grant have been doing the heavy lifting at Jeri-Lin donutsm" Bob Musser said. "Melissa has been an employee for 18 years, and now knows all the secrets to making excellent donuts. Fear not, donut lovers of northeast Arkansas, the legendary light sweet donuts will continue."

He added that when Jerry passed, the community lost a giver.

"Dad was not a genius; he was not an inventor or a scientist," he said. "But if he had something, say a boat to pull you skiing, or donuts for a needy organization, or if you needed someone to sit in the sleigh and make the kids happy, Jerry was your man. Andy Bush related his memory of Dad helping our Boy Scout troop set up a donut-making exhibition at a Jumpin Joe Jamboree -- a Scouts thing. He brought the dough, helped us set up a fryer and a glazer, showed us what to do, then stepped back and let us have a blast."

Many community members responded online to the CN's Facebook post about Musser's death. Following are some of their comments:

"Heaven is now sweeter. He will be missed!" -- Debbie Jean Hibbard

"God bless him. It was one of my favorite morning before school hang-outs. Best donuts in Blytheville!" -- Joyce Houchin

"Prayers for the family ... he will truly be missed and will forever in my book be the best donut maker around." -- Mary Lawrence

"So sad, I love this place. I use to go by there every morning walking to school!" -- Josh White

"Those were the best donuts in town!!! Our hearts have a hole now. RIP JERRY." -- Felicia Stewart

Cobb Funeral Home will be handling funeral arrangements, which will be announced at a later time.

sharris@couriernews.net

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