Just before the Sunday service, the Gum Man stood at the entrance of Olivet Christian Church. He wore thick-framed, old-fashioned glasses, a checkered shirt, light-blue pants and brown boots. He was holding a wooden walking stick and a green John Deere cap. The big smile on his face was inviting. Ninety-one-year-old Babe Manns stood there like a sturdy old oak, full of life.
Done with Sunday Bible class, kids raced to him to get a stick of gum. Each took one and gave Manns a big hug.
“I’m known as the Gum Man around here,” Manns said. “There are more kids who know me than the preacher.” He spelled his real first name for the Missourian photographer, “A-L-C-I-D-E.”
“They told me it’s a French name,” he said. “People call me Babe.”
Babe farms corn, wheat and soybeans and breeds cows “to pay the bills,” and also to buy lots of chewing gum. He has been a member of Olivet Christian Church for nearly 50 years. Every Sunday he stands there and waits for the little ones to come. He gives out 25-30 sticks of Juicy Fruit gum. Some call him the Juicy Fruit Man.
Kevin Brown, a member of Olivet Christian for 37 years, once begged the Gum Man himself as a child.
“I’ve only had about 40 years of that,” Brown said. “I still come back for gum and hugs.”
Brown has been a member of the church for 37 years. Babe watched him grow up. Now he watches Praise, Cecilia, Sydney, Quinn, Cameron, Christopher, Jordan, Jake and others grow. They all come for gums and hugs.