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Gnomecoming a happy one for local couple

April 06, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

SMITHSBURG - He wasn't in the bottom of a river after all.

It turns out a beloved gnome stolen from the backyard of a Smithsburg couple's home more than a year ago was a mile or so away the whole time and even was the highlight of a summer party, posing for photos with a beer.

Eric Kephart had the gnome, after a friend found it in the middle of an alley.

The tale of the gnome began a little more than two weeks ago, when Kenneth and Sari Kilheffer wrote a Letter to the Editor pleading for the gnome's return. That letter inspired a front-page story about the gnome that ran in the March 26 edition of The Herald-Mail.

A few hours after thousands of copies of that day's newspaper rolled off the press, one made its way into Eric Kephart's hands.

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Kephart immediately recognized a photograph of the missing gnome as the same gnome that he had picked up more than a year earlier, in March 2005.

Kephart, 32, maintains he did not steal the gnome from the couple's yard - how it made its way from their yard to the alley remains a mystery.

Kephart worries the couple thinks he stole the gnome, but his fears are unfounded. The Kilheffers believe him.

Kephart became involved when a friend called him and said he'd spotted a gnome statue in the middle of Fire Company Lane.

Kephart hopped into his pickup truck and met his friend there. Thinking the statue was interesting, he put it in the back of his truck.

It stayed in the truck for a week before making its way to Kephart's house.

And there it remained.

When Kephart invited dozens of friends over last summer to his Smithsburg home to celebrate a planned move to Colorado - the move ended up never happening - friends posed for photographs with the statue, which is about 2 feet tall and weighs about 70 pounds.

Someone even placed a beer with the gnome and took a picture.

Meanwhile, across town, the Kilheffers were pondering the fate of the gnome, which was a sentimental reminder of the 38 years the couple spent in Minnesota before moving to Smithsburg.

Sari Kilheffer had commissioned a Minnesota artist to craft the statue based on her husband. Because her husband was a minister, the artist gave the gnome a white cleric's collar.

Kephart admitted that if he had not read about the sentimentality attached to the gnome, he likely would have kept it for himself.

Instead, he called the couple.

It was about 9:30 on a Sunday morning when the phone rang at the Kilheffers' house.

"We got a call from a young man who said, you're not going to be believe this, I have your gnome," Sari Kilheffer said.

The gnome was back home that same afternoon.

Since then, the gnome and the Kilheffers have become somewhat of local celebrities.

"Every place we'd go they'd say, 'Did you get your gnome back?'" Sari Kilheffer said.

After the gnome was found and returned to the couple, an announcement was included in their regular church service. Applause from the congregation followed.

The return of the gnome meant more to the couple than simply an added decoration to their backyard.

"It has restored my faith in the community," Sari Kilheffer said. "It has restored my faith in humanity."

Disaster was narrowly averted.

"I told (Kenneth Kilheffer), you all are lucky 'cause I was going to paint it to look like Santa Claus. I told him I just never got around to it," Kephart said.

Once returned, the Kilheffers took a picture of Kephart with the gnome.

"We told him since he took such good care of it for a year he could have visitation rights," Sari Kilheffer said.

Will Kephart take the couple up on that?

"I probably will because it's just a cool thing," he said. "It's a unique item."

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