By Valerie Baldowski
Six-year-old BiIly Ward, of Locust Grove, is the youngest recipient ever to be presented with "the key to the city."
Billy, a student at Locust Grove Elementary School, was given the key to the city by Locust Grove Mayor Lorene Lindsey when he attended a city council meeting with several family members on March 2.
He received the honor because of a letter he wrote to the mayor specifically asking for the key, says Pat Davis, the boy's grandmother.
When called, Billy came to the front of the room, stood before the mayor and council and read the letter aloud. His letter, spelled phonetically, detailed his request, and backed up that request with examples of what he would do if he were given the key.
"We all got a kick out of it," says Davis. "He did a good job."
The student drafted his letter as part of a class assignment, requiring the children to write a persuasive letter, she adds. Because of the students' young age, the teacher explained to the class how to draft a persuasive letter, and what ideas to outline in it.
Davis is not sure where Billy got the idea to request the key to the city, but says he may have picked it up from watching television.
Kerrie Ward, Billy's mother, says her son wrote in the letter that he would use the key to keep the city safe, and because it was longer than the usual length for a key, he would also use it to exercise.
Ward says she first learned about her son's letter during a parent-teacher conference in November. "They [the teachers] instill writing skills at a very early age," says Ward.
She says Billy put his creative writing skills to work to complete his assignment. "He has an active imagination."
The Wards attend the same church as the mayor, so Kerrie Ward mentioned the letter to Lindsey one Sunday morning in February, adding that Billy's request was for a key.
After thinking over the child's request, Lindsey says she decided to grant it. She asked a city employee, who has his own workshop at home, to make the iron key, and affix a pin on the key bearing a picture of the Locust Grove City Hall.
Ward says her son, and all of the grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members in attendance that evening, will remember the moment for a long time.
"He'll never forget it," she continues. "All of us will never forget it."
Lindsey was impressed by the letter, and the boy's good manners when addressing her and the council. "It was the sweetest thing," she says. "I thought it was wonderful."
The city council was not notified in advance that Billy would be given the key to the city, and council member Robert Price was surprised when he entered the council chambers and saw the packed room.
"We thought something was up," says Price. "We didn't know about it until it happened, but it was very interesting. We were tickled to death."