'Pie Man' retiring from law duties

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

BRANSON, Mo. -- Sgt. Linn Windle retires Jan. 1 after 27 years with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

He's looking forward to it, he said: more time to bake pies.

In the past five years, he has baked more than 1,200 pies. Three hundred this year. Oatmeal crumb apple, strawberry rhubarb, and gooseberry -- "for the natives," he said -- are his favorites. In his backyard, he grows much of the fruit: blackberries, gooseberries, strawberries, rhubarb and blueberries. His daughter, Miranda Paladino, who lives in Windsor with her husband, David, and their three children, has apple trees.

He gives all his pies away to charities that can auction pies at fund-raisers. He's known across Taney County, where he has patrolled since 1993, as "the Pie Man."

"If people hear there's a pie from him, it brings big money," said Laura Parramore, director of resource development for the Lake Country Boys & Girls Clubs. At this year's Steak and Burger fund-raiser, one sold for "well over $100," she said. "And when he comes into an event, he has a special box to carry pies. He's a one-man shop. He's so generous and so giving and does so much good for the kids."

This year, sales of his pies have raised more than $7,000 for charities. The top bid for a pecan pie was $600, he said.

He gives away cookies at Christmas. He's baked 600 dozen so far this year. That's 7,200 of the melt-in-your-mouth butter cookies he squeezes onto baking sheets with an electric cookie press. He burned one out this year and had to get another, he said.

Posted on the refrigerator in the kitchen he shares with Julie, his wife of 32 years, is a long list of this year's recipients: city and county officials, theaters, the night shift in the emergency room at Skaggs Community Health Center.

"I put cookies in every 6 1/2 minutes," he said, pulling a baking sheet out of the oven.

The 4-foot countertop is covered with 5-gallon ice cream buckets filled with cookies. A large cardboard box on the sofa holds dozens of baggies filled with the confections.

The ingredients don't cost much, he says. Supporters give him bags of flour and sugar. Friends bring him bottles of Mexican vanilla. The Oregon Fruit Products Co. sent him a donation of pie fillings after hearing about his efforts. And he watches for sprinkles on sale.

"Part of the fun is finding bargains," he said.

Has seen his share of danger

Windle says he's had his share of danger over his years on patrol.

"I was shot through the hat in 1985," he said. "A kid killed his dad and shot his sister, and I stumbled on him in an abandoned house. We were running for cover, and I dropped my hat on a fence post and went back into the woods. There were 88 holes of bird shot in my hat. It would have hurt me if I'd been wearing it."

And then there were the worst times.

"The wrecks. The drinking with the young kids. Not wearing their seat belts. You tell them over and over. The worst is working bad wrecks and telling parents their kids aren't coming home," he said.

Baking started as a stress reliever, he said. After a dispute in 1997 with a supervisor, Windle said he went home and asked his wife, a retired teacher, to bake him a pie "to make me feel better.

"But she had something to do, and she told me to bake the pie myself. So I did. Rolling out the dough was therapy, so I did it every night."

After a while, his family got burned out on pies, so he began giving them away. Now, he says, it is his hobby.

After years of seeing people at their worst while he was on the job, Windle says he's learned what's really important in life. The Windles also have two sons.

"My grandmother told me a person is rich if they have two things: their health and their family," Windle says.

Windle, 53, keeps no secrets, including the way to a flaky pie crust. The mix is seven cups of flour, two cups of butter-flavored Crisco and a tablespoon of salt. The key, he says, is to let the crumbled mix stand at room temperature at least 24 hours. Add water when you're ready to bake, he says, but don't get the dough too wet and don't mix it too long.

Taney County Circuit Clerk Brenda Neal has been a fan of the Pie Man for years.

"I buy his pies as a treat for my husband," Neal says. "I've given up to $50, because it's for a good cause."

Windle's very "community-minded," Neal says. "Linn is one of those people you don't have to wonder what he's thinking. He gives you the straight story."

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