The beloved neighborhood burger joint Dearman’s recently suffered an electrical fire.

Amid this tragedy, David Van Gelder, Dearman’s owner, was informed that his lease would not be renewed.

Upon hearing this, shock and sadness spread through our family like the smoke damage itself. How could this wonderful greasy spoon, a renowned Baton Rouge institution that means so much, be allowed to disappear because of a small fire?

Didn’t we demonstrate during Hurricane Katrina that Louisiana is the place where people unite and create triumph over tragedy during disaster? Don’t we love our neighbor and act in ways that we would we want to be treated?

Upon learning the situation’s details, my baffled young sons, ages 12 and 14, immediately wanted to help. They wrote impromptu letters to Dr. Richard Hill, the building’s owner, asking him to reconsider and renew the lease. Upon reading those raw and tender letters, I quickly realized that Dearman’s is a lot more than shakes and burgers.

The meaningful relationships my sons feel with “Mr. David,” the cooks, the waiters and waitresses — all of who will be left unemployed — are based on the values every parent works diligently to instill: honesty, empathy, diversity, openness, safety, community, flexibility, friendship.

My boys recalled how when we moved here, Dearman’s was introduced to us as “the best Baton Rouge burger and a local institution.” They recalled all the laughter and joking around with patrons and friends, often while watching sports on the many TV screens. They giggled recalling the many times our family heard some new local gossip, which seems to sizzle in Dearman’s right along with the patties on the grill.

They wrote about the friendships they’ve made with the cooks and waiters while sucking down a chocolate shake and arguing over regular or sweet potato fries. They recalled that when their dad was promoted to lead a local business, there was no question where the celebration would be held: Dearman’s!

Most importantly, they wrote about the times when they have felt down, needed a grown-up’s advice or wanted to go somewhere they felt safe and important without their parents and chose Dearman’s. My boys have felt safe enough to walk a few blocks alone, take their allowance, get a comforting milkshake and seek counsel from David or even the smiling cook who always waves, jokes and tells them everything will be OK. They leave with full bellies and full hearts and a little bit of wisdom.

As a parent, what have I learned along with my sons? That some things are worth fighting for. Please help save Dearman’s! More than ever, our community needs gathering places like this.

Kathryn Kissam

civic volunteer

Baton Rouge