When people think of pillars of the community, they often turn to public officials, business people, philanthropists, the movers and shakers, and other people in visible positions. However, a pillar can also be someone who may not be obvious, but is always there with a smile and a kind word.

Readers of this newspaper probably didn't know Jeani Guy unless they are frequent visitors to Spring Valley, but she was one of those low-key, friendly people that had a profound impact on the community. Her recent death leaves a hole in the fabric that binds the community.

She touched countless lives in the community, particularly in the past 17 years she has been working at Alco, always serving people with a smile and providing words of concern about their families or well-being.

I didn't know her, but whenever we met, she always stopped to ask me how I was doing, whether I was at the department store, a café downtown or another place in town. I always thought that was nice, but never before her death realized the power those gestures had when multiplied by all the other people in town she moved.

"Jeani was such a special lady to so many people and she touched lives that she wasn't aware of. Her compassion and loving ways will be missed by many. As so many have stated, she always asked about family and her concern for others was genuine," wrote one person on her online tribute page of the local funeral home.

Other comments from the online page, the Facebook page of her son, Ryan, or the cards sent to the family echoed those sentiments, noting "she was always so friendly and remembered me no matter how long it had been since I saw her" or how she "reached out to everyone and was a friend to all."

Another noted how she "was a beautiful person. She always had a smile on her face whenever you entered Alco or met her on the street and she always, always asked about my family and grandkids."

Perhaps this one sums it up best: "The town of Spring Valley has lost a gem."

Her daughter, Brooke, said her mother always found the best in everyone and every single customer that came into Alco had a special place in her heart.

"She didn't ask questions about their lives simply to make conversation... she asked because she genuinely cared about them. She also cared about everyone's children, too, and always made sure to ask how the kids were also," said Brooke.

Janet Vreeman, noted "Jeani was one of the most wonderful people I have ever known. I'm not saying that because she is my sister. I'm saying it because it is true. She was a great sister, best friend and co-worker."

My earliest memory of her was when she used to pull her children in a wagon around town. Her children are grown up now, but she still kept close to them through the years. Brooke, who lives in Rochester, said they still talked almost every day.

"It was weird to go two days without talking to her," said Brooke. "She always started the conversation 'Hello, Sunshine' and we ended every conversation with 'Love you, bye.'"

Brooke got a card from her for every single holiday and she never missed a birthday, always making sure to include a "sweet, handwritten message in every single one."

"She wasn't just my mom...she was also my best friend. We always took pride in the fact that we had such a good relationship. It's definitely something that I am going to cherish forever."

Kindness is one of those qualities that doesn't get much appreciation in today's world that keeps finding so many more ways to be cruel.

It doesn't seem to make much of an impact because kind words and smiles are such little gestures. It doesn't seem that important because it often doesn't alter your life, at least not that you realize. It doesn't seem worthy of recognition because it isn't something that causes immediate change. It doesn't seem powerful because kind people aren't in your face.

Yet Jeani Guy shows you should never underestimate the power of a kind heart, even if it operates far from the spotlight.

There are many other kind people - many of them in this community - but her sudden and unexpected death at 56 got many people in Spring Valley thinking about what a simple smile and kind words can mean.

That's one thing to remember in all our communities because kind people need to be celebrated before they leave us. They can add so much to the quality of life in ways that we never fully realize - until it's too late.

Her death has taught us that the face of the community isn't always the people that play prominent roles. It can be a woman who stands behind a cash register, but also goes out of her way to bring kindness to everyone she meets.

As one card to the family stated: "What a beautiful difference one single life made."