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, building up the community by small gestures over time.

Jeani Guy was one of those low-key, friendly people that had a profound impact on the community. Local residents have found that her recent death leaves a glaring 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 well, but when we met she always stopped to ask me how I was doing, whether I was at the store, a café downtown or another place in town. I always thought that was nice, but never really thought about the power those gestures had until the sheer numbers of kind gestures were compiled after she had departed us.

Common themes from the online tribute page, the Facebook page of her son, Ryan, or the cards sent to the family were her friendliness, her caring, her concern for people, and, of course, her constant smile.

"Jeani had a smile every time you saw her and that is a small part of the joy she brought to a person's life," wrote one person.

"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 another.

Others wrote "she was always so friendly and remembered me no matter how long it had been since I saw her" or remarked how she "reached out to everyone and was a friend to all."

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 Jeani was when she used to pull her young children around town in a wagon. Her children are grown up now, but she still kept close to them through the years. Brooke, who lives in Rochester now, said they 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 mother 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."

She was also a second mom to Janet's children when they were growing up and was a very special friend to them as adults.

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 to one another.

After all, kind words and smiles are such little gestures that, on the surface, they don't appear life-changing or of great significance. Kind people don't get in your face, so you may not notice the subtle influence they have.

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 in the community, but the sudden and unexpected death - her family thinks she likely died from pneumonia in both lungs - at age 56 got many local people thinking of what a simple smile and kind words can mean.

"Jeani is truly one of a kind," said her sister. "She touched many lives, but I don't think we realized how many."

Now, many of us do realize what kind of impact one person, especially one so unassuming and reserved in a position that we don't usually associate with power, can make on an entire community in ways that were never obvious until the sum of its parts were revealed.

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