Jim and Jan Everett, owners of Country Junction in Forest Inn, got their most memorable Valentine on Friday.

That's when employees honored them at a luncheon for the first anniversary of the reopening of a permanent store along Route 209.

They were told by Kelly Rodriguez, hospitality manager, "The enthusiastic nature of Country Junction employees is really a reflection of the leadership we see in you. Even through challenging times, you find a way to keep us all motivated and we genuinely want to do everything we can to contribute to your vision of what Country Junction is all about."

On the morning of Oct. 3, 2006, the dream of the Everetts was almost snuffed out by flames. An enormous blaze had leveled the "World's Largest General Store" complex.

Jim Everett watched helplessly that morning as firefighters from dozens of fire companies battled the spectacular fire. But he didn't cry.

He couldn't hide the tears the tears of happiness on Friday at the warm reception, praise, and words of thanks he got from his employees.

A tear fell when he and Jan walked into the congregation of employees and they began singing "Jolly Good Fellow." He brushed a tear aside when he and Jan cut a cake for the occasion. Then one more tear appeared as he addressed his employees.

The road back from the ashes for Everett had been laden with serious hurdles; virtually starting from scratch, overcoming bureaucratic red tape, and enduring the worst economic times in the 21st Century.

It was on Feb. 14 of last year that the official reopening of the rebuilt store occurred a sort-of Valentine's Day gift to his loyal employees.

He admits the economy has been difficult on business, but stated, "We met our expectations for the first year."

Even though Everett rebuilt the new Country Junction as closely as he was allowed to, he said not everything fits under one roof.

The petting zoo, pet store, and lawn and garden tent are separated from the main structure. Throughout the entire, 3 1/2-year rebuilding process, the free petting zoo, complete with an on-site playground, remained open.

Since the devastating fire, Everett has used the "Yellow Brick Road" theme from the "Wizard of Oz" regarding his recovery journey.

He told the employees who attended the luncheon, "It feels like the land of Oz."

"It's been quite a journey for the last 25 years," said Everett regarding how his Country Junction evolved from a tiny business into one that attracts customers from as far away as Philadelphia and New Jersey, especially during special events such as his Pumpkin Fest.

"It seems like the last four or five years have been 100 years," he added.

He continued, "We opened during the Depression they call it a recession. The customers have been coming back."

He addressed his workers as the "Country Junction family."

The anniversary luncheon was an idea of Sonya Mosteller, a cashier. Rodriguez said Mosteller approached her about such an event and from there a small event mushroomed into a large-scale one.

One of the highlights was the unveiling of a custom-framed copy of the TIMES NEWS highlighting the store's reopening.

Everett said that since rebuilding, one of the most popular areas of the store is the candy counter which sells store-made candy including many types of fudge.

"We make our own fudge," said Everett. "We make our own peanut balls. The candy store has been the hottest spot in the store."

Rodriguez, in concluding her comments at the luncheon, appropriately used a quote from the "Wizard of Oz."

She said, referring to her employer, "A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others."