When you meet Roy “Pepper” Pulley, it doesn’t take long to realize you’re standing in the presence of a unique person.

His charismatic attitude, continuous hand movements, colored bandana, and dangling earring compete for your attention.

Many people have seen him at downtown Somerset’s Somernites Cruise events — oftentimes swinging his yo-yo for a crowd of onlookers or communicating with the hearing impaired through sign language.

A few years ago, Pepper became a helper on the Somernites Cruise management team.

As the 2006 Somernites season begins, however, the team is pulling together to help make one of Pepper’s dreams come true.

This year, Pepper probably won’t be feeling well enough to do any yo-yo tricks. He might not make it to Somernites at all.

In December, he learned he has cancer — multiple myeloma — a rare blood disease that has no cure.

If he is able to undergo a bone marrow transplant next month, he is likely to survive another few years.

Without the transplant, doctors say he could die within six months.


“On November 21, I started having to take off work more,” Pepper explains.

Pain in his back was beginning to interfere with his job. He put off going to see a doctor until his co-workers finally convinced him to make an appointment.

In early December, Dr. (Bachar) Kassem told Pepper he had a tumor that was putting pressure on his spine.

“He told me I could be paralyzed from the waist down if they didn’t take it out right then,” he says.

A biopsy of the tumor showed that Pepper had cancer.

Pepper says he feels fortunate to be able to walk at all — even though he gets around much slower than he used to.

“I used to build bridges and drive a truck for the Pulaski County Road Department,” he says as he carefully steps across the floor.

“As you can see, I can’t do that now.”

Pepper says his disease may go into remission, but nothing short of a miracle will cure him.

“I’ve got no promises of nothing,” he says.

Even so, he smiles and continues to offer words of inspiration to others.

In 1997, some of his friends “showed me how to use the Instructional Book of Life in my every day life,” Pepper says.

“Then in 1999, I got saved.”

From that moment on, his life has been drastically different — and it’s the reason he’s able to keep smiling in the face of a deadly disease.

“I know where I’m going if I die right now. I’m happy on the spiritual side because I know where I’ll be at,” he says.

“And all my paperwork is done — the funeral, my grave site, my obituary. I’m not worried about that.”

Pepper deals with constant pain in his back and ribs — pain that worsens each night.

“I’ve learned to deal with it,” he says. He takes medicine and wears a patch to ease the pain.

The normally energetic man is frustrated by his lack of energy.

“Last week, it was so pretty outside. I went to physical therapy and to the post office, and, when I got back home, I just had to go to sleep. I was so tired,” he says.

Pepper’s illness may be slowing him down, but he has no plans to stop.

“I hope I can go to this ‘Silent Social’ on June 2,” he says, holding up a flier about a gathering for the deaf and hard of hearing.

“Next, I see me going to church camp in Monticello. ... Then I hope God will help me get this bone marrow transplant. After that, I want to visit my Uncle Charles in New Orleans and minister to the deaf there.”

He also has plans to visit his sister — and plans to attend a seminar about cancer on May 30... which also happens to be his 56th birthday.


Several years ago, Pepper began collecting aluminum cans for recycling. The money he made from the cans goes straight into an account to help send underprivileged children to church camp.

“I’m not perfect. I go to church as much as I can, and I surround myself with good people. I ain’t no Bible thumper,” Pepper says.

“But I began to pray that God would use me with this. And it’s mind boggling to me that God has used me to minister with this. ...

“I wanted to go to camp (when I was young), but I didn’t have the money. So a person gave me the money to go. The next year, somebody gave me money to go to camp again. So I said, ‘If there’s any way I can do that to help someone else, I want to do that.’”

While Pepper can’t collect aluminum cans on his own anymore, he wants his idea to carry on.

“My friends from Somernites Cruise are going to try to help me help the children since I can’t do it by myself anymore,” he explains.

The Somernites management team is dedicating the entire 2006 season to Pepper — and they are also establishing a fund that will help send children to church camp and provide scholarships for children who are “multi-cultural, socially under, and economically under,” as Pepper puts it.

“His heart is for children and for the underprivileged,” Somernites Cruise management team member Jim Harris says.

“We want to be able to continue what he has started — to offer a scholarship fund that will provide opportunities for the economically, socially, and multi-culturally challenged — to help those that need help. This will allow the community and Cruise participants — those who have known Pepper — be able to help reach out to youth.”

“With this scholarship fund, I want to see people involved in something outside of themselves,” Pepper says.

“In my obituary, I am requesting that people give of their time. I want them to see other people in need, and to really understand that they’re in need.”


Harris admits he wondered how a backpack-toting, yo-yo swinging man with a bandana would fit in with “a bunch of car guys” when Pepper first joined the team.

“He has been such an inspiration to all of us, and he’s been a major asset to our team,” Harris says.

“Pepper has taught us all that it’s what’s on the inside that counts.”

Many years ago, Pepper learned sign language, and he continues to “speak” the language fluently by using the hand signs even when he doesn’t need to do so.

He both spoke and signed his entire interview with a newspaper reporter last week.

“God gave me this skill. I have to minister with it,” Pepper says.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many different people from different cultures because of it.”

“He has been able to minister to the deaf and hearing impaired in our community and at our Cruise because of his talent, and he’s entertained plenty of children with his yo-yo,” Harris says.

“Several cruise participants have told me they came just to see what Pepper was up to that month.”


Even though his own future is uncertain, Pepper is continuing to look for ways to help others.

“Now I’m going to try to learn to speak Spanish,” he says, pointing to a language-learning program someone has brought him.

“Do you know of anyone who can come to my house and teach me Spanish?”

Pepper Pulley may only live to be 56 years old. He could live to be 96. But one thing is certain. He will live every moment to help others, and, with the scholarship named in his honor, he will continue to help others long after his life is over.

To donate to the Roy “Pepper” Pulley Scholarship Fund, contact any of the Somernites Cruise management team members. None of the money will benefit Somernites in any way — 100 percent of the money collected will be used to help children.

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