By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

He never backs down from an opportunity to meet someone new. And now, on his third time living in Hays, Vernon Becker still is making connections.

Becker, assistant manager at Dillons, moved back to Hays last year, where he and his wife, Margaret, went to college and where their children were born.

His extended family marvels at his story-telling ability, and on an afternoon in July, at the home of his wife's uncle John Thorns, family members took a few moments to hear some of Becker's favorite stories.

"I've met a lot of people and done a lot of things," Becker said. "I tell the kids at work, my philosophy on life is if you get a chance to talk to somebody, talk to them.

"If you get a chance to meet somebody, meet them. ... And don't be bashful."

Those chances to connect, he said, don't always happen again, and it's often surprising to find how seemingly unrelated folks are linked together.

"I have never known anyone who can go everywhere and find somebody that knows somebody who's a mutual acquaintance," said his mother-in-law, Margaret Schmidt.

Becker grew up in Memphis and has relocated to Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois and numerous communities in Kansas.

He's worked in the oil fields, as a health and safety inspector for the state of Kansas, and as a safety and security manager for Armour-Eckrich Meats/ConAgra Foods,

He finds "stress relief" in his hobby of baking bread.

"I do it all by hand, no machines," he said. "I knead it all by hand.

"I can bake all day; it doesn't bother me a bit."

His recipe books, dog-eared and well-used, sit on the table. Nearby are the crocks he uses for mixing. He enjoys baking English muffins, bierocks, fruit breads, and braided and knotted creations.

"I don't have any problem getting rid of it," he said of his baking projects. "Everybody seems to want to eat it.

"You can make a lot of friends with bread. Somebody new moves into the neighborhood, you can give them a loaf of bread and they really appreciate it."