PRAIRIE DU ROCHER TO STE. GENEVIEVE
Another amazing breakfast compliments of Susie at The Conner House Bed and Breakfast. This time an egg and sausage quiche of a sorts along with fresh fruit of course and a French toast casserole, plus, plus, plus! Full, full, full! After a few fun photo ops with Susie, we got out on the road, with Tom on foot from Lisa’s Grill heading toward Ste. Genevieve. He ran out of Prairie du Rocher, Illinois along Bluff Road. We’re running almost due east now, but we’ll turn south at Modoc to catch the ferry into Ste. Genevieve. There are tall rock outcroppings and steep bluff on one side, agricultural bottom land on the other side. The river is behind a levee now—a couple of miles away. It’s a frog massacre on the highway.
I pulled up to wait for the exchange at Modoc, Illinois (Population 221). A local man on a riding lawn mower saw the Relay van and pulled up to ask if I was lost. I told him that I was waiting for my husband and he seemed puzzled and continued mowing.
When Tom finally arrived and I took off running, the man circled back for another attempt to figure out just what was going on. He and Tom had a brief discussion but never came to an understanding. It would have been easier if he had shut the mower down while they talked. Just another day in Modoc—local groundskeeper and sweaty runner yelling at each other in the middle of the street.
I ran to the river, cutting through the bottomland then turning up along the top of the levee and down to the ferry landing. I was imagining water high over head across this whole landscape, floods taking it over in years past and maybe in years to come. The ferry was on its way over to the Illinois side of the river just as I landed at the dock. Tom drove on board, and we visited with Landen, the young deck hand, as we made our way across to Ste. Gen. His grandfather Ron runs the ferry, which was actually out of commission until just a month ago due to high water. Landen is finishing up his final year of college in Cape Girardeau, majoring in Criminal Justice, and while he loves his home town of Ste. Get, he absolutely wants to leave and be out in the world in his 20s and 30s. Maybe he’ll return after that.
Today was a short mileage day—about 8 or 9 miles to the ferry to cross the river and then another couple of miles into town. I met up with Daniel, a young local track star on the Ste. Genevieve side of the ferry to escort me into town, thus keeping me at pace the whole way to say the least. (Somehow it seems our escort runners always trend toward young and fast when paired with me, and rather more mature and leisurely when paired with Tom! What luck!)
We arrived at the Main Street Park a quarter of an hour early, and graciously our host Sandra Cabot of VisitSteGen waved me into the shade so I could cool down before the program began. You see, 87 first graders were making their way from the elementary school down the street, walking guided by their teachers in order to assemble and sing a special welcome song to me and Tom—what an amazing greeting like none other! The city manager was also there in place of the mayor to open the event, and many parents and grand parents of the many children were gathered there in the park.
Sandra took us over to the Hotel Audubon Ste. Genevieve to check in. We met Mary Beth, one of the owners, and had some lunch. Behind the bar was Kim Ferguson who is also related to the owners—she made sure we were full of good spinach salad and seafood beniegts, ready for the rest of the day.
After getting settled in our room, we walked over to the Great River Road Welcome Center just a block down the street to meet with Ron Inman. He’s only recently retired from a long career at the local rock quarry that produces riprap. Ron is a fast talker and has a lot to say. At 77 years young, he’s done a lot with his life, starting out in Oklahoma on a ranch, milking cows, riding bulls, traveling the country with his work in rock. He even served as a “river boss” for the quarry in Ste. Get, having him travel up and down the river all the way to Venice many times, falling in love with Cajuin, Creole, and all Southern cooking. Apparently Ron grew to 230-240 lbs when he was working on the river in the South—now he’s back down just under 200. He’s very proud of his involvement in the Masons and Shriners (Scottish Rite), and wears his fathers Mason ring proudly where a wedding band would normally go. That’s not to say he’s not married. Ron and his wife have had four children, one of whom runs a local restaurant in town. His wife is part Cherokee Indian, and their family recently donated a bulldozer to the Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota, helping to get it out there and aid in the construction of the monument. Ron’s stories could go on, and we could keep listening, but we had another appointment just down the road at Sara’s Ice Cream Shop.
Sara’s been in the ice cream business for 39 years. She was a teacher then principal at Valle Catholic School in Ste. Gen. The teaching job is what brought her here. While I sipped on a delicious Chocolate Mousse Malt at the shop, we also met up with Martina, who Sara hired in High School and Daniel (our fellow runner) who was working behind the counter. Sara likes Ste. Gen because it is quiet, safe, employment is high, people support each other, and fundraisers are successful. People are hardworking here, she says. Most of her employees at the ice cream shop are students, and Sara tries to limit their hours so they still have time for studies and a social life. However, most of the kids end up just picking up a second job—that hard work ethic. As far as her relationship with the Mississippi, Sara feels the river is treacherous and dirty. She wouldn’t eat the fish. She feels it really changes at Alton, and conditions are better north of there. Despite this, she loves Ste. Gen. She only wishes the town was more diverse, exposing the young people to what is really out in the world sooner than when they leave town.
We took a short walk around the historic district after our meeting with Sara—also aiding my digestion of the rather rich malt!—and we eventually landed back at the Audubon in time for me to meet with Mayor Paul Hassler. What a story. Mayor Hassler is a man of faith. He was raised Catholic but walked away from the church after high school. Later in adulthood after moving too Ste. Genevieve, he was reintroduced to God’s place in his life through a friend who invited him to a small Baptist Church. God touched his life, Paul said, in a moment where he was restless, and he hasn’t been the same since. And at the last election, he was following Billy Graham who was encouraging men of faith to run for local elected office, so he heeded the call and ran for mayor. Now he is where he is in this leadership role in the Ste. Gen community. But even more important than his role as a civic leader is Paul’s work dedicated to helping those suffering from drug addiction in this small community. He and his wife have housed recovering addicts and those coming out of prison for years, working one on one with people to make a difference in a problem that is overtaking so many communities across our country. Not every effort has succeeded—many people he’s helped, he has also lost to overdose. But this does not stop him from continuing the effort.
A little bit later, I met up with Patty and Bill Naeger. This unique couple has known each other from high school, and eventually decided to make their lives together. They lived a while in Columbia, Missouri, and at a certain point thought they might try something different, not even sure if they would go east or west. They started driving and when they hit Denver, the old Mercedes broke down. The experience gave them a moment to have a much needed heart to heart, landing them right back in Ste. Genevieve, ready to really start their lives and their soon to be six-child family together! Bill ran a photo processing business right in downtown until the digital photo industry changed that business forever. However, he’s kept the building and while also driving a truck out at the Quarry, still does some custom photo work on the side. Patty, an avid gardener who keeps many local restaurants in fresh vegetables, also displays her fresh produce in the windows there downtown. These two have invested greatly in the heritage and history of Ste. Gen, from Patty with its music to Bill with his archive of historic photos. There’s a lot to say here, but I’ll leave it with a thank you note to the Mercedes.