STE. GENEVIEVE TO CHESTER
The daily ritual. Preparing for our journey to the next community. Tom would run out of Ste. Genevieve and I would run into Chester.
Moving, always moving.
We said our goodbye’s to the comforts of the Hotel Audubon Ste. Genevieve this Saturday morning and Tom ran out from Main Street Park, heading south out of Ste. Genevieve. After about a 5K on foot, he mounted the bike and rode to the bike to bike exchange. I took over and had to take on a hill almost immediately, not to mention the challenge of overcoming with great mental fortitude the lack of public restrooms in the area.
I rode on for several miles with a bit of a headwind until pulling over at the gas station just before the bridge to Chester, Illinois. There we met up with Patti Carter and Viv Zobel, our designated escorts for getting me safely, in one piece, and on foot from the Missouri approach to the Mississippi River bridge and over to Illinois.
This is a very narrow passage, and thankfully they stopped the traffic in both directions for me to scale this man made mountain.
Once safely to the other side, we debated about a continued run and escort down the highway to City Hall, but to Viv’s disappointment her traffic stopping duties were over, as I hopped in the van and we all drove there.
We watched the Popeye Picnic Parade go by before joining Mike McClure at his home across the street. Mike shared with us his involvement in drumming up all this Popeye excitement in the town, the history of the trail of character statues unveiled year after year.
But his real passion lies not in the strong armed, spinach loving sailor, but rather in the more intellectual character of Sherlock Holmes.
From a young age, Mike fell in love with the film versions of the classic character which then led him into the literature.
Now his family goes on Sherlock holidays to escape rooms! Having worked his life in the funeral and furniture business, Mike’s own spirit is very much alive and infectious. We were happy to shadow him for a bit of our morning in Chester.
After the unveiling of the latest Popeye statue with Mike, we joined Viv and Greg Crane, our next “river buddy,” in a walk down to the picnic to get pulled pork and corn dogs. After our feast, we walked back to City Hall, piled in Viv’s car, and drove down along the river road by Menard Prison where Greg told us about his time there.
Then we went on to the Government Center where we met Shane Wagner and his wife Ashley. Shane’s mother Betty is the 911 operator at the Center and had offered to open up the building for us so we could walk up to the top and get a look from the 360 overlook. Shane is a historian—that is, he studied history fairly recently in college, and got his masters in education. His knowledge is researched and sometimes differs from the legend held by others in the community.
Shane told us about the geological history of Kaskaskia island—how it was formed and how it affected the movement of the population into Chester.
We looked from the top of the building out over the river at Kaskaskia and Shane also showed us the land and river developments on the big screen county maps there at the center. We hadn’t quite had a history lesson like this until Chester.
Viv drove us back to City Hall where Greg swapped out with Charlie. Our first stop on this next round of touring Chester was the cemetery to look at some historic grave sites. Here we learned about Charlie’s personal story—his “mixed marriage,” that is, his being German Lutheran marrying a French Catholic, and the complications therein, as well as his “war story” of being listed just too high to miss the draft and inevitably seeing so many of his friends come back wounded or not at all.
Charlie is a fixture of the Chester community, having run the parks department for many years before switching over to the maintenance division. He knows almost every house on every block and who lives there by virtue of his work. Viv drove us out to Knollwood, the most affluent neighborhood in Chester, and Charlie could tell us who lived where or who used to live where and who was moving in now, etc.
Viv circled us back to City Hall to drop off Charlie and then brought us round to the Eagles to see the Popeye Volleyball Tournament and meet up with Bob and Pat Koenegstein who had been involved in the 5K Run earlier that day. Bob had worked several years for the mental health facility in town, and since retiring, he and Pat had taken on the vocation of running a food pantry through their Lutheran Church.
This amazing couple extended their generosity and invited Tom and I to stay the night at their home instead of in the bunk house at the Eagles! We kept in touch after leaving the volleyball and made arrangements to meet up later at their house—couldn’t be more overwhelmed with such kind people!
From there we went to dinner at the The St. Nicholas Landmark Brewery with Viv and her husband Danny. Great views and great food. Afterward we went to Benson’s Wine Bar for drinks and ran into Shane Wagner and his wife Ashley again. Such a fortuitous event, finally getting to learn a bit more about his story—his education in history, path to working at the mental hospital teaching folks music amongst other things. Shane is a great spirit and a great asset to this small town in Illinois.
Finally we made it over to Bob and Pat’s for the night, including a late night conversation to learn a bit about them before tucking in.