A look back at 2019

The Community News reviews the year that was for St. Charles County

Looking back, 2019 was an eventful year here in St. Charles County. As we flip the calendar to 2020, we at the Community News thought it would be a good time to look back at what transpired over the past 12 months. We have collected the highlights and remember all of the difference-makers in our community in 2019.

January

Growing their own educators

The Fort Zumwalt Education Foundation has provided Fort Zumwalt seniors interested in pursuing a teaching career in a “high needs,” area tuition assistance awards since 2005. The foundation gives loans to deserving future district teachers for four years in the areas of special education, foreign language, industrial technology, math, and science. The no-interest, $7,000 loan is forgiven once the student completes their fourth year of teaching within the Fort Zumwalt School District in a high-needs area. 

The district has placed 11 teachers in the classroom since 2007, with eight more working towards completing their degree. Dr. Jackie Floyd is an Assistant Superintendent for Personnel and oversees the Grow Your Own Teacher program.

“It has really been something to see them leave here as an 18-year-old student and then return and start families,” Floyd said. “It has held true what we had thought at the time, which is that these are committed and community-centered educators.”

February 

St. Charles marks 250 years

The city of St. Charles celebrated its 250th anniversary and Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were front and center.

Inside the lobby of St. Charles City Hall, located at 200 North Second Street, are two awe-inspiring works of art inspired by the two adventurers and their famous guide.

A statue of Sacajawea and her son Pompey titled “Birdwoman” is an eight-foot patinaed bronze statue given on loan to the city by Harlan Pals. Also in the lobby of city hall, St. Charles Mayor Sally Faith commissioned Gary Lucy to complete the painting depicting the important moment in history when “La Vigilante” made its way from New Orleans. 

“I don’t think people realize all the research that goes into a piece like this,” Lucy said.  “As you can see, the Lewis and Clark keelboat is a smaller version of La Vigilante. Many believe the keelboat design could have been influenced by the Spanish vessel.” 

March

Heartfelt support

Home alone, and the pain not letting up, Thom Meinert, who was 59-years-old at the time, made the decision that saved his life. He called 911. The St. Charles County Ambulance District arrived just in time as Meinert’s condition continued to plummet. He soon lost his pulse (the first of 10 instances that occurred).

Meinert is among a growing group of individuals in the region who have been successfully resuscitated by paramedics using cutting-edge protocols for cardiac arrest management. 

“Though I’m continually thankful for being given a new lease on life, there have been times over the past few years that have been difficult,” Meinert said. “These are times where it would simply be nice to talk with someone facing a similar situation.” 

That is what motivated him to launch the Cardiac Arrest Survivors’ Support Group and the inaugural meeting was held last March. Meinert is inviting any survivors throughout the St. Charles and the St. Louis metro area to attend the meetings. 

The Cardiac Arrest Survivors’ Support Group held at the St. Charles County Ambulance District Headquarters located at 4169 Old Mill Parkway, in St. Peters.

April

Local heroes become movie marvels

Hitting theaters on Easter weekend, “Breakthrough” is based on the harrowing, yet uplifting, true story of a mother’s love in the face of impossible odds. When Joyce Smith’s adopted son John fell through an icy Lake St. Louis, all hope seemed lost. 

On that night in January 2015, John Smith was underneath the ice for 15 minutes, with no oxygen. When EMS workers rescued him, he had no pulse. They rushed him to the emergency room and worked on him for another 45 minutes. The doctors could not bring him back to life. When they brought Joyce into the emergency room and she saw her son laid out on the table, dead, instead of saying goodbye, she grabbed his feet and said, ‘Holy Spirit please bring back my son right now!’ Immediately, the EKG machine began going off. John Smith not only just survived, but would return to school around 30 days after the accident.

And while the film is a reminder that faith and love can create a mountain of hope, and sometimes even a miracle, a cornerstone of the story was the unity between the area’s emergency response teams.

“It was all a team effort from the first responders all the way to the emergency room personnel,” Lake St. Louis Police Chief Chris DiGiuseppi said. “The bottom line is, there were multiple miracles on that day. I’m a faith-based guy and they had given up. They had called it and stopped recitation and yet, here we are.”

May 

Braille battlers

Four students from Francis Howell School District refused to be hamstrung by their limitations. The students, who are blind or visually impaired, put together a masterful performance in the Braille Challenge regional competition held the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis. 

The Braille Challenge is the only academic competition of its kind in North America for students who are blind or visually impaired. Any blind or visually impaired student from first grade through high school who can read and write braille is eligible to participate in the Braille Challenge. 

Tyler Groves, a sixth grader at Saeger Middle and Luke McKeon, a fourth grader at Warren Elementary, both came away with a first-place finish. Francis Howell Central sophomore Claire Wright and Warren fourth grader Olivia Wright both received Honorable Mention.

“I enjoyed the fun things that they had to do there, like at lunch they had basketball, a treadmill, and an endless rock wall,” Groves said. “I was really proud that I won and I want to compete again next year.”

June 

After the flood

In June, the Mississippi River crested in St. Charles at over 35-feet, almost 11-feet above flood stage. St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann declared that a state of emergency exists in the county as a result of on-going, severe weather and serious flooding which began on April 29. The rain caused severe flooding in the areas of Portage des Sioux, West Alton, and Orchard Farm.

Once the river started to recede, clean-up and damage assessments began. That is when things really hit home for residents.

“The real impact will come when they see what the water has done to their home or property,” Captain Chris Hunt, the Director of St. Charles County Regional Emergency Management, said. “Most of these residents have lived here a long time and they know what they’re up against.”

July 

Celebrating one small step

Jim Twellman will never forget it.

As a 10-year-old at a church picnic, Twellman recalled grown-ups and kids alike huddled around a black-and-white television that was drug outside so they could watch the Apollo 11 spaceflight that landed two men on the moon.

“It’s an emotion that has stuck with me and is connected with history,” Twellman said. “It was a huge sense of national accomplishment at the time.”

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, the St. Charles County Parks Department hosted a late-night retro moon party at the Astronomy Viewing Area in Broemmelsiek Park, located at 1615 Schwede Road in Wentzville. 

Members of the Astronomical Society of Eastern Missouri, in which Twellman is the Executive Director, sponsored the program and commemorated this historic event by showing guests images of the moon, Jupiter, Saturn and other constellations through high-powered telescopes.

August 

An incredible journey

Your summer vacation photos look nothing like Mark Fingerhut’s.

Fingerhut, a St. Louis native and resident, polished off a mind-bending trip, traveling the Missouri River via kayak. Fingerhut began his journey on May 14 on the Madison River near West Yellowstone in Montana. On Aug. 17, after a stop in St. Charles the day before, he completed his journey some 2,400 miles later at the St. Louis Arch where a gathering of friends was there to greet him.

Fingerhut, 39, raised $4,000 for the Missouri River Relief, which is an organization that hosts many events around connecting people with the river and to recognize it as an important resource.

“It has been a dream for a long time,” Fingerhut said. “I didn’t know when it would happen until about a year ago. I wanted to do what I could do to help them and others who protect our waterways.”

September

The Rascals’ last at bat

In September, ownership of the River City Rascals, an independent, Frontier League baseball team, informed O’Fallon officials that the team will cease operations at the end of this season, wrapping up a 21-year run at CarShield Field that has seen the club entertain thousands of fans and area residents.

The city and the club were unable to come to terms on a long-term lease agreement. 

David Schmoll is the General Manager of the Rascals. Schmoll estimated that the Rascals had 10 full-time employees, 50 part-time employees along with the 25-player roster. A significant amount of the employees came from the area. Schmoll and the Rascals treated the final week like a tribute to the fans.

“We had giveaways every inning and we wanted to do everything possible to make sure everybody left with a smile on their face,” Schmoll said. “It is pretty incredible for any minor league franchise to not only last this long, but also stay in one city for this long. It is a testament to the support we had, and still have.”

Baseball will return to O’Fallon in 2020 as a new team will replace the Rascals at CarSheild Field. 

October 

A vision of hope

As Denny Huff tells it, being blind isn’t cheap. It was 46-years ago when in a split second, Huff lost his eyesight due to a work accident.

Now 70, Huff is the President of the St Charles County Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired. The SCCCB is an organization that provides support and assistance to help guide those with visual impairments through the maze of questions that will arise as one builds a new lifestyle without sight.  

This year, with the help of a few local angels, SCCCB initiated a new Adaptive Technology Grants Program to fulfill its mission of enriching the lives of legally blind St. Charles County residents.  Adaptive technology can be very expensive, so SCCCB understands why many legally blind in our community are not able to benefit from its use.

“We are trying to reach as many people as we can,” Huff said. “We hope the applications come in and we can really start helping.”

November

A meeting 75 years in the making

Glenn Harrison and Robert Garvey, both of whom are World War II veterans with extraordinarily familiar backgrounds, crossed paths for the first time.

The 99-year-old Harrison and the 97-year old Garvey served in the Army Air Corps and both were shot down over Germany within seven days of each other in June 1944 and held until May 1945. Each moved to the northern St. Louis area and worked for McDonnell Douglas for decades before moving into St. Charles County. They had never met until the VFW Post 5077 arranged a meeting at Park Place Senior Living at Winghaven in O’Fallon.

“It turned out really nice,” Dave Garvey, Robert Garvey’s son, said. “To hear them exchange experiences during the war, it was really interesting to listen to both of them.”

December 

No ‘shhhh’ zone 

There are two new interactive early literacy spaces installed at two St. Charles City-County Library Foundation library branches.

In the children’s areas of both branches, children can play with interactive games, building materials, train tables and wind tunnels along with other structures, toys and play spaces unique to each branch.

The Kisker Road Branch Library, located at 1000 Kisker Road, offers an Alphabright (with light-up alphabet blocks), an interactive three-sided play set and large foam building blocks. The Middendorf-Kredell Branch, located at 2750 Highway K in O’Fallon, has a Baby Garden, an interactive light board, a magnet wall and a Pretend & Play Animal Hospital.

“We have always had a focus on interactive activities for our young readers,” Maggie Melson, St. Charles City-County Library Director of Youth Services, said. “We plan to expand on that and make the library more of a hub for the entire family.”