Talk of the Towns

Talk of the Towns: 8.21.19

st. charles
Big Muddy Adventures (BMA) is about to make a different kind of splash with an overnight Canoe Camping Workshop, where landlubbers will learn how to plan, prep and execute multiday trips. During this special overnight excursion Sept. 1 and 2, even novice paddlers should return to dry land with the knowledge and confidence to do it on their own next time. Canoeists will be exploring and paddling 30 river miles of the mighty Missouri from St. Charles to Columbia Bottoms—the confluence with this even bigger river that folks call what? The Big Muddy. Experienced river guides will give canoeists the opportunity to learn paddling and camping techniques. And for meals: beans and weenies? Hardly. A chef will help participants prepare more sophisticated fare. (One imagines the BMA bona fides include cooking classes at Dierbergs, Kitchen Conservatory or Weber Grill Academy, plus a pledge of allegiance to Lewis & Clark. Or, like that.) And it’s all just in time for fall-ish weather, everybody’s favorite season for camping in these here hot and humid parts. Perhaps Missouri’s state bird, the mosquito, will have headed south. Or not. It could be another Indian Summer direct from Hades, with sweaty river rats feeling like they’re attempting to cross the River Styx. In any case, bring clothes to brave whatever stretch of weather we might be having, sunscreen and beaucoup insect repellent. And, if you’re booked up over Labor Day weekend, consider BMA’s three-day, two-night Fall Colors Expedition Oct. 18 to 20.

For 50 years, a supermarket occupied the northeast corner of the Clayton-Hanley intersection. Longtime residents, many in tony Lake Forest catty-corner from the grocery, fondly nicknamed it Schnuckendorf’s, for it was first a Bettendorf’s, then a Schnucks. The store shuttered for good in 2003. Known as one of the most coveted corners in Clayton (some call it the city’s ‘front door’), it had languished since just before the summer. Dozens of ideas had been raised, many discussed ad nauseam, a few yammered about even more. Of several proposed to the city, a couple almost made it the last few yards of a very long mile before collapsing, insiders say, until Ryan Cos. of Minneapolis closed on the 3-acre lot in March— after being under contract for at least a year. Ground broken, store building razed, it’s a startling sight for anyone expecting to see the same-old, same-old. Clayton had given the thumbs-down to other projects: After eventually getting a nod from Planning and Zoning, one after another got nixed by the Board of Aldermen. Although now the city’s planning and decision-making machinery has been oiled, observers say, considering its decisions on behalf of corporate giant Centene. (Sidenote: In addition to Centene’s standing to receive $35 million from the state, the city green-lighted $75 million in tax incentives for nearly $800 million in development, despite a range of concerns: obstructing views from high-end residences, congestion and parking for as many 1,000 new employees. But the $60 billion managed-care enterprise, an intermediary for both governmentsponsored and privately insured health care, can’t call all the shots.) But, back to the corner where we started. ‘Green’ grocers expressed interest. No go. ‘Lifestyle’ gym, hotel and office space? Nope. There was market-rate housing, a proposal by a Nashville developer, that managed to stay afloat for 18 months before sinking. So, what now? As soon as 2021, wellheeled, aging baby boomers will have yet another choice of an upscale place to live out their retirement years at Clarendale of Clayton. Plans include 195 units for independent living, 66 for assisted living, 20 for memory care—plus ground-floor retail and a café. Originally planned as a 15-story building right at the corner, back-and-forth over the $120 million seniorhousing project resulted in a 13-story tower set back further, landscaped and more pedestrian-friendly. We’ll see. If nothing else, the development should do the skyline proud.

st. peters 
Sears at Mid-Rivers Mall in St. Peters is to close by the end of October. That also will mean one less auto center in the metro, which should be good news for your local BP service station, as well as the omnipresent Dobbs stores. Maybe the venerable outfit still has a catalog. Remember those? They were as fat and heavy as a telephone book. Remember telephone books? It was rumored that Charles Atlas, the strongman of legend who wore nothing but a leopard-print loincloth and a smile, could rip one of those in half. (Ninety-eight-pound weaklings thought so, anyhow.) Remember 98-lb. weaklings? I’ve gained some weight.

One minor league baseball team down, one to go. For the minor-league River City Rascals of the independent Frontier League, Aug. 29 will be the last game at CarShield Field in O’Fallon, Missouri. Their very last game will be Sept. 1 in Schaumburg, Illinois. The team has played ball here for 21 years. The city reportedly has been in touch with prospective tenants, although it has provided no details about what sort of outfit could possibly take the place of a baseball team. Well, there’s already a TopGolf complex a few clicks to the east in Chesterfield Valley. What then? A racetrack for horses? Or a site for one of the Midwest’s guilty pleasures, demolition derby? A new venue for Woodstock 50 … better late than never? Wait, there is an MLB team named after a bird. They play downtown. Some fans really like that. Meanwhile, bush-league lovers, there’s another minor league team, the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League, that plays in Sauget, Illinois. Hey, it’s dudes who use a bat, a ball and a glove. (What more could you want—another world championship?)

notable neighbors

tower grove east
As a young girl, Jane Ellen ‘Janie’ Ibur promised Mary Woodard, who had cooked, cleaned and cared for the Ibur family of Ladue for years, that she would take care of her in her old age—and that’s exactly what she did. When Mary was not well, Janie did everything for her friend and mentor, just as Mary had done for her. Sondra Seiler, Janie’s partner of 44 years (now her spouse), was the sole breadwinner as a medical researcher for 11 years so this could be the arrangement. Eventually confined to a wheelchair, Mary died in 1985. A poignant, powerful book of poetry, Both Wings Flappin’, Still Not Flyin,’ is Janie’s moving tribute to their 33-year friendship that evolved and flourished despite a dysfunctional family in a racially polarized city. “I worked on the book hard, 30 years hard,” she says. The memoir was published in 2014. With an English degree from Webster U., Janie first taught in the traditional school environment, although in quite a nontraditional way—sometimes she’d show up in a long cape, an illuminated wand in hand. Why? “Poetry is magic!” she exclaims. “Everyone knew poetry was in the house.” She challenged her students to describe things that nearly anyone would have trouble painting with words, like the song of a whale. Plus, what it looks like and how big it is, all the while pushing them to work with words that just sound right together, from alliteration to onomatopoeia. But she really hit her stride outside of the classroom. Today, she conducts workshops, also teaching at her home in Tower Grove East, sharing her dining room table with other adult lovers of the language. And though she may not don the cape, she’s still a superhero to many. She’s worked with veterans suffering from PTSD, plus—in a role she has relished for 29 years—she has thrived teaching formal poetry to the incarcerated. She keeps in touch with Alexander Thornton, who grew up in a dangerous part of town and is about 13 years into a 25-year prison sentence. She’s also a frequent visitor to the County Justice Center in Clayton. Through poetry, “they let me into their lives,” she says. “It keeps them going. It keeps me going.” In April, she was named the third Poet Laureate for the City of St. Louis; she expects to serve two years. (Janie hopes the third time’s a charm. Her two predecessors passed away before their stints were up.) The day after she celebrated her 50th Ladue High School reunion last October, she was diagnosed with cancer. She’s recovering and plans to share her ordeal in a third book. Meanwhile, she’s kept another important promise, one she made to herself years ago, to write a poem every day—nearly 3,000 at the time of our interview. Her books (the second, from 2017, is The Little Mrs./Misses) are available at Left Bank Books in the CWE and on Amazon. Read more on her Facebook page or in her profile on Wikipedia.