As you read this I will be on some highway heading south.
This past week has been a busy one, trying to see as many people as possible while trying to finish up the packing. If you’ve every moved out of state then you know how crazy stressful that all is!
As my time here was coming to a close something strange and unexpected happened. I took the time to slow down and look around me. And what I realized is that I truly love this community. I mean that. I love Wentzville. Leaving her feels like leaving a close family member.
Let me explain.
I’ve watched her grow. When I moved here in 1984 she wasn’t so big. There wasn’t a lot to do here so you had to go into other towns. She had lots of cornfields and open expanses. She had terrific schools (and always has) and great city officials who had a dream. They began to slowly put in place plans to help our beloved community grow.
And so it began to happen. I remember the parkway being put in and thinking “What the heck are they doing?” At first nothing happened. Wentzville looked like that awkward teen that had yet to grow into her body. She was all gangly and had a few pimples but soon she started to mature. Businesses started coming in and opening up shop. Restaurants made Friday and Saturday nights a little easier. Retail stores made it so you didn’t have to go very far to find what you wanted. And on down the line it went.
While she continued to grow and get more beautiful, she never lost her personality. Oh, it’s changed as she’s grown for sure but deep down she’s still that sweet close-knit place I knew as a kid. And I am forever grateful to her.
I was raised here, taught values here. I saw what an honest day’s work can get you. I played with our mayors’ kids; I knew men and women who served on our police force. One of my favorite places growing up was the barber shop! Every two weeks I would go with my dad to this little building on West Allen Street. Walking in was a throw back in time. They had old-style barber chairs and on an old radio you heard news talk or oldies. They had pictures of Wentzville’s best athletes and the place smelled of old cigars and memories.
It was there I learned much of our towns’ history. I heard tales of long ago games won on last second jump shots, of touchdowns scored and of rivalries come and gone. I heard cuss words and watched the smoke unfurl itself out of the grizzled mouth of one of our own. Those moments have stayed with me like images from a movie. And as I grew up and played for our Indians we began talking about our teams and I saw pictures of students I knew and the tales changed. The beautiful part is that place remains the same. You can still go in there today to get a haircut and a conversation that will leave you in with a smile.
I was taught here. Wentzville schools helped mold me into who I am today. There were many men and women that invested in a little, big eared boy that talked way too much but saw something. To them I say “Thank you”.
The best years were high school. In the hallways and classrooms of Wentzville High School (now Wentzville Holt High School) my horizons were expanded to the four corners of our world. Mr. Hanson was my band director and had more influence on me than anyone. I was taught to be on time—on time was five minutes early!
I was taught to practice hard and I would reap the benefits of that practice. We worked long hours as a unit, messing up many times but always pushing for perfection. And on those fields after having given everything we had hearing our school’s name called out for 1st place always caused immense pride. He taught me to make mistakes loud! There’s no sense in messing up unless you do it the right way- full blast!
All those years of hard work and love has helped me accomplish much in my life. I would not be the man I am today had Mr. Hansen and Mr. Sanderson (assistant director) not put as much time and effort into me and many others as they did. Thank you gentlemen!
Mr. Gleason was my speech and drama teacher through school. I took one of his classes every year because he made the words of those plays jump of the page. He taught me how to publicly speak (which I do for a living) and how to present something in a way as to grab your attention. He made learning fun and gave me a thirst for art.
I learned how to put speeches together, how to argue without getting angry, how to see another’s point of view and even how to argue for something I didn’t agree with. But because I learned these things I am able to do them now. In a climate where the loudest seems to win I am able to discuss any issue without taking offense. If we disagree that doesn’t mean that we still can’t talk or carry on a friendship. He made me see the humanity in the issues, that it’s not really an issue we’re talking about but instead a person. He is still teaching today, still molding future generations and we are richer for having people like him. Thank you sir. Oh and I’ll never be able to call you by your first name. You’ll always be Mr. Gleason to me. Sorry.
Mr. Jacquin was my most frustrating teacher and perhaps my favorite class. In English 4 I not only read timeless pieces of literature but also learned about other cultures, walks of life and different ways of seeing the same subject. He taught me that just because I saw things one way didn’t mean that everyone did. He challenged me to understand why I believed what I did and not to necessarily change them but to understand them. He was able to push our buttons in a way that would start hotly debated discussions on all kinds of topics. And then he would sit back and allow us to work it out. Many days I left his class ready to punch my locker but I always learned in that classroom. And I am better today because he pushed. So I say again, thank you sir.
And many of us had the privilege to learn under the tutelage of Coach Swofford. He was a man with boundless energy, love, charisma, knowledge and faith. His laugh and personality were infectious. He was a coach to his core and he lived that out every day of his life. And we LOVED him for it. He was the Wentzville Indians for all of us and I cannot separate the two. He is deeply missed by all that knew and loved him but his legacy lives on in the thousands of individuals that he touched throughout his storied career. I can picture his face as he led our cheers and yes Coach we still love our Indians.
There are so many stories here for me. My old house that I cracked my head open at. They recently repainted the porch but up until a few years ago you could still see my blood stains on those old concrete stops.
The huge hill that my friend almost killed himself on trying to jump a ramp we made in 5th grade.
The street I had my first kiss on.
The field that my friend and I flew into when he drove his car way too fast on a gravel road.
The gym where many victories and losses shaped me.
The football field and practice field where we spent many hours marching and playing, learning to work as a team.
The kids at Camp Wentzville where I worked summers as a camp counselor and all the fun we had over those six years.
The old Schnucks that I worked at for many years and met so many good people. Eating at Stefanina’s and West Allen Grill. The old movie rental stores that are no longer there. Sneaking down to gas stations too far for my mom’s liking to buy candy and soda. Sleepovers and stupid movies. Playing ball with my dad and having my parents watch me in own games.
Graduating and then moving off to college. Coming back and seeing my daughter go to the same elementary school I did. Playing with her on the same playgrounds and learning in the same classrooms.
Living and loving life in Wentzville.
She has been very good to us and will continue to be good for others. She is a community of people, of families. People that wake up and work hard for their loved ones. People that play just as hard, that squeeze every last second out of their day. People like you and like me. We are what makes a place like this, this special.
I have come to deeply love this community and the people in it. And I will miss it. Thank you to everyone that played a part in my upbringing here or my children’s. You will be missed more than you know.
And as we leave here we take with us the values and lessons learned in this great town of ours. We may be leaving Wentzville, but she will never really leave us.
Thanks and God bless.