Pray the Rosary

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A Centennial History - Chapter 6

Father Ruff

     It was during Fr. Lessard's period of time that lightning struck in the sanctuary twice. After reparation, he always wanted to have the Church painted, but got bogged down with some itinerant young man who wanted work. He started on the pews, supposedly painting them. He cost the parish a lot of money; with poor results. It was at this time that Fr. Ruff came (June 1,1976). He was sick the first few weeks and this man made him sicker just watching him waste time and "botch the job". After firing him, the Huesgen and Toben boys put the eight missing pews back in the church, and Father Ruff began to feel better.

    On August 15, 1976 a parish assembly was called. Officers elected were: Jim Eckelkamp, President, Clarence Vondera, V.P., Ralph Schroeder, Treasurer, Carolyn Hanneken, Secretary. This board did an excellent job cleaning and repairing. Ralph & Vera Schroeder were Picnic Chairpersons and net almost $8,000.

    On May 1,1977 the Holy Name Society ceased to exist. They gave $395.00 to the Cemetery Fund for future masses of deceased members.

     On August 15,1977, the next assembly was soon pleased with results that only two officers were replaced, the vice president and the treasurer and also that stability and evolvement of officers would occur. The new members of the board were Gilbert "Dude" Huesgen and Leonard Vogelsang. On September 1,1977 J. Wilmering of Pacific, MO. completed the painting of the church inside and out. This was his third time to paint the church. Everyone was pleased. The tabernacle previously restored to the Main Altar and statues replaced in the front, which had been placed in the rear of the building gave parishioners comfort from a constant complaint.

    In the summer of 1977, Fr. Ruff salvaged the remains of communion rails that were in the doorway of the basement of the church, amidst a lot of junk. One could not walk in or out, so much had accumulated. Clarence Vondera, under Fr. Ruff's directions, installed the remains in the gaping hole where the front part of the altar originally had been. Mr. Robt. Schmitz did a fine job of making this a "free-standing" altar, but a silk cloth covered the hole.

    After the altar-face below the tabernacle was finished, Fr. Ruff was surprised in reading the parish history that this altar railing to cover the hole was the very railing that he and his brother and sister had made their first holy communion in Holy Family, St. Louis in 1924. It was donated to St. Mary's in 1927.

    In June-July of 1977, Ralph Schroeder and Clarence Vondera got twenty men to build, in one day, the Bingo Pavilion, on a former basketball court. October 21, 1977 Len Unnerstall dug up the remains of a huge maple tree in front of the rectory. Shortly after, Bob Buscher laid new sidewalks, and helped Len lay new drainage pipes. Gil Huesgen, the president of the board, thought that this was necessary to eliminate the great amount of water leaking in the rectory and convent. (We still have it as of Feb. 1981).

    November 11, 1977 - "Dude" got Scotty's Heating for three buildings. A new motor was necessary for the church. (No more work by Scotty 1980). December 1. 1977 our new "used" lawn tractor $1500.00 thru "Dude" Huesgen. Also in this year, the David Overschmidt family donated the two inside front doors of the church. Marge Eckelkamp nee Overschmidt had her brother-inlaw Justin from St. Louis install them.

    In the winter months of 1978, Orvill Boyher and his son paneled the halls and room of the convent to cover the falling plaster. They also lowered the ceilings in the former chapel-classroom and kitchen to control water leaks.

    The next big project in the fall of 1978 was the installation of the storm windows all around the convent and school buildings, by the same man, Mr Boyher of Robertsville. This man (son of Orville) moved shortly after to Ft. Leonard Wood area. This was a poor job; disappointing after doing a good job on the paneling.

    In the spring of 1979 was very cold. We could not trust the furnaces. Fr. Ruff got estimates from Union Electric and bidders to see how much cheaper electric heat could be than the old oil furnace that Scotty of St. Clair installed and would stall around with the repairs; always trouble. When work got around about this change, an anonymous donator made sure that it would be done correctly and included the air conditioner. The air conditioners in the rectory were bad and costing a lot of money, i.e. the window units. About this same time, Fr. Ruff got a wood stove for $300.00, to implement the furnace. All fuel and utilities were rising dramatically. Mr. Wil Haley and SEverin Appril kept Fr. Ruff supplied with wood.

    In the spring of 1980, the hall was painted inside and out, and in the fall the floor was sanded and coated. In September 1980, Mr. Bill H. Johnson, whose health failed was replace by Mr. Jerry Walker of Gildehaus, (Don Unnerstall and John Schmitz's borther-in-law, Don & John being board members). The salary was raised to $225.00 per month.

     October 1,1980, Frueh Htg. of Union sent a good man, who corrected the mistakes of the past in church and also repaired the convent furnace. The front plate, which cannot be replaced, almost burned through. It was repaired with an asbestos plate.

     October 17, 1980, the first organization meeting was held for the regional High School (of Washington) at St. Clair - for both parishes. The professional fund-drive people asked our Chairman Mike Hannekena nd Len Vogelsang, what they would like to do with money for our parish, over the quota set by the archbishop. They replied, "If possible, our parish desires to open the grade school." The thought that $20,000.00 was three times too high of a goal for us. But once the people saw an opportunity the fund drive was in earnest. All were pleasantly surprised, even the pastor, when $52,700.00 was pledged. That meant theoretically, our parish would have $32,000.00 to use for opening our school.

     The Archdiocesan School Office was notified, Msgr. Leibrecht and his staff came immediately. He left the matter in Mr. Geo. Henry's hands, because Msgr. Wold soon retired from office. Feverish activity tried to get all the data possible of cost of repairs to buildings ($22,000.00). "Questionnaires" from the parishioners, actual numbers of student who would do maintenance, utilities; what kind and how many teachers.

    Sister Sixtina of the Srs. of St. Francis - St. George, Martyr, in Alton, Illinois offered to send to St. Mary's sisters as far back as 1978 to Fr. Ruff, if we could get the money and if the novices would continued to increase in that order. Mr. Mike Hanneken approached her in December 1980 about this. She sent a written proposal and Msgr. Leibrecht said that it would be necessary for Mother Sixtina and he to get together. By February 2, 1980 the third visit here with out the school board and Mr. Henry, Sister Sixtina and the School Office did not get together. Also, many facts had to be considered in relation to a possible budget; a necessary meeting at the school office.

     December 31, 1982 - The School failed to re-open, due to the exhaustive examination for money to finance it.  The school office was very cooperative, but it was agreed by all that even if the collections were doubled i.e. envelopes etc. and that if "money-fairs" e.g. picnics were doubled, we would still be $30,000.00 short in maintaining the school.  After there wasn't any success with opening our school, Father Ruff didn't give much encouragement.

    On Wednesday evening at the Toben's home, Ruth Eckelkamp Toben and Mrs. Carol (James) Eckelkamp took it upon themselves and decided to take a trip to Alton, where the convent was located.  They asked Mother Sixtina to consider a summer program.  She graciously agreed, and it has been in session for over twenty years, starting with 70 students.  This was a great exposure for the children to the nuns and continues at the present time with Racine Lindemann in charge.  She should be commended for a wonderful job. (Contributed)

    Fortunately, Sister Sixtina of the St. Francis Sisters of Alton, Illinois sent eight sisters to teach our first Vacation Bible School, which was June 7, 1982.  It lasted two weeks.  Sister Ruth was in charge and every one was happy.

     On August 1, 1982, due to the State regulations, our first picnic was held without bingo.

    The entrance wall to the Cemetery was built for $2,700.00 on September 30, 1982.  Later, on November 30th, the concrete road part was laid; cost $1,800.00.  This was aid for by Jerome Eagen by check as part of the will of Mrs. Frances Krewinghaus.  She seemed to be related to everyone here.  All (relatives or not) called her Aunt Frances, - a great lady.

    On October 20, 1982, Ken Riley, secretary of the Parish Board, and Fr. Ruff tried to trace the leaking in the church, school and convent.  Ken got Len Unnerstall to finish cutting down the steep slope of the cemetery by the road and also on that same Saturday, Len cut the groove swale to stop our leaks by the school and road.  He also put a swale in the parking lot of the church and filled in our old cistern of the church.

   Ken Riley and Father Ruff found that the downspouts of the school were choked by tree roots - another big operation - called "TE" excavators.  This led to other problems.  The toilets were connected to the downspouts.  Bids were sought to straighten this out.  Toilets would go to a septic tank for rectory, school and convent.  There was not one before.  Downspouts would be separate.  Two cisterns would be filled.  Dave Hoven of Pacific was chosen.  He did the work for a cost of $2,621,00 - a real bargain.  Ken Riley and Dave worked hard for two weeks.  The worst flood in the history of the white man interrupted them for two weeks.  The work was finished December 21, 1982.

    The flood began around December 1, 1982.  By December 4th (Saturday), 11:30 p.m., Eula Wamhoff, the housekeeper, was taken to safety by Herome Heiman and Don Hagedorn through three feet of water.  She ended up with found and one-half feet of water inside of her nine-year old house.  The bridge was swept away, one hundred yards down stream.  One man, Andrew Keaveny (fallen away Catholic) was drowned. Another widow, Jane Ward, who lived by the bridge, escaped but her house ruined. The parishioners were great in trying to salvage what they could for these ladies.  The dirt, odor and cold were horrible.  Many clubhouses washed away.  Two huge lakes formed.  One was over Highway 50 and I-44.  One could be seen from the rectory porch.  Another below the confluence of the Bourbeuse and Meramec Rivers, one could see from the cemetery.Fr. Jeff Knight

Fr. Robert Knight    On May 21, 1983 Robert Knight, the son of John and Ellen Knight, was ordained in St. Louis Cathedral.  This was the first priest from our parish.  He had his "First Mass" at Pacific, where his origins were, and the second Mass here at St. Mary's.  His brother, Jeffrey, was ordained in 1986.  He was the second priest son of our parish.

    The hard freeze of winter came just before Christmas and lasted through January of 1984.  The first week the school boiler broke.  Fortunately, no one was hurt.  Smoke came on our first Sunday School session of the year.  We were able to shut if off and dismiss the students.  However, the insurance company of the archdiocese up this day has not given us any recompense for the purchase of a new boiler.  Yet they promised to take care of it.

   On May 1, 1984 St. Joseph the Worker Feast Day, Clarence Vondera and sons Tim, Greg, Chris finished the two side altars of the church. It took seven years of waiting.  Until this time, a flimsy wood-panel covered the bathroom tile on the wall. parishioners hated that tile.  If there was ever one thing the people loved to see, it was the finished work of Clarence Vondera.

   August 12, 1984 was the first Sunday picnic.  Formerly these picnics were on a Saturday, but because workers were hard to get and attendance was poor, it was shifted to Sunday.  The profits for the year 1983 were actually $4,000.00. In 1984 the net profits were $14,000.00. The day was beautiful and everyone enjoyed himself.  There was no bickering, no fights, no drunkenness, or trouble with youngsters as was in the past.  

   On May 28, 1984 Archbishop J.L. May made his first visit to this parish. It was a  beautiful day.  He gave a sermon that the pastor thought was the best the archbishop ever gave.  Everyone enjoyed his visit.  Father Ruff reminded him several times that he would like to stay here till he died.  The archbishop only smiled and then commented how much he liked the renovations of the church, everything. But he could not find a place that we could install toilet facilities in or about the church.  It was one of those general recommendations of his, but to fulfill it, as he found out, was not always possible.

   In 1986 Father Ruff and Father Maytas exchanged jobs, with Ruff going to Old Monroe and Maytas coming to St. Mary's. Father Maytas served at St. Mary's until 1990 when Father Lawrence Schieber was appointed pastor.  Father Schieber had been ordained in 1949.  He had served two years at Mt. Carmel, in the Baden area of St. Louis, nine years at St. Stephens, fiver years at St. Pius in South St. Louis, nine years at St. Catharine's, ten years at St. Sebastian, fiver years at Scared Heart in Eureka and twelve years at St. Mary's, retiring in June 2002.  In addition, fifteen years were spent teaching DuBourg High School from 1951-1965.

End of Chapter Vl

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