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Memories and Memorials…

For whatever reason, items appear at random when we’re neither looking for them nor have reason to be thinking about them. But, as though someone rubbed the Magic Lantern…POOF! They appear and demand your full attention.

This seems to happen most often to me when I am trying to go through boxes and do some sorting and tossing of accumulated things that have managed to survive various moves and sales. Most times by sheer happenstance, they have made it to my current place of residence.

“Just put it there for now…” is the catchword when moving into a new home. At least it seems to be for me. Somehow, “now” expands into months and years before I am nudged to investigate what lies inside these receptacles of set asides.

Unsuspecting, I open a box, fully prepared to dump most of the contents into nearby bags: one for trash, one for donate to thrift shop. There is a third, much smaller box for items I might want to keep or pass on to other family members. I’m planning to really cut to the bone here…be brutal and thorough.

Well, that lasted until I opened another box inside the first and found journals written by my deceased uncle, Walter LePere when he was a young man and lived in Ballwin with the family. Three of them. And the bonus of a large quantity of correspondence between him, his siblings, parents and friends.

I was immediately transported back to 1909 and on through the following years of World War I. I was immersed, swamped and completely captivated. And, all thoughts of sorting and tossing vanished like mist on a sunny day.

Those journals themselves tell the everyday living of those early 1900s. Such hard work, but yet such simple, good and innocent lives when compared to today’s hustle, bustle and bluster.

There were passages from the journals that would bring amazement, such as the one where Walter, then about 17 or 18 and his mother went to Valley Park by horses and buggy, and while there bought him a nice black suit. Cost: $16.50! The suit, I’m certain, was of good quality material that would last for years, well cut and made. Probably run at least $450 or more today…and the material not near as fine.

Another time, Walter was a bit put out because his dad wouldn’t let him use the horse and buggy to take a young lady out one evening. His father said, he was “too young” to be courting a young lady without an escort. He was 19. Times have changed just a tad.

The LePere family lived on a farm in Ballwin. They raised seven children there: three boys, four girls, including my mom, who was the youngest. Walter was the second oldest and a very responsible, hard-working young man. He loved singing, visiting and attending socials with his friends at their homes and church. He was his dad’s right hand and his mom’s supporting arm.

Eventually, the family moved to Farmington in 1915, basically so the boys could, eventually, go to Carleton College, as one of the older sisters, Emma, went there and earned her teaching certificate. Walter was attending the Cumberland University in Cumberland, Tennessee, but the rest of the family moved, lock, stock and bovines to 609 W. Liberty Street, which became the long-standing family home.

The new place had a roomy, two story home, large orchard, good barn and a good bit of acreage to allow gardens, a cow or two, the horse, and some chickens. Life went on smoothly with everyone settling into place.

Then the shadow war in Europe spread and covered America as well. World War I began and all the young men in their bravery and beauty went marching off to “save the world.” Live changed dramatically as the LePere boys, Walter, Jack and Oscar, quickly joined the Marines and were sent to Quantico and, eventually to France. Somehow, Walter ended up in a different company from his brothers, and they only saw each other once more, by a fluke, in Paris.

The war, and life, wore on. Inevitably, many of those eager young men were killed and never returned home. Walter was one of those. In a newspaper account it stated, “On Dec. 2, 1918 the sad information reached Mr. and Mrs. Jacob LePere of Farmington that their son, Sergeant Walter Henry LePere had been killed in action, on Oct. 9 while engaged on the western front in France.” He was killed just 33 days prior to the end of the war on Nov. 11, 1918. He was 26 years old.

Even today, writing this, tears form for this wonderful man I never knew, but who holds a firm and special place in my heart just from the many stories and memories my mother and others have shared with me. And those precious journals he kept.

So much more I read that day as I took the journals and letters from their resting place. The stories, the common place happenings, the expectations and disappointments and, always the perseverance and commitment of a family. The loss of Walter was never overcome completely by his parents. One letter Jacob wrote to his two surviving sons while they were still in France shows his anguish in words that can be heard…filled with tears pouring from the letter.

It begins, “Oh, My Son!!…I have no words that can express the sense of loss Walter’s death has brought us. That this terrible War had never occurred! That he could come home with the two of you. …”

Walter is buried at the Meuse Argonne Cemetery in France. If you ever happen to visit there, he is in Area H, Row 3, Plot 1. Tell him his family sends their love.

Special Memorial Services March 22 and March 24 you are encouraged to attend for another fine young Farmington man who didn’t come home from a later war.

The family of Reginald Cleve’s widow, Karen Pingle, has made arrangements to have a memorial stone in his memory placed at the St. Francois County Courthouse Soldier’s Memorial on March 24 with a ceremony and 21 gun salute conducted by the local VFW, with the time to be determined. All of Reginald’s family and friends are encouraged to attend. Reginald’s widow is not in good health and will not be able to be present. The Pingel family has taken this project on as a memorial service that never happened and should have. The Cleve family is very grateful.

A 20-30 minute memorial ceremony service with a 21 gun salute will first be held for Reginald Cleve on March 22 at Jefferson Barracks. Those who plan to attend should meet by 1 p.m. at the Sylvan Springs Park on Sheridan road (the one leading into the JB Cemetery.) From there an escort will take the group to the specific cemetery area for the memorial service.

Reginald and Albert Cleve’s dad were cousins, and the two boys grew up being very close friends. Reginald was a year older than Albert and graduated from Farmington High School in 1965. After graduation, Reginald went to Missouri University’s Rolla School of Mines to become an engineer, but following two years of college, he enlisted and became a helicopter pilot. His helicopter was shot down while carrying supplies to troops and he was never found or returned. He was officially listed as an MIA for years. Reginald married Karen Pingel before going on active duty, which sometimes caused as confusion as Albert Cleve’s wife was also named Karen. Reginald’s has two brothers, Richard, who lives in southern Tennessee and Bernard, who lives in Frontenac, Mo. The brothers plan to be at the Jefferson Barracks Memorial service, along with other family members and friends.

Contact the VFW or Albert Cleve for more information.

Coming Up:

Friday….Annual St. Patrick’s Day Trivia Night to benefit the SEMO Family Violence Council at Stone Park.

Sunday….Starts Daylight Savings Time. Set Clocks forward one hour Saturday night.

Tuesday….Women’s Connection Brunch features speaker Joyce Worrell from Albany, Missouri who raised a baby tiger and other cats, and also shares how she came out of depression to live a life of hope. Meeting is from 9:15 to 11 a.m. at the First Baptist Church, 210 North A Street, Farmington. Reservations/cancellations are required for the $10 Brunch catered by COLJAC Artisan Cafe. Call Joan at 756-7226 or Lucy at 573-562-7492.

Saturday, March 17….Life Center Easter Egg Hunt for kids with disabilities to be held at Leadington VFW 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Friday, March 23….Annual Memorial United Methodist Church Salad Luncheon in Fellowship Hall. Tickets are $9 each and available only in advance from members of United Methodist Women. The luncheon is serving from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Saturday, March 24….Kiwanis Annual Pancake Breakfast and Easter Bunny visits at MUMC Fellowship Hall from 7 to 10 a.m. Tickets available from Kiwanis members.

Saturday, March 24….Legacy Fest Senior Expo from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Farmington High School. Benefits all participating Senior Centers.

Monday, March 26….Healing Hearts Grief Support Group at Serenity Hospice Care, 6 to 8 p.m. in Leadington.

April 1….Easter Sunday

Janet Douglas

Janet Douglas

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