It's fun to watch Laura Raymer and her 18-year-old daughter Ann trying to tell a story together.
They start and finish each other's sentences, swap gentle insults and sometimes call each other out for not saying enough — or too much — about any given subject. It’s easy to see that there’s a close bond of love between the two, but it’s also quickly evident that this is going to be a different kind of Mother’s Day story.
Laura is originally from St. Louis, but her family moved to Farmington in 1981.
“My dad took a job at the Farmington Police Department, so we moved down here,” she said. “I think I was probably in seventh grade at that point and I’ve been here ever since. My college education is in theater. I have a degree in tech theater. It may not seem I use that very often, but I use it all the time — and not just the tech part. Being able to get up in front of people, working with different kinds of people and, you know, being a chameleon when you need to. It comes in quite handy.”
For those who don’t know, Raymer and Candy Zarcone work together at the Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce. Laura is the director of events and program marketing while Zarcone is director of member engagement and business development.
“I’ve been with the chamber off and on in one capacity or another since 1995,” Raymer said. “I worked here two times. Have been on the board, was president of the board at one point and volunteered a lot. This is my 23rd Country Days coming up. I definitely consider Farmington and the area as my home. Even though I’m from St. Louis, I’ve spent the majority of my life here. I’ve had opportunities to move other places and do other things and it’s just always been this community that has made me feel that this is where I needed to be.”
Those who’ve seen her “in the zone,” know that Laura is a powerhouse on stage with a quick and witty sense of humor.
“You have to have a good sense of humor whether you’re a mom or not,” she said. “Absolutely it helps to have a sense of humor. I try to laugh as often as possible and sometimes that’s how you get through some otherwise not so fun situations.”
While Raymer is clearly in love with life and enjoys what she’s doing with the chamber, there have been difficult and challenging times in her life — especially when it came to the birth of her daughter, Ann.
“Ann’s father and I got married in 1994,” she said. “We’re still great friends even though we’re not married anymore. You know, my pregnancy was fantastic! I never had any of those weird cravings — I mean, I love Chinese food anyway. I said, ‘Yay! More Chinese food!’”
Ann interjected, “She loved being pregnant. Not really any morning sickness pains, no sudden pains…”
While Laura’s pregnancy was about as perfect as could be, Ann’s birth turned out to be a different story.
“We ended up having to have an emergency C-section and several complications came from there,” Laura said. “One of those is that Ann is blind in her left eye.”
Ann said, “I got stuck for about 24 hours before the delivery and suffered a birth defect. Basically, the pressure on my left eye destroyed the structure of my retina. I’ve been without peripheral vision or depth perception ever since. I can’t see 3D movies or 3D in real life. I can’t do simple tasks that people take for granted — like being able to reach over and pick something up when it’s on the table or when I’m going down the stairs. I still have issues with that. It’s something I’ve had to deal with my whole life because this world isn’t made for people that don’t have two eyes.”
Still, Ann has never allowed her vision problems to affect her attitude or in setting goals for her life.
“Luckily, I barely came out of it alive and we’re here now and I’m not going to let it stop me,” she said.
Laura said, “Most folks don’t know about Ann’s blindness. She was the March of Dimes baby for St. Francois County in 2004.”
In light of that, Ann noted something special here FBLA chapter accomplished last year that had a very personal meaning for her.
“I actually got the honor as the president of FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) this past year to see our chapter raise $1,250 for the March of Dimes,” she said. “We were honored at state this past month for our donations.”
Laura interjected, “The second largest FBLA chapter in the state of Missouri.
Ann continued, “And Missouri is the second largest state chapter of FBLA behind Georgia.”
The family dynamic in the Raymer household went through a change two years ago when in the summer of 2017, a classmate of Ann’s was in need of lodging. What started out as a brief stay turned into the expansion of their family.
“Having a male in the house has been a big change for us but every day with Craig has been a blessed gift,” Laura said. “He’s smart, talented, funny and the best ‘bonus son’ I could ever wish to share our lives with.
Ann agreed, explaining that she and Craig had been friends for a long time and that has continued to be the case since he began staying at the Raymer home.
“He’s a great brother,” she said. “I love him, and he loves me.”
This really isn’t a typical, run-of-the-mill Mother’s Day story, is it?
Moving on, Ann was asked how growing up with a mom like Laura had affected her life.
“I have definitely learned to be more fiercely independent,” she said. “I’ve learned the importance of women, not just in business, but in situations where they are on their own. Where they are a single mother facing the world. When they are the organizer of the crazy downtown event filled with weird people.
“Part of the things that I’ve talked about not only in college interviews but for scholarship interviews, as well, has been how the strong women in my life — including my aunt and my grandmother — have shaped part of the way I look at the world, which is not a lot of looking but is some.
“I really think that because we kind of feed off of each other a lot of the time that we’re able to accomplish some different things and work together in different ways that I know not a lot of parents and children get to do.”
Laura said, “Because we have this goofy relationship where we’ll bounce 100 things back and forth at each other — some of my friends say, ‘I can’t believe you let her talk to you this way!’ — but that’s just us. It was just us for so very long and it was kind of the two of us against the world. We had great supporters too. Like I said, Ann’s dad and I are still great friends and he is always very supportive.
“We’ve gone on some tremendous adventures together. We did a 10-day driving trip. We’ve stayed in teepees. We’ve dug for diamonds in a 120-degree volcano field. We took on New Orleans — just the two of us — and walked and took in the cemeteries. We made sure to do it in the daylight!”
Laura also mentioned that as fans of the TV show, The Walking Dead, she and Ann traveled to Georgia to visit the location where it and portions of The Hunger Games were filmed.
“We do crazy stuff,” Laura said. “I’ll say, ‘It’s Friday, are you doing anything? OK, throw some stuff in a bag; and off we go. Some of the things that we’ve been able to do together has been mind-boggling.”
The pair has even appeared together on a billboard along north U.S. 67 advertising their mutual graduations from Mineral Area College. Note: A week before graduating from Farmington High School on May 19, Ann will receive her associate’s degree from Mineral Area College.
Ann said, “Originally, being on the billboard wasn’t that big of a thing. We’ve been on the cover of various newspapers. We’ve talked to Mark Toti. We’ve been on TV in St. Louis. I kind of feel bad for other kids that are my age that don’t understand how to handle themselves with the media and just kind of sit down and have interviews like this. She has kind of raised me to do things like this.”
Turning the tables on the pair, Laura was asked how her daughter has affected her life. She said, “Ann has taught me patience — I’m not saying that it’s good — but it’s better than it used to be. She has taught me to be able to laugh at myself more often and not take myself so seriously. She’s taught me that it’s OK to let the dishes sit in the sink when going out.”
Ann interjected, “That’s still a problem for her.”
Continuing her thought, Laura said, “She’s taught me how to be able to expand my heart bigger than I ever thought I could and to feel pride more than you ever thought you could. I’ve always been very much a people person — pretty open to folks — but until you have that connection… I know that a lot of mothers and daughters don’t have a relationship like ours. We’re best friends. There’s not much that we don’t tell each other.
"She’s always the first person I tell when something good happens. She’s also the person I text when I’m having a bad day. That’s not necessarily something I have with other people. There’s also Ann’s resilience. State FBLA was a perfect example. Ann took off on this big trip that she had won as a scholarship and they were very, very busy. In the meantime, she’s still making time to prep for her performances that she had at state FBLA. It takes a lot of work to get that stuff done. Then, that morning, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.”
Ann said, “They lost my plane. We flew into a blizzard. The plane almost went down. So, I’m sitting on the plane not knowing if we’re going to reach the ground and wondering if I’m going to be able to reach my mom. I’ve been on a lot of plane flights, but this was one of the most awful I’ve had.”
Laura said, “The last time I had talked to her was before her phone went dead. She said, ‘We’re still on the tarmac. We can’t see.’ She was really scared and that was the last time I talked to her. Her plane was supposed to land in Springfield. The message board there said her plane had landed, was reboarded and on its way to Denver. I was like, ‘No, it hasn’t!’ They couldn’t tell me where she was.”
Ann’s plane had been grounded for three or four hours before the pilot was given clearance to depart — the last plane allowed to do so for the next 24 to 48 hours.
“The turbulence hit, and it was very, very scary,” she said. “Anybody in their right mind would have been terrified. I had all of my friends to look out for. I had an event I was supposed to be presenting at that I was late for. I got straight off the plane and we drove illegally fast, to be honest, to get through Springfield to get to the convention center. I changed in the back of the car. I ran in my heels from the car into the performance room and gave my speech right there.”
Despite it all Ann received a perfect score from all three judges.
“To be able to pull it all together and give the performance that she did — gosh, that is mind-boggling — but then I think, ‘That’s my girl!!'"