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MAC OKs batting cages

Mineral Area College may soon have new batting cages on its Park Hills campus after the school's trustees unanimously approved bids submitted by Brockmiller and Cooley Construction for different portions of the project.

The vote was taken as the board met in regular session Thursday morning in the VanHerck Boardroom.

"We had a bid opening yesterday at 11 o'clock for the labor to construct the baseball building and the labor to finish the concrete to do our foundations and our floor, and so forth," said Barry Wilfong, MAC facilities director. We got two companies that bid on each of them. Brockmiller Construction was one and Cooley Construction was the other."

According to Wilfong, the Brockmiller construction bid was $37,500 and Cooley's was $47,320. For the finishing of the concrete, Cooley's bid was $29,900 and Brockmiller's, $42,000.

"The reason we bid it this way is so that we could get the best price on each one and we can do it in stages to get us there," he said. "So, we can do the concrete work first where we are purchasing the concrete and the base rock. Our estimation for that is roughly $17,000.

"We've gone down and gotten bids from the local plant down here - Patriot [Ready Mix] - and it came in very favorable for us. So that's why we're purchasing it - the rebar and so forth. What we'll be able to do coming in is get it under roof and have it ready to go. We're going to have to raise more funds for electrical and heat in order to finish it."

"I've worked with Park Hills on permitting and they understand that we're doing it in phases as we raise funds. They understand that we want to get it under roof because then it starts promoting that we've got it and we're moving in that direction."

The board accepted Brockmiller's construction bid of $37,500 and Cooley's concrete bid for $29,900.

The trustees also approved a $27,900 bid (per year) submitted by Boyer & Associates to provide the school auditing services for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. A second bid was received from KPM, CPAs that bid $29,5000 for fiscal year 2018 and $30,500 for fiscal year 2019.

In other action, the board approved a change to board policy regarding faculty sick leave, an increase of $5 per hour for tuition beginning in 2019 and added cross-country and track and field at the NJCAA Division 3 Level.

Next month's meeting of the trustees will take place at 2 p.m. April 12 in the VanHerck Boardroom.


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This jeweler owns a monster truck

Jeff Krekeler owns a jewelry store and a monster truck. While the store is an integral part of the Farmington jeweler's 80-year-old family business, the truck is without a doubt his new found passion.

Last week, Krekeler sat down in a downtown coffee bar to talk about how he came to own a monster truck named "High Roller," and how becoming a part of the monster truck family has impacted his life.

"Monster trucks were basically invented by a guy in St. Louis named Bob Chandler," Krekeler said. "He owned a construction company in the 1970s. Bob bought a 1974 Ford F250 - a three-quarter-ton, four-wheel drive truck. He and his neighbor, who was 10 years younger, named Jim Kramer, raced motorcycles and they were getting to the age where they weren't recovering as quickly from motorcycle accidents."

Off-roading was just becoming "a thing," so Chandler and Kramer both bought four-wheel drive trucks and started fixing them up.

"They used to bring them down to what is now known as St. Joe State Park," Krekeler said. "It's just the way it is today, but it wasn't regulated. People would go out there and drive their off-road vehicles. As Bigfoot monster truck was becoming a thing, they were largely testing it in Flat River/Park Hills, Bonne Terre on the chat dump or in Lesterville when you could still drive through the river.

"As a kid, those were places we went, so on a couple of occasions we saw that truck before it was a thing. That whole monster truck thing really exploded in 1981, 1982, 1983. I got my driver's license in 1982, so when Bigfoot was in its first movie in 1981, we were like, 'We know that truck.' I graduated from high school in 1984 and then moved to Columbia, went to college, got a job, grew up and forgot about monster trucks."

Flash forward 30 years later and Krekeler was having a class reunion meeting at 12 West with his fellow Farmington High School alumni.

"It was the tradition on homecoming, if you're having a reunion, to get drug through town on a hay wagon," he said. "The girls didn't want to do it. They were like, 'No.' We were trying to think of kind of a cool iconic vehicle that could pull us so that it would be fun. We started thinking about guys in my class who had a big jacked-up truck in the 80s. They had all sold them. We all grew up.

"So, we're sitting in the bar and on the news, Jim Kramer is in the original Bigfoot truck in downtown St. Louis crushing ice sculptures - which was a stupid thing. We were talking about it and I'm watching on TV and I'm like, 'Holy cow! These guys are still doing this! Maybe we could get them to bring that truck and pull us in the parade.' Everybody laughed, and I went home and looked at their website. I sent them an email and the next day they said, 'We do things like that.'"

According to Krekeler, it took several months to get the details worked out but in October 2014 Chandler and Kramer brought the original monster truck, Bigfoot 1, to Farmington.

"We had a display at the store and they pulled us in the homecoming parade - which was a lot of fun," he said. "There were two things that happened that day. One, they brought the truck down, which was super cool, and two, Jim Kramer came with it. He's such a cool guy. This was on Friday, and at the end of the day they packed the truck up, put it on the semi and took off.

"After they left, I told my wife, 'I know this is stupid, but I feel like I made a friend today.' She smiled and said, 'That man's been doing this for 40 years. He's earned a living making people feel appreciated.' I said, 'I know, I know, I know.' Saturday night we're at Twin Oaks for our reunion standing around a bonfire. I'm telling a Bigfoot/Jim Kramer story. I hear somebody call out, 'That guy sounds like a jerk!' I look over and it's Jim Kramer and his wife - who live north of Alton."

It was quickly apparent to Krekeler that Kramer had enjoyed the day in Farmington as much as he had.

"He told his wife how much fun he had down here," Krekeler said. "The weather was great, there was a huge crowd, the parade was fun, he had fun. It was kind of late in his career at that point. I don't think he had fun every day and he had fun. His wife said, 'He just keeps telling me how much fun he had and how much he had enjoyed meeting you.

Krekeler said Kramer's wife said she told her husband, "You know what? Let's just go crash their reunion."

"So, they came down and crashed our reunion and we had another fun evening with them," Krekeler said. "At the end of the night they drove home, and we went home. It was one of those things that was a really fun experience and to me that's where I thought it was going to end, but just in that one day I was suddenly associated with monster trucks in people's minds."

It was in the spring of 2015 that Krekeler arrived at work one morning to discover six people had each posted on his Facebook page about a Craigslist ad out of Oklahoma about a monster truck for sale.

"It was an old '79 monster truck," he said. "It was red and had been sitting in a field for 10 years rotting."

Here's a brief history of the truck and how it ended up being left out in an Oklahoma field to "die."

High Roller was built in 1985 by David Mattingly of Fordsville, Kentucky. The design was heavily influenced by Bigfoot 1, the original monster truck. Greg Coston purchased High Roller in 1986 when he traded a Boss 429 Mustang plus $6,000 cash for it. The truck was valued at $25,000 at that time. Coston and his friend Rodman Hobbs enjoyed the truck and performed many car crushes at Ford dealers, county fairs and jamborees.

Coston sold High Roller to Lewis Ford in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 1989 who modified it by adding 66-inch tires and removing the flares - at which time High Roller was then sold to a body shop in Oklahoma where it was rebodied and painted red. It was sold again to a tire shop in Oklahoma City where it was used for advertising.

"High Roller was eventually donated to a church youth group that renamed it "Higher Power" and left it sitting in a field for a decade," Krekeler said. "I really had no intention of owning a monster truck but it was cheap and it was sitting on a set of tires that I knew a monster truck guy in New York wanted.

"I bought the whole truck in 2015. He took the wheels and tires off and took them somewhere in Oklahoma to have them broken down. The guy in New York bought the tires and a guy in Ohio bought the wheels. By the time we brought the truck back to Missouri, I had less than $1,000 in the truck - which was basically free."

Now that Krekeler had bought the truck, he intended it to be no more than a cheap toy.

"My 10-year-old son and I were going to put it on tires - not monster tires but big tires - paint it blue and take it out to St. Joe, whatever. Just have fun with it. As fate would have it, a couple of weeks later we had the big hail storm. We got hit particularly hard on our side of town and the truck was sitting outside. What was left of the truck got pulverized. Suddenly I had a cheap truck that didn't run and had hail damage beyond redemption."

The truck sat outside for another month when Krekeler received a call from a man with what he described as "a Kentucky twang."

"He said, 'You don't know me, but I know that you know that you bought a piece of monster truck history,'" Krekeler recalled. "His name was Rodman Hobbs."

Finally convinced by Hobbs of the truck's historical significance, Krekeler decided to fully restore the truck in time for the 2016 Indy 4x4 Jamboree.

"In the time that I owned High Roller I got introduced to the monster truck family. People were coming out of the woodwork to offer to help. So, in the fall of 2015 to the spring of 2016, Alan Fenstermaker, who lives in Sparta, did a ton of work on it and people just kept pitching in. All of a sudden we had restored High Roller. The big unveiling was at a truck show in Indianapolis in September 2016.

"My brother-in-law and I threw it on a trailer and drove up there not knowing what to expect. The reaction was huge. It was incredible. People loved the truck. It had been at that same show in 1986, so 30 years later we took it back. We ended up displaying the truck with the International Monster Truck Hall of Fame, which to us was a real honor. We just met that many more monster truck people at the show."

Meanwhile, Krekeler had kept in contact with the Bigfoot team through the entire process.

"They invited me to bring the truck to their open house last spring," he said. "I got to drive High Roller on their field with Jim Kramer and Bigfoot 1 and crush cars together. It was super cool!"

Krekeler has found out that a monster truck not used is a monster truck that will begin to deteriorate.

"When you own a monster truck, you've got to find places to take it," he said. "You've got to find ways to use it. What we've discovered is, if you don't, the next thing you know it's been sitting in a field for 10 years. When you own a vintage monster truck, it's not like a modern monster jam truck. It doesn't fly in the air, it doesn't have all the safety equipment.

"We're really limited with what we can do with it. We can do parades with it, we can do car crushes, we can do exhibitions, we can do fairs and car shows. We've used it a couple of times, because it has the old-school light bar, for events waving the American flag during the National Anthem."

On April 21, High Roller and its team will be taking part in the Third Annual Light It Up Blue Autos 4 Autism event taking place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Bonne Terre Drag Strip, 7640 Black Berry Lane. In addition to High Roller, the event will feature a car, motorcycle and truck show, as well as a drag racing event to support Visions of Hope.

The entry fee is $10 per person and kids under the age of 12 are free. For more information, go to www.facebook.com/Visions of Hope. For more information about High Roller, go to www.facebook.com/HighRollerMonsterTruck.


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'Autos 4 Autism' returns in April

April is designated as Autism Awareness Month and one local organization helping those diagnosed on the spectrum has a slate of events planned for the month.

Jessica Harmon with Visions of Hope says the kick-off for the month will be a “Light It Up Blue” event for downtown Farmington during the first week, followed by a cruise-in car show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 7 on the parking lot of the St. Francois County Courthouse Annex on North Washington Street.

Harmon said she hopes all downtown businesses and establishments can participate in one way or another to deck the downtown in blue as a way to raise awareness.

The cruise-in is a lead-in event to the third annual “Light It Up Blue – Autos 4 Autism” scheduled from 10 a.m. 5 p.m. April 21 at the Bonne Terre Drag Strip, located at 7640 Black Berry Lane in Bonne Terre. In the event of rain, the event will take place on April 28.

Proceeds from the car, motorcycle and truck show plus drag racing event will support Visions of Hope, which is a vocational and social skills training programs for individuals with autism ages 15 and up to prepare them for employment opportunities in the community.

Training is provided through a real-world work experience of Dress 2 Impress, the organization’s upscale resale shop located at 117 E. Columbia St. in Farmington.

Social skills training is integrated into the daily activities at the store and through trips to local businesses, such as the post office and banks. The community is invited to support this cause by donating, shopping at the resale store, sponsoring an events or volunteering.

And for motor enthusiasts, there’s no better way than to participate in the “Autos 4 Autism” event.

The event features first-place trophies for each car show division, plus guaranteed $500 payouts for ET Class and Comp and $1,000 payout for Super Comp in the drag racing events.

The cost for admission is $10 per person. Children ages 12 and under are free.

New this year is a monster truck car crush with High Roller – owned by Jeff Krekeler – taking place at noon.

Also new this year is the opportunity to win a 2018 Dodge Charger Daytona Edition, courtesy of Auto Plaza Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Ram of Farmington.

Tickets are $100 each, or $300 for four tickets. At least 500 tickets must be sold for the car give away. If not, the giveaway will be a 50/50 drawing from the amount sold.

Plans are also underway to once again include a car/motorcycle/truck show. Categories include cars from 1979 and older; cars from 1980 and newer; trucks from 1979 and older; trucks from 1980 and newer; cruiser motorcycles; sport bike motorcycles and special interest.

The “Best of Show” award will be determined by the kids’ votes and is free.

In the drag racing portion of the day, double entry is allowed with first round buybacks (one-half price of racing class fee).

The cost of entry for motorcycles is a donation of $40, along with the Jr. Dragster class with a $40 donation entry fee. ET class is $60 donation with a guaranteed $500 payout – footbrake only, no transbrake or boxes allowed. Comp class is $60 donation with guaranteed $500 payout and is for 9.49 and faster, transbrake allowed but no boxes allowed.

Super Comp is an entry fee of a $70 with a guaranteed $1,000 payout. The Super Comp is 7.49 and faster and no restrictions.

Platinum sponsors include Auto Plaza Group, Cam Thomas Racing, H&A Auto Sales-Jim Gross, KREI/J98, B104/KFMO, Marler Towing, High Roller-Jeff Krekeler and Ozark Auto Sales/White Weddings. Platinum sponsorship opportunities are open until March 31.

For more information about the program, to purchase a ticket or for more information, visit Dress 2 Impress at 117 E. Columbia St. in Farmington, visit www.visionsofhoperesale.com or look for Visions of Hope on Facebook.


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Wheeler denied bond reduction

The rural Park Hills man charged with the November murder of his son-in-law was denied a bond reduction during a trial setting hearing Wednesday before Circuit Judge Wendy Wexler Horn.

Since being taken into custody following a domestic dispute resulting in the death of Christopher Goodman and the wounding of James Lowry, Clinton Wheeler has been held on a $1 million cash or surety bond.

Appearing before Judge Horn Wednesday, Wheeler’s attorney said the man suffers from ongoing health problems that require regular hospital treatment, which would be more easily attained if he were released on bond.

Also appearing in court were family members of the murder victim. Goodman’s mother addressed Judge Horn, requesting that Wheeler not be granted a reduction in bond.

After hearing from the defense and prosecution, Judge Horn denied the request for a reduction in bond.

Wheeler was arrested following a Nov. 11 altercation involving Wheeler, Goodman and Lowry who all lived in the same home, according to court documents.

After Wheeler and Goodman became involved in a physical confrontation, Lowry also became involved. Wheeler allegedly had a handgun in his back pocket in anticipation of the fight, which he retrieved and fired, wounding Lowry and Goodman.

Lowry was taken to Mercy Hospital Jefferson, while Goodman was pronounced dead at the scene by St. Francois County Coroner Jim Coplin.

Wheeler appeared for initial arraignment before Circuit Judge Sandra Martinez on Jan. 5, at which time he requested a change of judge, which was granted.

Wheeler faces charges of first-degree murder, armed criminal action and first-degree assault.