Neighborhood memories: Connections to Smelterville and May Greene School

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The brown and white 1984 Nissan pickup cranked out favorites tunes from Aretha and the Supremes to entertain the 100 who gathered at the former May Greene School Saturday for the third Smelterville reunion. This year, May Greene staff and students were invited.

Smelterville, a neighborhood southeast of Southern Expressway in south Cape Girardeau, ceased to exist after the 1973 flood when federal funding to rebuild didn't materialize.

Children climbed up into the ice-packed tub in the truck bed to grab sodas and batted softballs on a field that brought back memories of playday to two of May Greene's former teachers. Carol Reimann, who taught first grade from 1969 to 1986, said, "We sometimes had more parents than children at playday. Playday was a big event."

Roger Williams, a former May Greene physical education teacher, said, "We talked to kids about good sportsmanship a lot. We had really good athletes. That was their outlet, they were competitive and they excelled at sports."

With most of the students at May Greene residing in Smelterville, there were bittersweet memories. "There were times when kids couldn't come to school because the roads were flooded. It made teaching difficult," Reimann said.

Cathleen Maglone Overbeck remembered going to bed one night and waking up to a knock at the door. Two rowboats waited outside to take her family to find safety from the flood.

Clete Winchester also recalled the floods. "If you didn't get your stuff out right away, you lost everything. You'd load up your stuff and it would be ankle deep. By the time you came back for a second run the water would be waist high and you couldn't get nothing. The Red Cross would give us tents to live in for sometimes five or six weeks," he said. "It only got worse [when] they started building parking lots and there was no place for the water to seep in."

The school was open for tours and some chose to take that step back in time. Jo Ann Kitchen Blattel attended May Greene School from 1952 to 1958 and had not been there since. "It's all changed. This hallway used to be a lot longer. Coming back gives you a warm feeling," she said.

Charles Clippard, for whom Clippard Elementary School is named, taught sixth grade fresh out of college at May Greene School in 1956. He had fond memories of veteran teachers who showed him the ropes when he was a new teacher.

Blattel, who grew up in Smelterville, said the houses started out nice but when flooding ruined them the poor people had to go back because it was all they had. "We didn't realize we were poor because we had a lot of love," she said.

People had it hard but they helped each other, she said. There were two grocery stores that allowed customers to run a tab.. When people got sick food was brought in to the family. People trusted each other. Blattel said, "We were taught respect, and we abided by it."

Overbeck backs that up with her recollection of childhood. She said, "Everybody raised everybody else's kids. We didn't have phones, but your mom didn't worry when you weren't home. You were at the neighbor's house. And if you'd done something wrong, the neighbors would spank you right there."

335-6611, extension 133

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: