Party draws thousands

Sunday, October 2, 2005
Redmond O'Colonies, American champion crier, set the stage for the Southeast Missourian centennial celebration Saturday as newspaper employees dressed in period costumes stood outside the refurbished building at 301 Broadway. (FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@

The Southeast Missourian celebrated its centennial Saturday, holding a downtown block party outside the bunting-draped historic building that has housed the daily newspaper for the past 80 years.

Area bands on three stages entertained the crowd. Children played games on the Common Pleas Courthouse lawn. Antique cars parked in front and along side the Missourian building recalled the early decades of the 20th century.

Some 40 Missourian employees and others dressed in period costumes added to the old-time feeling.

A few blocks away, the newspaper opened up its printing plant on William Street to public tours.

The downtown celebration drew 6,000 to 7,000 people over the course of the day, estimated Tim Arbeiter, executive director of Old Town Cape.

Missourian publisher Jon Rust and his brother, Rex Rust, who is co-president of the firm, showed up in top hats and coattails for the daylong celebration.

"We love this town. We love this region. We love this place," Jon Rust told the crowd of newspaper employees, dignitaries and residents as he kicked off the celebration from the courthouse gazebo across the street from the Missourian building.

"There is never a bad day for a party," Rex Rust said.

Even the mayors of Cape Girardeau and Jackson showed up in top hats and period attire to mark the occasion.

Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson said the city and the newspaper have had a strong relationship over the years.

Jackson Mayor Paul Sander said the cities of Jackson and Cape Girardeau have become "great friends."

But a century ago, the two cities were rivals. "A hundred years ago, I'm not so sure the mayor of Jackson would have been standing on this stage," Sander said.

Even with all the fun, food and games at the birthday bash, the real attraction was clear: the restored, Spanish-style Missourian building with its tiled roof and glazed tile decorations.

The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places this summer, an accomplishment that helped the Rusts secure tax credits for the restoration work.

"It is a remarkable building," Jon Rust said.

Jackson resident Kermit Gerhardt agreed.

His grandfather, the late J.W. Gerhardt, constructed the Missourian building, which was dedicated in 1925.

J.W. Gerhardt built numerous homes and businesses in the region, but he liked none better than one at 301 Broadway.

"It was his favorite," said Kermit Gerhardt, who showed up for the start of the centennial celebration. "He really loved the Spanish design."

For some at the block party, it was a chance to recount their experiences as newspaper carriers.

R. Finley Maddox, 76, first started delivering papers in Oran, Mo., in the late 1930s. "I helped my cousin," he said.

He delivered papers on a girl's bike because he could not reach the peddles on a boy's bike, he said.

In 1940, he got his own newspaper route.

From 1940 to 1945, he rode around Oran delivering newspapers. He handled up to nine different newspapers.

He delivered the Southeast Missourian, three St. Louis newspapers, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Sikeston Standard, the Chaffee Signal, the Scott County Democrat and the Oran News. Some were morning newspapers, others afternoon, so he threw papers before school and after school.

Maddox said his customers wanted their newspapers thrown onto the front porches. "You had to have a good arm," he said.

Old Town Cape's Arbeiter, sporting a straw hat and red-and-white striped coat, smiled as he watched the festive crowd.

For Arbeiter, the centennial was more than a celebration of the newspaper's heritage. It showed off a revitalized downtown, said Arbeiter, whose organization has spearheaded redevelopment efforts.

"Cape Girardeau's downtown is alive and well," Arbeiter said.

Standing in front of the Missourian building, he eyed its decorative architecture, now restored to its former grandeur.

"What a community jewel," he said.

335-6611, extension 123

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