Late Cape mayor served at pivotal time

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The late Ivan Irvin served as Cape Girardeau's mayor for less than two years. But his term coincided with a pivotal point in national history, according to Southeast Missourian archives.

Irvin died Wednesday at his Cape Girardeau home after a long illness. His funeral is at 10 a.m. today at Ford and Sons Mount Auburn Funeral Home.

He came to Cape Girardeau to run a shoe store at Town Plaza in 1960, the year the shopping center opened, and later made a name for himself as a commercial realtor. He was elected city councilman in 1968 at the same time voters nixed a parks tax levy and public housing. At his first meeting the council discussed the possibility of taxing cigarettes to pay for city employees' raises.

He was elevated to interim mayor Dec. 26, 1968, the same day Led Zeppelin made its American debut -- and served until April 16, 1970, the day after Apollo 13 returned to Earth safely.

He replaced Mayor A. Robert Pierce Jr., who had been elected state representative. On Feb. 22, 1969, just weeks after the Paris peace talks opened between U.S. and Vietnam officials, Irvin wrote an essay published in the Missourian.

He praised the city's new comprehensive plan and emphasized the importance of open communications between government officials and the people.

Among his goals for 1969: making progress on replacing a fire station, improving city parks and finding the next city hall, as the offices in the Common Pleas Courthouse were being outgrown.

"If we do what is best for the majority or what is best for the community," he wrote, "we are still going to step on some toes. Not everybody will be happy."

Midway through his turn as mayor, he presided over an Oct. 16, 1969, three-hour city council meeting "completely lacking in parliamentary procedure," the archives note.

Even as the New York Mets earned the nickname "Miracle Mets" with a World Series upset over the Baltimore Orioles, "efforts of Mayor Ivan L. Irvin to retain decorum and move on with agenda were generally fruitless," the story noted. "Councilman Stephen E. Strom often interrupted ... sometimes disputing mayor's statements."

By the end of the evening, two key decisions were made: the Marquette Natatorium, the city's indoor swimming pool, would be open from Nov. 1 to April 30. The Cape Girardeau Stock Car Association's request to use Arena Park's track for the 1970 season was denied.

Howard C. Tooke replaced Irvin as mayor in April 1970; Ivan Irvin became mayor pro tem and still served in a leadership role.

On May 5, 1970, one day after four students were killed and nine wounded at Kent State University at the end of an anti-war rally, Irvin faced a sit-in by 16 southside residents. They were being evacuated from their homes to the Brase Arena as the Mississippi River rose. But they also had demands, which included "decent, low-cost housing" to appointing blacks to the local housing authority, according Missourian archives. Irvin met with the group, who said afterward they would continue the sit-in. Police escorted them out without incident.

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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