Alumni eye Cape's new features

Monday, November 1, 2004

About 20 Southeast Missouri State University alumni and local residents learned Sunday just how much Cape Girardeau has changed.

The Office of Extended and Continuing Education coordinated a tour that highlighted the most recent developments in downtown Cape Girardeau as part of the university's schedule of events for homecoming.

"There are so many new things in Cape Girardeau," said tour guide Dr. Frank Nickell. "It's almost a new Cape Girardeau."

The bus route included the new addition to Southeast Missouri Hospital, the new federal courthouse that is under construction, the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, the River Campus, the Red House, floodwall murals and Marquette Towers.

"It's quite exciting to think about the future of Southeast Missouri," said Southeast alumna Helen Gillispie of Kirkwood, Mo., who rode on the tour with her husband, sister and grandson. Born and raised in Southeast Missouri, the 82-year-old graduated from Southeast in 1944.

She remembers the opening of the old bridge in 1927 and performing with a friend at the Marquette Hotel for a civic organization in 1942.

The floodwall murals impressed her the most because it depicts Cape Girardeau's rich history, she said.

"I think it's important to record the history," Gillispie said.

Nickell not only told the stories behind each of the floodwall panels, he readily provided background trivia. For example, the brown steel in the federal courthouse is an aid in the design to withstand a terrorist attack similar to the one in Oklahoma City. The floodwall mural behind the Red House resembles what the Mississippi River must have looked like when Lewis and Clark visited the original Red House. The old bridge was one of the most guarded bridges during World War II, and each of the cables on the new bridge has its own 400-watt light bulb that individuals bought.

John Padavic, 43, of Memphis, Tenn., saw the Emerson Bridge for the first time during the tour. He said he was impressed with the River Campus and how the river walk was going to be developed and used recreationally.

"That's what was so terrific, to have the tour and find out about it," said Padavic, who is Gillispie's grandson. He graduated from Southeast in 1984.

When she first began teaching, Gillispie was skeptical of Cape Girardeau's potential, she said. She even scoffed when a motivational speaker at her school in St. Louis said he foresaw some city between St. Louis and Memphis becoming significant.

"But now I see that it's becoming a reality," she said.

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