SIKESTON, Mo. -- Kirby's Sandwich Shop has become a Sikeston institution since opening in 1907. Kirbyburgers are fried with a pile of onions on top, and opinions swapped with the cooks and waitresses are as plentiful as the Coca-Cola memorabilia on the walls.
Proprietor Sharon Kirby has run the business since 1989 but lives 12 miles away in Matthews, Mo. A number of the people who stopped at Kirby's for a burger one day last week don't live in Sikeston, symbolic of the city's loss of population in the 2000 census.
The reasons for living elsewhere varied, but themes were common: the desire to put their children in a different school system, rundown neighborhoods and crime.
Kirby bemoans the city's drug problem. She hopes the governmental changes Sikeston is considering work out for the best but says, "I'm not so sure Sikeston can ever solve its problems. People aren't afraid of authority anymore."
Most everyone favored the proposal to institute a ward system of government in Sikeston. "I think it would be a good idea to have representation of all parts of town," said Jackie James, a 58-year-old auctioneer.
He says white people have been leaving Sikeston over the past 10 years to get into the Kelly school system in Benton, Mo., or the Jackson, Mo., school system.
He does not blame teachers for discipline problems in school or police for the crimes being committed by youths. "Ninety-nine percent is the parents' fault," he said.
Sees no improvement
Sikeston resident Kathy Roberts, 51, and her son 22-year-old son Raymond were having lunch together. She lives in Sikeston; he is a computer science major at Southeast. She doesn't see any improvement in the West End since the Sikeston City Council publicly pledged to clean it up a year ago.
"A lot of people down there are trying to clean it up themselves, but no one is taking that into consideration," she said. "A few blacks and whites start all the trouble, and then they label the whole bunch."
Raymond Roberts says wards would have a dramatic effect on the composition of the city council. "All of the council are from the same part of town."
Thirty-six-year-old bricklayer Reed Prino moved to Oran, Mo., 10 years ago. He lived on the east side of Sikeston. "I saw it going to pot like the West End," he said. "The property was going down, and the type of people moving in didn't care about their fellow neighbors."
Many middle-class people are moving away seeking the feeling of a close-knit community, he says.
"You're either rich in this town or poor," he says.
He thinks the ward system will benefit Sikeston. "There's a lot of resentment on the part of black people in town because all they see is 'whitey' in charge," he said. "This town has always been run by rich whites."
Virginia Parker moved to Sikeston from Dexter, Mo., six years ago because her son lives in Sikeston and her husband, now deceased, was ill. She says Dexter had many of the same problems with drugs and violence that Sikeston has seen. The Sikeston police respond quickly, she says, but adds, "It's almost an impossible job. ... We're living in a dangerous time."
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