How a city with continually revolving doors has become a permanent locale for three area women
Columbia. To some, it’s a town that holds four wonderful years of collegiate memories. For others, it’s a pit stop between Kansas City and St. Louis. But to these three women, Columbia is home. It’s a town that represents family history, economic growth and prospering people rooted in the town’s rich education system. It’s the place they returned to after years in other cities, where they raised their families and, most importantly, exactly where they plan to stay.
It’s an obvious fact that Columbia has grown exponentially since the time Meta George, Sabra Meyer and Helen Crawford each experienced the town for the first time. The population has jumped from just over 14,000 people in the 1930s to more than 115,000 current residents. And if you can believe it, the home or coffee shop you’re currently reading this magazine in probably wasn’t even part of the town back when these women’s memories were made. Continue reading to see how the city we call home has changed through the eyes of three lifelong residents.
Age: 79 Years in Columbia: 58
CH: What brought you to Columbia in the first place?
M: My husband, Mel, and I moved to Columbia in 1960 because he was offered a position in the math department at the University of Missouri. During our first 10 years in Columbia, our two daughters were born at what used to be called Boone County Hospital. In 1970, we moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. We were there for five years but returned to Columbia when Mel became vice president of academic affairs for all four campuses of the UM System. We were here again until 1985. In that time, our daughters both graduated from Hickman High School. In 1985, we moved to Minnesota, but in 1996 we returned to Columbia with no intention of ever leaving again.
CH: What made you want to retire in Columbia?
M: A couple reasons. First of all, we had many longtime friends here. We also like the climate because you get to enjoy all four seasons. The springs and the falls in Columbia are particularly beautiful. Plus, we kept our house that we currently live in while we were away in different cities, so we had a home to come back to.
CH: What are some of the major changes that you’ve seen throughout the city?
M: The obvious one is growth. When we moved here, I think the population was around 40,000, and I remember cows grazing at what is now the corner of Broadway and Fairview. That was really out in the country! We were very excited that soon after we moved here there was actually going to be a shopping center. Previously, everything was downtown. This new shopping center is the little Broadway shopping center. You know, the one with Upscale Resale and Gerbes grocery store? That was the first shopping center in Columbia! We were so excited. There was a TGNY, and the drugstore from downtown now had a second location there. And if I can remember correctly, I believe there was a movie theater there, too.
CH: Where are some of the places you used to go as a family that are still present today?
M: We used to have picnics at Cosmo Park. The park has changed a lot, but it’s still here. We enjoyed going there a lot. One great memory I have is the city’s Fourth of July celebration, which used to be held out there at the park. That’s where the fireworks were. They had cake and ice cream for everyone who came. That’s really small town!
CH: How has the growth of the university affected your life in Columbia?
M: Because Mel was employed by the university, a lot of our life revolved around it. We would take the girls to events at the universities: concerts, lectures, that sort of thing. But I think that’s something we would have done regardless. It adds a richness and dimension to your life that you can appreciate.
It goes without saying: The university helps to make Columbia what it is. You can’t beat a college town.
CH: If you had to pick one reason why you love being in Columbia so much, what would it be?
M: The people. Everybody: the students, the residents. They all make Columbia what it is.
CH: When you weren’t living in Columbia, what did you miss most?
M: I think one of the things we appreciated the most is the Columbia Public Schools system. Both of our girls had excellent educations. They started out at Grant Elementary School, and when we moved back, one daughter was at West Junior, and our younger daughter did her sixth grade and up at Russell Boulevard. They both said when they went away to college that they had been so well prepared by the schools here in Columbia.
CH: What’s something from the old Columbia that you’ve held onto even after it changed?
M: It took me quite a long time to stop referring to Stadium Boulevard as “the outer loop.” If I said to someone today “the outer loop,” they wouldn’t have the faintest idea what I was talking about!
CH: Is there anything truly symbolic of the growth of Columbia that you would like to share
M: Another positive is the growth of organizations and agencies offering social services to the community: things such as Meals on Wheels, Lutheran Family Services and Voluntary Action Center. Those things, as I remember, were not around when we first moved here. They add a lot to the community.
Age: 87 Years in Columbia: 75
CH: What brought you to Columbia?
S: I was born here, and actually my family has been in Columbia, or the surrounding areas, for six generations. The ones who didn’t live in town lived in Deer Park, which was my great-great-grandfather’s farm.
CH: Did you also go to school here?
S: Yes, I got my undergrad at MU, and I waited until the mid-’70s to go back to graduate school. Our youngest of four children was in high school by then, so I had a little more time. I majored in sculpture and got an M.A. and an M.F.A. I’ve been sculpting since then. I taught at Stephens College and retired from there in 1989. Since then, I have been able to devote most of my time to sculpting.
CH: Tell us more about your sculpting business.
S: I was commissioned to do a bust of Lamar Hunt for the Hall of Fame of Jefferson City, which is on the top floor of the Capitol building. They were so pleased with my work that they commissioned me to do the next honoree that year at Arrowhead Stadium to honor the Kansas City Chiefs players who were inducted into the Hall of Fame. I really have enjoyed that! I have done 10 of the busts for them since then. It’s really not a hobby as it is for some; it’s my career, even if it might have happened a little late in life.
CH: What are some of your claims to fame in mid-Missouri?
S: In Jefferson City, the Louis and Clark Monument is my work. Here in Columbia, I have a piece at Labyrinth Park, which was made possible by the Boone Hospital Foundation. The sculpture is a ring and hands called Infinity. I have also done the eagle sculpture in Rocheport along with a bust of Roger Wilson, which is in Courthouse Plaza. In addition, I have six sculptures on the MU campus. In Boonville, I designed and did the sculpture for the Veterans Memorial Park. I’ve also done some other busts that are up at Morgan Street Park in Boonville.
CH: How does that make you feel to be in a community where you see your art so frequently?
S: I like it! I think one of the reasons I like my art in bronze so much is because it’s permanent, so that’s an added bonus.
CH: You’ve been able to witness Columbia’s change and growth since you were a small child. What are some of the major changes you’ve noticed?
S: If you drive down Broadway and look at the buildings, they still have their original facades, and you can see the old names. I think it’s just most attractive. And then there’s the addition of all the wonderful new restaurants. But when I was growing up in the ’50s, there were a lot more women’s dress shops downtown, four or five at least. Times change, things evolve, and I guess because the university is much larger, the downtown has evolved according to the needs of those around it. For us of the older generation, shopping is sometimes a challenge.
CH: What are some fond memories you have of the old Columbia?
S:Growing up, we lived close to the campus, so my brother and I spent a lot of time on the White Campus. It was kind of our playground. We went in the zoology building and looked at all the stuffed animals. It seemed to me as a child to be much more integrated. The university was a big part of my childhood.
We used to ride our bicycles all over town. DNH Drugstore was the west side of town when I was growing up. The bottom of Hospital Hill was the east side of town, and Stadium Boulevard didn’t exist. It was all farmland.
I think often of the fall and the MU football games. In the late ’30s, we had something called the Knot Hole Gang. It was a triangular card that said “Knot Hole Gang,” and you tied it onto your shirt or jacket. Any child who had this pass got in free to the football game. We could go in on the south side of the east part of the stadium, and what fun that was!
We’ve been longtime Tiger fans. There were years we went in the rain, snow or sunshine to the football games. Our daughter and her husband now have our tickets. They’ve been in our family since the early ’50s.
CH: Have you embraced all of the changes Columbia has experienced?
S: There are many good things that have come from it all. I think the [True False] Film Festival they bring here is just wonderful. It is a great thing for Columbia, and it brings people here from everywhere. It’s becoming quite famous. Same with the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival. There’s something about living in a college town, especially with three schools — Collegetown, USA, I guess you could say!
Age: 85 Years in Columbia: 75
CH: Were you originally born here in Columbia?
H: Nope, I’m an Okie. I’m from Oklahoma originally. My parents moved up here after my dad got a job in the oil business, so I tagged along. But I would call Columbia my home. I went to school here, graduated from Hickman High School and attended MU, where I got my degree in physical education.
CH: How would you describe the changes in the city?
H: (Laughing) It has grown considerably from the time I moved here. When I retired, I knew I wanted to be in Columbia. I like the smaller community. In the past 15 years, it’s grown considerably, but because I’ve been around so much, I know all the back roads and can take the shortcuts.
There are some advantages to the growth. There are lots of theaters close by and great medical programs, but there are some things I don’t like because I’m more drawn to small towns. The biggest change I’ve seen around Columbia is the quantity of student housing. The students seem to think everything belongs to them.
CH: What are some of the places you have good memories of or places you frequented?
H: Oh, golly, well, of course I got involved out at the Columbia Country Club. I really started out as a tennis player before I got into golf. There was a store called Ladies Ready to Wear. Now, most of the stores cater to college students. Warren Walton used to own a store, and I would go there so much that when he had something come in that he thought I would like, he would call me up, and I would go up there and get it.
CH: What was your childhood like?
H: That’s where it’s [Columbia] changed the most, by the rec center on the university’s campus. We had a house on Virginia Avenue. I think the garage is there now. Then we moved over to Wilson Road behind the Phi Delt house, and I got an education in fraternities then.
The boy next door to me, George Alton, and I got together and had a pop stand. That was my first business. The local Coca-Cola company would bring us Cokes each day, we would ice them down, and then we would sell our Cokes for a dime or a nickel, whatever the price was at the time.
I was always close to the campus. My dad was a polo player and played for the University of Oklahoma when he was in college. When we moved here, he became a referee. I remember going out to Reactor Field, which used to be the polo field. The stables were up next to the field hill, and that’s where I learned to ride.
CH: What are some of the establishments or restaurants that are still around from your childhood?
H: It’s pretty much all changed. Ernie’s is still here, but it’s moved. Glenn’s is now back here, and I think that’s about it. Oh, Heidelberg and Booches are still here, too.
CH: Why Columbia?
H: I like being outdoors. I like living in a place where the seasons change, even if it rains six days in a row. Even as the community grows, it holds onto that small-town feel, and I appreciate that.