Steelville has two Citizens of the Year for 2012: Robert “Bob” Bell and W.H. “Pete” Lea. The two were recognized at the Steelville Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting, which was held January 22 at Golden Echoes.
Bell was nominated by Jeanne Locklear, 2012 president of the Steelville Area Chamber of Commerce and founder and chief learning officer of Locklear & Associates. In her nomination letter, she wrote, “I find Bob’s visionary passion unique in today’s hectic world,” and held him up as a model citizen for the community.
She stated that Bell has been instrumental in Main Street revitalization efforts, in the acquisition to preserve and maintain Bird’s Nest Bridge, and in bringing many new businesses to Steelville. She noted his work as a volunteer charter board member of the Steelville Arts Council and the Steelville Historical Society, describing his vision for the future where he is crafting new and progressive idea for the betterment of the community as a whole. “His commitment to innovative improvement initiatives is constant, as is his intense enthusiasm for preserving our history,” she stated.
She included details about her business relationship with Bell, too. “Bob and I first met in May of 2011 while I was searching for a building to house my business,” she said. “After many conversations and his acquisition of the former Farm Bureau Insurance Building located at 112 W. Main Street, in Steelville, Locklear & Associates found a home. As we jointly immersed ourselves in a total gut rehab, I began to learn more about Bob and his true visionary passion for this community. As one of the owners of Steelville Manufacturing Co., Bob was involved in Locklear & Associates securing their first consulting contract in 2011, and this business relationship evolved into additional consulting agreements over the past year.”
Although Bell was not able to attend the chamber event, his sister Jean Thomasma shared some thoughts he had written in response to his award. In his writing, he described what he had seen for years as he walked through the town of Steelville, noting that much of it was trash, dirt, and emptiness. He realized that was what the youth of the community saw each day on their way to and from school and wondered how citizens could expect them to have a positive outlook on their future while surrounded with such negativity.
He wrote of the importance of the people in the community to be involved in making changes. “It takes a community that wants to be better,” he penned. “A town that wants to shine once again.” And he wrote of talking to his dad about the needs of the town just before he died. “As I was getting ready to leave, I said to him, ‘It’s too big a project. There will be too much resistance,’” he wrote. But he also remembered that his father told him, “Son, you have to.” Those were the last words he ever heard from his dad and he has worked with community members to make Steelville a place that the youth can be proud to call their hometown.
Karen Cottrell, an active community member in her own right, nominated Pete Lea for the honor of Citizen of the Year. In her nomination, she called him a “promoter extraordinaire” of the town of Steelville, describing him as instrumental in the growth of the community.
Lea is 86 years old and was born, lived and married on a farm east of town on the Huzzah Creek. Cottrell reported he had six brothers and sisters—all of whom stayed in Crawford County as well. He is married to Bonnie (Edgar) and the couple has three children and five grandchildren.
Lea served the United States in the armed forces during World War II, served one term as Crawford County Collector and 24 years as a postmaster for the United States Postal Service. He was the first employee of Peoples Bank in Steelville, working as vice president there. He helped establish the Meramec Inn and served as president on the Steelville Telephone Exchange board for 29 years, where he was instrumental in purchasing land for the STE subdivisions in the community. He served as president of the chamber of commerce and was excellent at growing membership. He is also an auctioneer, announcer, and realtor.
“Just two years ago, he was one of the first to pay his dues for the formation of the Steelville Arts Council,” Cottrell stated. “Although he is officially retired, he is still very much a part of this fine community.”
Lea was appreciative of the honor bestowed on him and spoke of his involvement in the community throughout his years living in the area. His children surprised him with their attendance at the chamber dinner where he received his award.
Also recognized at the annual meeting of the chamber was the Business of the Year: Wildwood Springs Lodge. Bell family members accepted the award at the event.
Part of the aura of Wildwood Springs Lodge is the history—history rooted in the people, hills and rivers around Steelville. The lodge was built in the early 1920s and was a large undertaking for the period. The contractor started construction on January 16, 1922 and the doors opened for business Memorial Day of the same year.
Today, Wildwood Springs Lodge is family owned and operated by Bob Bell and the Bell family. Although Wildwood had set idle for years, nestled in the Ozark hills like a beautiful sleeping giant, after reopening the lodge a few years ago, the magic of music was brought back to “The Wildwood.” Since then, legendary artists have graced the hotel, bringing in guests from around the world to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, outstanding family-style meals and the finest in entertainment.
Runners-up for the Business of the Year were Bass River Resort and Meramec Music Theatre.