Bob Corbett, interviewer
Bill and Leora moved to Dogtown in 1947, living at 6752 Wise. They were in the far reaches of St. James Parish, but have long since been very active in church affairs. Their large old home had been built in 1904, the first house on that block. This area had been called Nanny Goat Hill. Bill was for forty years an usher at St. James, and Leora quickly began a long association with many parish organizations. Both had memories of working with every pastor from Father O'Connor to Father Roche.
Shortly after they moved into Dogtown and St. James Parish it was time for the oldest five children, daughter Jo Anne, to begin school. The only way to get her to Sister Rita Mark's kindergarten was by foot. 6700 Wise is just 2 1/2 blocks from McCausland, and between there and St. James are some good-sized hills no matter how one goes. Leora walked the kids, no buggy or anything. She had a one and three year old and alternated carrying them block by block. At noon she had to return to school to bring Jo Anne home. The process was repeated.
St. James School was free. Well, Leora was quick to point out, sometimes free is not really free. There was no tuition. However, the bills had to be paid and there were constant campaigns from the parish for donated funds. Leora remembers almost always having a pledge to pay off she'd signed. Then there were the calls for volunteer work on this fund-raising project and then another. Paying tuition may well have been cheaper in the long-run!
Leora enjoyed Father O'Connor a great deal, but recognized he had the ability to make people quite angry upon occasion. One of his trait did not seem be lack of forthrightness. He called them as he saw them and not everyone appreciated it.
There are lots of stories about his cadging rides. Leora recalls a time when she had a car, and had it filled with her kids. P.J. (whoops, Leora ALWAYS referred to him as Father O'Connor. It's my own father's more informal way that influences me. I almost never knew him by any other name than P.J.) stopped her and said " A guarding angel has sent ye. Ye'll be taking me to Alexian Brothers' Hospital." She pleaded that she had no idea where it was. No problem, he'd guide her. He did. Left here, right there and so on. Soon he told her right at this street. She said she couldn't. It was a one-way street going to other way. No problem, he assured her, he knew the police in this area, and he did! (Another person recently told me a similar story in that P.J. stopped this Scullin Steel workman and wanted to go to a distant hospital. The worker pleaded that he was going to work and needed his pay. P.J. assured him he'd be paid, and sure enough, when he got to work 1/2 day late, P.J. had called the front office and all was taken care of, the worker was clocked is as on the clock.)
Leora knew Father O'Connor quite well and worked with him on many projects. He appreciated the fact that she was a lay person who knew her faith and church policy well and could articulate it. She said he often sat next to her at parish meetings, and if he felt the need he'd tug at her skirt and tell her to say something. She would, not being hesitant to speak out. When she'd sit down he'd lean over and say, "It's good for them to hear a lay person who knows what she's talking about!"
Leora is not one to hide her views, and once after Father O'Connor had proposed a plan to have parish volunteers visit homes to get parishioners to pledge to visit the church as specific time, she jumped up and ridiculed the idea. An assistant priest who was present quickly ended the meeting, and people expected that she was "finished." P.J. had the ability to make some folks mad and didn't like opposition. However, nothing like that happened, and she was there at the next meeting and life went on with P.J. never mentioning the moment of opposition.
She recalled another fun Father O'Connor story. He was used to getting his way and often conned folks a bit. One woman in the parish was pregnant and was going to have to have the child by cesarean section. She had no money, and visited near-by St. Mary's Hospital to see if they'd help. They refused and said she'd have to come up with the money, $200. She appealed to Father O'Connor who said, no worry he'd take care of it. He put on his best Irish brogue (which was quite natural and not affected for him) and set off on foot to see the head nun at St. Mary's. But he met a tough opponent who insisted on the $200. P.J., upset, said okay, he'd write a check himself, and he did. Then he was utterly astonished and furious to discover that they actually cashed his check!
After 34 years on Wise, and five children graduating from St. James School and both Bill and Leora being very active in parish affairs, they were in the market to move to a more manageable house, their children grown. Leora had worked for Meals On Wheels and knew from stories of the elderly she'd met, that for many getting to church was a major hassle in their senior years. She didn't want that and was trying to find something not to far from church. After finding only houses that really need lots of work, which is just what they wanted to avoid, Father Flynn suggested they buy the lot next door to church at the corner of Nashville and Wade and build. Father Lambert had purchased the lot a number of years prior, not wanting it to become another small shop that might cause the school children to risk the street in order to make purchases there. Now that was a less likely outcome, and the church was paying taxes on the lot. She and Bill decided it was a good idea and did so. Then they found plans at the public library and pick on that would do. Bill, who is an electrical engineer, oversaw the building work and now they have a simply lovely home right across the street from the church. They've been in it nearly 20 years.
However, the move to "main" street was not without its revelations. Out on Wise, far from the center of Dogtown, they had found a totally receptive and friendly atmosphere. Yet in the heart of Dogtown, the residents, and very active parishioners of 35 years, found that some of the old timers were hesitant to accept these "new comers" who had not themselves been born and raised in Dogtown.
They had discovered these distinctions of clique early on and somehow had the sense that the elite of Dogtown resided on Lloyd Ave. This is reminiscent of a much earlier time at the turn of the century, when the mansions on Victoria Ave. was an address to have.
Despite those rankles, Dogtown has certainly become THEIR neighborhood and they love it very much. They have seen it change a good deal. In the past it was much more like a small town separate from St. Louis. There was a spirit on continuity and harmony as children purchased housing and settled just as their parents had done before them. This very phenomenon which made it difficult for newcomers like the Emmerlichs to become accepted, was, in another aspect, one of the strengths of the neighborhood.
The seeds of this significant change they've seen really began at the very time they arrived. With the opening of new housing tracts, particularly the large area between Louisville and Kraft allowed a boom in new folks in Dogtown. This same building going on elsewhere in St. Louis attracted some of the younger folks of old Dogtown families to move away from the neighborhood. Dogtown began to take on a somewhat different aspect. However, with a twinkle in her eye, Leora told me that maybe the news ways were good in their way too.
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