By John Vezeau
February 23, 2006

John and Susie Vezeau moved to 6317 West Park Avenue in 1912. For half a century, they lived in this comfortable three-room home with a finished basement. When they were both incapacitated by strokes, they were forced to sell this focal point of their family’s life around 1961.

John Anthony Vezeau was born on November 6, 1884, in East St. Louis. His father had came from Montreal, Canada. John (or Johnny as he was often called) died on November 13, 1962, in St. Louis at age 78.

John’s wife was Susan Ware. When they were married on April 5, 1910, their names were recorded as John Bisso and Susie Ware. She was born on February 4, 1892, in Leslie, Missouri, and died in April 1973, in St. Louis at age 81.

At the time John and Susie were married, the family name was “Bisso” and remained the same for 20 more years. Sometime before 1910, the family name had been changed from the original French Canadian “Vezeau” to “Bisso,” more than likely to aid in pronouncing a regularly bungled name. In St. Louis and elsewhere, a few other Vezeau families also adopted this change. In 1933, however, John and Susie officially returned the family name to Vezeau.

They had two sons, Waldo and Dean, who grew up at 6317 West Park and went to St. James grade school. Waldo became a professor of mathematics at St. Joseph’s College, University of Detroit, and St. Louis University.

From Pat Vezeau:

"I would like to offer a modest correction to my cousin John's wonderful story about our grandfather's family. John Bisso had three sons: Waldo, Oliver (who died in infancy) and Dean. Dean (my father) actually completed St. Louis University as a part time student, graduating with a BA in finance in 1939. After this, he was drafted into the US Army, served in several branches before becoming a bombardier officer.

"Being the youngest of John Bisso's grandchildren, my memories of my grandfather are limited. I do remember that he had quite a sweet tooth and liked the most God-awful port wine and chocolate covered raisins! When my cousins (Waldo's kids....nine of them!) got together with our family, it was chaos! One of my favorite memories of my Uncle Wal was he coming over to visit and chat with my dad....they would get those pipes full of tobacco and light up...made the house smell wonderful. I don't smoke but to this day I find the smell of pipe tobacco comforting. My grandmother Susie lived at Mother of Good Counsel nursing home on Natural Bridge Road in what is now Normandy....three blocks from my house. This is also where my father lived his last several months and where my mother Helen now lives.

"Shortly before my dad's death, we brought my kids to see the "old neighborhood" with their grandpa....on my son Neil's birthday (October 24th, just like my dad.) The house on West Park is still there. It is wonderful to see this neighborhood flourishing."


Pat Vezeau

Waldo married Rosalie Wetteroff (who had lived next door briefly) on January 25, 1938, at St. James the Greater parish church. They moved to Philadelphia for a short time, then to Detroit, and in 1945 back to St. Louis. Their family lived in Dogtown at 6464 Lloyd Avenue. (See family history at this address on this site.)

After high school, Dean joined the Army Air Force during World War II and became a B-29 bombardier. When he returned from the war, he went to St. Louis University. Dean married Helen McCarthy, lived in the North St. Louis area, and raised four boys: Robert, James, Daniel, and Patrick.

John and Susie were members of St. James the Greater parish. Each May, their house was one of the first decorated houses that students and parishioners would see as they marched from the school grounds for the annual May Day Procession. John and Susie had active friendships throughout Dogtown. They and their neighbors supported the building of the new church and the new school. They went to the quilt socials, carnivals, fish fries, and performances at St. James and other places. They were delighted with the close-knit and caring community.

John Vezeau/Bisso had the benefit of only a few years of formal education. Despite this obstacle, he was an avid reader and quick learner. One of his great joys was to collect, categorize, and mount Indian arrowheads and spear points that he gathered from farms and riverbanks in Missouri and Illinois. Rev. P. J. O’Connor’s 1937 history of Dogtown recounted his expertise, “Mr. Vezeau is a collector of Indian relics, and he is conversant with the lives and habits of the tribes that once lived in the Mississippi Valley. His collection, gathered over a period of forty years, compares favorably with any in the Middle West.” He also had a fine collection of old guns, including a long rifle and a gun used in the Civil War.

“Johnny” was well known for his green thumb. The vegetable garden at the back of the house was always his pride and joy, as were the petunias in the front rock garden. During the Depression and long afterwards, the garden plot of carrots, lettuce, cabbage, onions, beans, squash, turnips, beets, rhubarb, and corn sustained the family.

During the late 1920s, he and his sons built two greenhouses behind their home. Beginning each January, he grew potted tomato plants and flowers, and he sold them throughout the area during the spring and summer. In addition to his winning personality and storytelling ability, his biggest advertisement was a Model-T flatbed truck, which was operable as late as 1945. During World War II, he again worked in local factories and afterwards became a modestly successful real estate agent for Dolan Realty.

Susie also helped in the war effort by working in several small factories in Maplewood, Missouri. After the war, she wanted to continue working. She was on the job in a shoe factory when she had a debilitating stroke at age 66. When John was also afflicted with a stroke, they were forced to sell their beloved family home, with more than a half century of memories – of joys and sadness, of setbacks and accomplishment.

Their home was two doors behind Kies Bakery, and it always provided a pleasant smell to offset the unpleasantness of early morning alarm clocks. At that early morning time, too, one could clearly hear the grunts and growls of the lions over at the St. Louis Zoo. Across the street lived Jules Jacot, the “lion tamer.” And two blocks east on West Park lived Bill Roost, the caretaker for the elephants at the zoo. This was a child’s – and an adult’s – perfect paradise.

John and Susie’s grandchildren – some now grandparents themselves – still visit Dogtown and stroll on by the West Park home to refresh their fond memories of the place.

February 2006

John Vezeau
6709 Greenlawn Road
Louisville, KY 40222
502/ 426-2681


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