Tell It Like It Was - Searching for Leeman
Adapted from the original email-letters from Paul Ovaitt - Original date February 12, 2022
Gentle readers, I was never a boy scout. I wanted to be one, but I was a middle child, number 4, in a family of 8 kids. The oldest daughter and son were enrolled in scouts, piano lessons and, if they wanted, little league sports. By the time 3, 4 and 5 came of age for extracurricular activities, the parents realized they had insufficient time, money and energy for transporting kids all over Jefferson City.
But they gave us something better. They told us to get jobs.
We started with pulling weeds, shoveling snow, picking corn, and you name it, but we soon graduated to something far more interesting. We were allowed to sell the News Tribune newspaper in uptown Jefferson City. In my preteen days there were several “routes” in the uptown area: the Capitol, the Supreme Court, certain blocks that took in obscure government offices, stores, taverns, bus stations, the MoPac train depot, factories, apartments… As a newbie I had to start as a substitute salesboy, but that proved to be a good thing because…I learned everybody’s route as I was demonstrating that I was reliable and had enough brains to learn the ins and outs of every building. And after you had finished your daily trek, the paperboys settled on a street corner to sing out: paper, paper, News Tribune, 10¢ sir, ma’am… We were part of the daily soundtrack of the city.
Eventually I was given a brand-new territory, St. Mary’s Hospital, and I was told to find my own steady customers between the hospital and uptown. In other words, start a whole new route that could be handed down to another kid someday. Thinking back, I should have sold my route to my successor. I might have gained a whole $5 and a pack of Black Jack Gum.
Now, understand that this, and the other uptown routes, were not mere subscription delivery jobs. No, we had to be in people’s faces every day and get them to shell out 10¢ and a tip, even if they didn’t want a newspaper. And it was doable. Moreover, the hospital was a particularly interesting venue. I saw a child with his intestines laying on his belly. I wandered into the maternity ward and got an eyeful. I held my breath when I entered the ferociously awful-smelling room of burn victims. I joked with the jokers, and I commiserated with some truly miserable folks. I was treated with enormous trust by nearly every patient as they directed me to open a drawer, find their coin purse and take whatever they said I should take.
When I finished each day at the hospital, the news company wanted me to walk an eighth mile out of the way to the J.B. Bruns shoe factory (where my grandparents, on mom’s side, first met) and stand outside while the exhausted shift workers stumbled out; no sales. I don’t know if the word demographic existed in the 1960s, but clearly, those folks weren’t mine. I cut my losses and ran. But had these same frugal workers been lying in a hospital bed, they’d have welcomed my cherubic face bearing news from the outside world. (And speaking of cherubs, my brothers and I were ridiculously cute, and we often used it to advantage. It was only disadvantageous when we were hawking papers in taverns. Inevitably drunk women would put their arms around us and tell us to kiss Mimi, or Dolly or Boo Boo. We did not like that.)
So, after I left the hospital every day, I embarked on a daily route of my own making. I trudged through rain, snow, and sticky hot asphalt parking lots. I harassed car salesmen, grocery clerks, shoppers, drunks in taverns, some residents in old neighborhoods and apartments, firemen, cops, cars at intersections…the whole world that I knew.
In retrospect, I can’t believe our parents turned us loose on the capital city. (I mean…for fear of an accident, my mother wouldn’t even let us take our shared bicycles beyond our, and next-door grandma’s, driveways.) Meanwhile, uptown, my brothers and I encountered sleazy politicians, dedicated politicians, lawyers, sleazy lawyers, fastidious store managers, serious alcoholics, bullies, saints, sinners, prostitutes, kind citizens, perverts…again, the whole world. I could shout out hello to Governor Blair in the halls of the capitol. (I must have been substituting at age 11 if Blair was the current governor. And yes, security was lax in those days.)
My younger brother, Dan, would walk right into the office of then Attorney General John Danforth every day. Sometimes meetings with lawyers and politicians were taking place, and Danforth would put his long legs up on the desk in order to dig in his pocket for a coin. He would continue talking to the people in the room as he paid my brother. One time he stopped long enough to ask my brother what he thought about the death penalty. Eventually, it became common for Danforth’s consultants to ask for my brother’s view on a variety of topics. How curious. Another brother used to flip a quarter with a certain legislator to see if he’d get a quarter… or nothing…for the newspaper.
Oh yeah, I was going to talk about boy scouts. But since I know so little about them, I’d rather tell you a story about a taking a walk in the time of Covid.
In early spring of 2021, Dave Klaas and I took a walk close to home. For Dave, it was very close to home on Lower Street. Were it not for the invasive euonymus, otherwise known as winter creeper, we could easily have walked east through his back yard and down into the ravine which heads toward the Katy Trail. But with the euonymus smothering the hillside, a person can hardly see where they are placing their feet. And the landscape becomes boring in an ugly way as the winter creeper displaces all native herbaceous growth. So, we chose to walk through town and then east on the Katy Trail until we came to the spot Dave wanted me to see. Thus began another trespassing adventure.
Dave, Paula and Sarah Klaas moved to their new home on Lower Street, in Augusta, in the early to mid-1980s, and soon thereafter, Dave walked into the woods behind his house (before the days of winter creeper), and found the architectural ruins of…well, something. Dave asked me to look at what he had seen so many years before, so I could venture a guess as to what function it had served. Friends, there wasn’t much to see anymore, but Dave persevered, studied the lay of the land, poked the ground with his ever-present walking stick, yanked at the vines, and finally exposed some of a stone foundation. And in the “creek” itself, he showed me the remnants of a stone dam. He told me that when he first saw the scene, he thought he was looking at some sort of wine garden with a pergola and the remains of a pond.
With so little left to see I didn’t even bother to take a picture on my phone. But we probably spoke about it a few more times. I say this because, when we next saw Paul Kemner, at the 2021 Memorial Day service at the town cemetery, we pounced on him with a barrage of questions. And Paul had some answers.
He told us we had been at the location of an old boy scouts camp. And yes, there had been a pond there, but someone had drowned in it. He seemed to think that the pond was consequently drained. Of course, there were other folks at the ceremony that day who wished an audience with the venerable Paul and Bernice, hence we moved on with no further queries. It was a tantalizing bit of info, but hardly a complete story.
A couple months later, as I interviewed Donna Shortt Meinershagen, she revealed that as a child she played in those woods. She was living on Lower Street with Pop and Gran, and the nearby hillside was always calling. I, of course, asked if she was aware of a boy scout camp and a pond down there. She said not really because she had been heavily warned to stay away from that pond because someone had drowned there. That was enough to creep her out and she avoided the spot. Hmmmm.
About that same time, I was reading through some old issues of Anita’s Neighborhood Notes and came upon an interesting photo and blurb. I am attaching an iPhone photo I took of that old issue. The photo, according to the late Erna Haferkamp, depicts a Boy Scout cabin from the early 1900s. According to Anita, the cabin was located east of Schindler Road on property that was then currently owned by the Hennessey brothers. But it was the last sentence that got me worked up. Anita said, “A later Boy Scout cabin was located on a different Haferkamp property closer to Augusta, that is, east of Dale Heining’s property in a ravine extending from around the Harmonie-Verein/American Legion Hall down to the railroad tracks.” That’s all I needed to convince me to write a story about the mystery ruins that Dave had “discovered.”
So, I started the process by asking Dave to return to the site in the late fall of 2021, after the nasty ticks were gone. (I know it’s nothing to brag about, but I tallied 34 tick bites in 2021.) Again, we couldn’t find the foundation immediately, but through sheer determination, Dave managed to uncover it again. I lent a hand and yanked off muchos euonymus vines. I took a photo. Then Dave saw a couple standing cedar poles that were part of what he called a pergola. I took another photo. It was easy enough to find some of the old stone dam. Again, a photo.
I thought this was a story that was going to write itself. But after weeks of burning through my contacts I recognized I was never going to reach any satisfying conclusions. As I’ve said before, I think it takes a village to write a history. I’ll show you what I’ve got, and then it’s up to you, gentle readers, to finish it. Let’s start with an abundance of phone interviews. And remember: (((anything in parentheses is my wording.)))
Dave Klaas: You could clearly see a foundation and I definitely remember what appeared to be the remains of a pergola. And there was a brick arch coming out of the ground about 6 inches or so, which I assumed was a cellar. We saw it for a number of years, and I think if I went down there now and really dug around…(chuckle) I could probably find it again. It was near that pergola. I assumed it was an old wine cellar.
P: Was the stone dam more visible then too? And did the terrain show evidence of a pond?
DK: Oh yeah, the dam was mostly still there. But it was starting to break down. And you could tell more where there used to be a lake or pond.
Sarah Klaas, Dave’s daughter: We used to walk down there when I was a kid, and the woods looked totally different; there wasn’t all that euonymus vine growing on everything. The last time I was there…probably in high school…you couldn’t see anything there anymore. But when you could see…I remember there was a car, maybe 2 cars…you could tell where the creek had been dammed. I remember finding a hole in the ground and it had a brick arch…maybe a cellar. And right before you got to that area, if you were coming from Dad’s, there was a pretty, meadowy area in the woods where the trees let in a lot of sunlight.
P: Where do you live and work, Sarah?
SK: I work for the U.S. Geological Survey in Rolla. Our team reviews Lidar data for the nation. Lidar is an acronym meaning light detection and ranging, similar to radar but with lasers.
Paul Kemner (in a later conversation): It was down in that hollow there right behind the town. I don’t know who built that building but it was a single room construction, I believe. And I understood the early boy scouts used it as their gathering place. I was never in on any of that, but it would have been Haferkamp’s.
PO: Do you know who drowned in the pond?
PK: It was…I can’t remember…I used to play ball in the town square with him. Do you know where the Augusta Winery’s large building is? There was a home there.
That’s where the family lived. He worked for Elmer Luetkemeyer at the feed store, the one that Chub Bade bought later. (Next it was Johann’s, and now it’s a Hoffmann business.) I thought of that boy scout house after the Katy Trail replaced the tracks. We walked down there, and I was thinking, now there’s where that house stood. But I never did go over to look and see if there was any foundation or anything laying around to indicate its location. But when I was a kid…I can picture that house just as easily…because my brother Bob and I, and Roger Haferkamp spent a lot of time in that drainage ditch by the tracks. In the summertime we’d go swimming there. In the wintertime it was froze over and we could ice skate on it. That’s what we did with our time, back when we were youngsters.
PK: This boy…he was somehow or another disabled. How would you put it? I guess his mind wasn’t right anymore, and he just walked away from home, maybe got himself lost down in those woods and came up to that pond…and whatever. They found him in that water.
Ellen Berg Mallinckrodt: I have no idea on the Boy Scout camp, but the person who drowned…I think his name was Duebbert. He was mentally challenged. He was in his 20s or thereabout. (His grave marker says he was 34.) He…they lived in Augusta where Augusta Winery built that big building. There was a home there.
(Gentle newcomers to Augusta, if you aspire to speak proper Augustan, take note that the u in Duebbert is silent. Instead of saying Doobert, say Debbert or Dibbert, with a short vowel sound. All the long-time residents pronounce it that way. Oddly enough, putty, as in putty knife is pronounced pooty. And don’t even think about pronouncing Femme Osage.)
P: Do you think that’s why they closed the boy scout camp?
EBM: I have no idea on the boy scout camp. There’s probably no one living now who would remember that.
Helen Mae Haupt Weisflug: Yes, the Duebberts lived where the winery built the larger building, but I don’t know anything about anybody drowning. There was a Leeman Duebbert, but he…I don’t know when he died, but I’m sure it wasn’t him who drowned. There were 2 girls and their big older brother, Leeman.
P: I’ve heard he was mentally challenged.
HMHW: Well yes, that makes a little bit of sense. I know he was at home, and I don’t think he was working.
Janet Haferkamp Fuhr (via text): I don’t know, but was his name Leeman? He was the son of the Duebberts that lived in that house, and they were the only Duebberts I knew. (When asked about his mental state): I remember something wasn’t quite right.
Jan Mallinckrodt: I’ve heard of that man’s name…that there was a Duebbert who drowned, but I don’t know anything really about that. I didn’t come here until 1963. You know, Paul Struckhoff married Marjie (Marjorie) Duebbert, but they’re both gone. Paul was a brother to Aloys Struckhoff.
Doris Fuhr Hopen: I didn’t know there was a boy scout camp there. But I know where he drowned…well, where he died…I won’t say he drowned…he might have died before he fell in that pond. He did have epileptic spells.
DFH: There was a sister, Marjie…she’s gone…and Anna Mae…she’s gone.
DFH: Otherwise, Leeman…he used to go to the Kentucky Derby every year, and that’s how they missed him. I can’t remember…if he did not return when they thought he should return from the derby…and they got suspicious…and they found him. He always took a walk down the railroad tracks. He could take care of himself, and he knew where he was going. They knew he walked down there every day and back. They went down and sure enough, there he was. He didn’t go to the Kentucky Derby. He took a walk and didn’t come home, and then they missed him.
P: Do you think Leeman was at all mentally handicapped?
DFH: He was a man, more or less, to himself. Always kept to himself. I can’t say for sure, but I think he went to grade school here.
Gentle Augustaphiles, I consulted with Wikipedia and learned that the Kentucky Derby of 1958 was held May 3. But Leeman’s tombstone in the town cemetery says he died May 25, 1958. Now, 22+ days is a long time to go missing, but I don’t doubt there’s a kernel of truth to Doris’ version. She knows more Augusta than I’ll ever know. At any rate, I’m convinced Leeman Duebbert is the man who drowned. According to Find a Grave website, he was born in Femme Osage, May 6, 1924. He was the son of Femme Osage Township farmer Elihu Duebbert and Frances Dorthea Holt Duebbert. He had 2 sisters, Marjorie and Anna Mae. Besides living in Femme Osage, the Duebberts lived in the house that is now Swan Haven B&B, and later in the house that was torn down to expand Augusta Winery facilities.
Bob Struckhoff: I think he worked for Elmer Luetkemeyer…at the feedstore. There was a Duebbert there for a while, but he died somehow. I don’t remember a boy scout camp down there and I don’t remember a pond. 1958? I was a sophomore in high school, I guess. There was a Duebbert house there in town where Augusta Winery put up a building.
P: Do you have any tips on how to get hold of Donald Struckhoff?
BS: Keep trying.
Later that day…
Donald Struckhoff: Yeah, I’m trying to figure out whose house that was who lived there back in the… back when I can remember it, they actually used that house…nobody lived in it for years, and they made that into a corn storage building. That belonged to the Casey family…and I think they had hogs down there…or their renter…Dennis Reed did. Dennis lived from 1952 to 1956 in that house up behind the house that used to be Janet Fuhr’s. Dennis Reed farmed that Casey ground down in the bottoms. They hauled corn off the ground they had in the bottoms, and they put it in that house, and they fed their hogs in that area. I don’t know if there was a boy scout camp there. And the arch you talked about; I wonder if that was part of a cistern.
P: And the guy who drowned there?
DS: I knew the guy, Leeman Duebbert. He worked for Elmer Luetkemeyer, and he was single. He had epilepsy…not that you would notice most of the time, because when he had the seizures, he would just stand in one spot and not move. If you didn’t know that it was happening, you could miss it. I mean he’d be handling feed sacks like any ordinary person would, and all of a sudden, he’d just stand there. In maybe 30 seconds he’d be working again. He’d be playing pool at the tavern, and going to take a shot, and suddenly he’d just stand there with the cue stick at his side. After the seizure he’d go back to whatever he was doing.
DS: It did bother him some because every once in a while, people would notice it, and they’d say something, and he basically would leave. My dad said don’t ever say anything about it. If he was moving feed sacks, and he’s not moving, just grab a feed sack and do what you came to do.
Later still, I called Aloys Struckhoff because his brother, the late Paul Struckhoff, was married to Leeman’s sister, Marjorie. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember to turn Voice Memo on right away. We had an interesting conversation about Paul, but I don’t recall that it shed much light on Leeman.
Aloys Struckhoff: I don’t remember the pond being down there, and I do remember when we got the word that Leeman had drowned. But I don’t remember anybody telling me there was a boy scout camp there. I believe you, but I lived 4 miles away in the country. We didn’t get to town but once a month. We were just a bunch of dirty little farm kids. (Chuckle.)
Dale Heining: Our property runs downhill almost to the creek. On the other side of the creek…that would be actually be on Jimmy Reed’s subdivision. That’s in his designated area for “common use.” There would have been what could have been a pond…because the creek runs right through there, so it could have been a big open spot where the creek was, but over the years the creek eroded more and more, and kind of did away with the swamp land there. When it rains like crazy, it still gets kinda sloppy down there.
DH: Anita told me the same thing about a camp down below. There used to be an old foundation down in that valley. If you called the St. Louis Area Council, maybe you could find out who the scout master was at the time…and you could go back to their family and check with them.
Steve Hammon from the greater St. Louis area Council of Boy Scouts did call me back. He said their records from back then are sketchy.
I texted Matt Brennecke to ask if he ever explored the ravine in his youth.
Matt Brennecke: I’m sure we did. There weren’t many places we didn’t go. I do remember it being wet, but I’m not sure I remember a pond. Foundations are blurry too. There were lots of them. There are foundations in the woods by my old house (at the end of Hackmann Road.)
Jimmy Reed: Where the brewery is now…there were fuel tanks down there, and there was a road we could come around and drive up to the property up here. So yeah, it’s quite possible. I do not remember the pond…but I was told there was a little pond there, and somebody drowned in that pond.
JR: Years ago, there were stones, and the story I was given was that the Haferkamp family owned all of this property. That was back in 1917 …there was a survey done. They had a house…not all the way down by the railroad tracks, but north of the pond. And I can remember in the 60s, you could still see the foundation stones. Then they moved from that house to where the Johnsons live. (Back a little from Hackmann Road, on the opposite side of the street from Harmonie Verein.)
Janet Fuhr: Leeman’s seizure, as you described it, would be a petit mal seizure. (Otherwise known as an absence seizure. The person suddenly stops and stares into space.)
Benny Moseley: I remember him quite well. You wrote about Donna Shortt saying somebody drowned in that lake down there. That was Leeman, a really nice guy. I used to go up there to that house…Tony (Kooyumjian, Augusta Winery) tore it down. Leeman had 3 or 4 big boxers. His dogs climbed all over me. They just loved me to death.
BM: I’d go up there and we’d talk about stamps. He was a big stamp collector. He worked in a feed store. He was damned good in that feed store. He showed us how to wrap that string around your finger and tie those feed sacks.
BM: I saw him that same day. He went down…he walked by Jack’s ditch (the town dump, named after Jack Limberg, who had owned a hotel there, later burned down by the fire department for training. The hotel was located where John and Kim Alsop now live.) I saw him going down that way. There was a road that went right to that pond. And later they were looking for him. They figured he had an epileptic fit and just fell into the water.
P: Do you remember his parents, Elihu and Dorthea, and his sisters?
BM: I talked to them some. They were a good couple. And the sisters were alright too.
And there you have it, gentle Augustans. I didn’t find a photo of Leeman, but I came across a Bible study photo which included the 2 sisters. Also attached will be photos of the stream in 2021, 2 cedar posts still standing, some of the foundation, and remnants of the stone dam.
My thanks to everyone who reads these stories. Even more thanks to anyone who completes what I’ve started.
P. S. It is now Monday, November 7, 2022, and I have just spoken with Mary Ruether Werth, the niece of Leeman Duebbert, and daughter of Marjorie Duebbert (Ruether) Struckhoff.
Paul: How old were you when Leeman died?
Mary Werth: I was only 3 days old. I was just born…and I don’t really remember my mom talking about that she had just had me…most likely she had just gotten out of the hospital.
P: Was he part of the family folklore as you grew up?
MW: …mostly…Mom had just said that he had epilepsy, and he always liked to go fishing. And he was fishing there…what is now on the Katy Trail…is what I’ve been told…that there was a pond there…and that’s where he would regularly walk and go fishing. And he didn’t come back…when he should have…so, my grandpa went looking and found him. And they said he had an epileptic seizure and drowned.
P: Sad. Where did you grow up?
MW: I grew up in O’Fallon (MO), though early on I spent almost every weekend ‘til my grandpa left and moved from Augusta. And during the summer I always stayed.
He sold the house to Susan Wilson.
P: Where do you live now?
MW: South of Kansas City…actually my address is in Paola, KS.
Gentle readers, I think my curiosity is satisfied.