Rural Missouri Magazine

Two decades in Rural Missouri
Editor says goodbye to the best job ever

by Bob McEowen

Rural Missouri Managing Editor Bob McEowen photographed himself flying over Gravois Mills in a biplane piloted by Max Weaver, the subject of a 1989 article. This Februrary 2010 issue will be McEowen’s last with the publication.

It was almost 21 years ago that I convinced my college friend Jim McCarty to hire me as Rural Missouri’s newest field editor. After four years hand-loading rolls of film from bulk spools while working at newspapers, I grabbed a notebook, a camera and a few rolls of factory-packaged Tri-X and headed out to do my first story.

Traveling across the state and staying in motels was as new to me as pre-packaged film. Nothing was more foreign, though, than the world I was about to encounter. I was raised in the city. A generation before, my father was born on a farm and plowed with horses, but rural life was largely theoretical to me. It was probably appropriate that my first Rural Missouri story was about an urban transplant.

Nick Evangelista moved from Los Angeles to a small farm near West Plains. There, he and his wife raised sheep, home-schooled their children and tried to interest his neighbors in the ancient sport of sword fighting. In some ways, The Evangelista School of Fencing and Swordplay was a perfect introduction to rural Missouri. Nick had a dream, and he chose rural Missouri as the place to live it out. Last I heard, he’s still teaching fencing, though now in Springfield.

It’s a story I’ve told many times over — rural Missourians following their muse in the most improbable of settings. Whether they were pursuing a business dream or just delving deep into a hobby, I’ve found rural Missourians to be the most determined people you could ever hope to meet. Let’s face it. With rocky soil and sometimes harsh weather, rural Missouri can be an inhospitable place. The people, on the other hand, are anything but inhospitable. If there are better people anywhere, I’ve never met them.

There was beauty amid the destruction as ice covered southwest Missouri in January of 2007.

I’ve come to a point in my life where I want to try new things, so I’m leaving my job at Rural Missouri. I’ve been asked to look back and pull a few favorite photographs out of the files to share. It’s been a bittersweet exercise. So many memories come flooding back. I’ve seen and done so much as a Rural Missouri editor. I’ve traveled to every county in the state and visited nearly every notable destination. Mostly, though, I remember the people.

I’m reminded of Brother Damian Larson, the “Weather Monk” of Conception Abbey, who I featured in October of 1989 and who was later tragically gunned down by a rampaging madman. I recall Louise and Marshall Gillispie who attempted to bring recognition to unmarked graves at the state’s mental hospitals. I remember earthquake expert and four-leaf clover collector Dave Stewart, 80-year-old outdoorswoman Aileen Hatch, high-wheel bicyclist James Allen, geode shop owner Betty Sheffler and human cannonball David Smith along with many other fascinating rural Missourians I’ve interviewed over the years.

When I think of places I’ve visited, the beauty of Missouri’s landscape and scenic attractions come to mind. But also, I think about the small towns that carry on and prosper because their residents refuse to let them die.

Over the years, I especially enjoyed visiting businesses and talking to their owners. I appreciated these entrepreneurs for their plucky determination to succeed and often marveled that they managed to do so in small towns across the state. I’ve met some fascinating characters and spent time with Missourians at work and play. Likewise, I have been blessed to watch the state’s artists and craftsmen (and women) create. My notebook and camera have opened doors that few other Missourians get to pass through, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Cowboy action shooter Dan Waters chambers a round in an original 19th-century Winchester lever action rifle during a match near Fayette. The popular shooting sport was the subject of a May 2006 feature.

Honestly, though, the best and most memorable people I have met in my nearly 21 years at Rural Missouri have been my peers at the publication. Jim McCarty, Heather Berry, Mary Davis, Jammie Berendzen, Jason Jenkins and, previously, Jeff Joiner and Jarrett Medlin, are responsible for one of the truly great institutions in rural Missouri. It has been a privilege to work alongside these talented people to produce the Rural Missouri publication. I truly believe they accomplish something very special every month, and I am humbled to have been a part of it.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the men and women who staff and direct Missouri’s electric cooperatives. The co-ops have been my benefactors all these years, providing the opportunity for me to practice my craft and to meet all the wonderful people I’ve encountered. It was my job to help further rural electrification by keeping the lines of communication open with the members. In truth, I got more out of the relationship than the co-ops did. I have been given the opportunity to meet so many great rural Missourians and to come into your home each month, through the stories I’ve written and the photographs I’ve taken.

It’s time for me to move on. Another journalist will take my place. I trust you’ll welcome him or her as warmly as you have me. So, thank you for the 21 years. Thanks for taking the time to look at my photos and read the words I’ve written. Keep reading Rural Missouri and keep making rural Missouri the wonderful place it is.

Clarksburg resident Bill Embry drives a team of horses for a December 1993 feature.
Physician David Barbe performs an ultrasound examination in his Houston, Mo., clinic. Dr. Barbe’s effort to serve rural patients was featured in April 1990.
Blind artist David Kontra peers through thick lenses for a November 2003 Rural Missouri story.
Patrons sample wines at Crown Valley Winery near Coffman in a December 2005 photo feature.
Carthage artist Lowell Davis relaxes at his Red Oak II historical village in 1994.
An India blue peacock struts his stuff on the Kansas City-area farm of Brad Legg. The Platte-Clay Electric Co-op member was featured in July 2006. Photographer and writer Bob McEowen was recognized four times as “Photographer of the Year” by the Cooperative Communicators Association, a national organization representing co-ops of all types.
This photo of Florence-area resident Jim Crabtree releasing more than 100 racing pigeons in a Lawrence, Kan., parking lot appeared in an October 1990 Rural Missouri story. The pigeon racing enthusiast high-tailed it back home in time to record the bird’s travel times.
Fencing instructor Nick Evangelista and his 7-year-old son practice outside their West Plains-area home. The photo appeared in Rural Missouri Managing Editor Bob McEowen’s first story for the publication, in May of 1989.
Former circus performer Murray Hill created a home for wayward elephants on his farm near Fordland. Hill, who once gained international notoriety by “repossessing” two elephants and hiding from authorities for five years, was featured in March 1993.
Wayne Herrington reads the paper among the merchandise of Milan’s Poole Hardware where he had worked for 48 years when Rural Missouri featured the store in April of 1996. Located on the courthouse square, the store first opened as a general merchandise outlet in 1867. Herrington inherited the store from his grandfather and passed ownership on to his son.
Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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