Times Beach: Ecumenical Task Force Remembered
When the dioxin-laden, former city of Times Beach near Eureka flooded in 1984, one Wildwood resident who helped with the cleanup said all residents were kept out of their homes until Christmas that year.
Twenty-eight years ago, a major flood from the Meramec River on Dec. 7 changed the lives of many local residents who resided in the former town of Times Beach. The flood altered the Christmases of many people that year, some of whom still live locally. Marilyn Leistner, one of Eureka's board of aldermen, was the mayor of Times Beach at the time. She was known as a never-ending advocate for her town, said Pat Bellrose, owner of Fahr Greenhouse in Wildwood.
Bellrose reminisced about the whole post-flood Times Beach actions, especially his role in the Ecumenical Task Force, driven by several church groups, including Most Sacred Heart of Eureka, St. Marks Lutheran, Central Baptist Church and nearby Menonites.
Bellrose said the residents of Time Beach were kept out of their homes that year under after Christmas. "Many churches in the area sent volunteers to help clean up the houses and trailers, which were under water up to their ceilings or under tables."
He said the odd thing was that there was no warning that a flood might be coming, because the Meramec backed up behind Times Beach. "It happened early on a Sunday morning, and there was only one escape route.
"Police cars got submerged, and people were trying to drive up the banks of I-44. Two trucks were throwing hooks down to them."
He said President Ronald Regan got involved with the Times Beach situation by that February, which he and others thought was very unusual, and announced an edict that the Times Beach residents still could not move back into their homes.
Bellrose said he remembers Red Cross volunteers, mixed in with their church volunteers, setting up a make-shift emergency shelter in the old Eureka High School, which now is the Rockwood School District Administrative Annex building.
"We handled 1,500 to 1,800 people without outside help," he said.
"At times it seemed futile. But when it's all you got, what are you going to do?"
Bellrose said even though no end seemed in sight, volunteers always seemed to figure out what to do during that holiday season.