the story doesnt end

St. Louis, Missouri, sits just south of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Those great rivers, and the fertile bottom lands their floodwaters nurtured, have drawn people to this location for millennia.

St. Louis, Missouri, sits just south of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

Those great rivers, and the fertile bottom lands their floodwaters nurtured, have drawn people to this location for millennia.

The largest, manmade, ancient earthen mound north of Mexico lays only a few kilometers to the east of the city. It tells of aboriginal people’s long presence there.

Layered over First Nation names on local geographic features, the settlement names left by the European colonizers recount the story of the region.

The formal ceremony between Spain, France and the United States marking the cession of the Louisiana territory took place in St. Louis in March of 1804.

Napoleon’s vanquished dream of a North American empire gave the fledgling United States a territory that stretched from the mouth of the Mississippi River on the Gulf of Mexico north to Saskatchewan.

The Louisiana Purchase would eventually comprise 13 future states.

Waves of immigrants from lands such as Bohemia, Germany, Ireland and Italy, as well as from the Civil War-ravaged states to the south, would flood St. Louis over the next century.

New residents all brought with them their stories and patterns of speech and intonation to tell them with. These would blend into a unique local accent.

The local pronunciation of the name John, for example, sounds like Jan to an outsider’s ear.

Luckily the couple my wife Eva and I visited the week before last were John and Jan. Whatever we said sounded right.

For John, a teacher, and Jan, a librarian, the story provides a key reference point for their lives. The belief everyone has a story to tell, a life worth recounting, insights to be shared puts a value on all lives.

John taught English to Grade 6, 7 and 8 students at St. Ann Catholic Elementary School in Normandy, a near suburb of St. Louis, a quarter hour expressway drive from their central St. Louis home. His nearly 39 years of teaching alone would not have made him a master teacher. Giving voice to young people’s dreams through the creativity he inspired and the skills he imparted did, though.

Genuinely enthused, John showed us the poetry his young charges wrote in response to the 14-day blog of two canoeists circumnavigating St. Louis.

Having the unflagging ability to see his student’s potential and a wide, imaginative range of tools and techniques with which to unlock their creativity produced great results.

His students, young as they were, produced strong and evocative pieces.

This was only part, however, of a larger project.

John’s unselfish striving to assist students in naming their own futures, to becoming subjects of their own stories and not just the footnotes in others’ biographies move him one from the master teacher to the master human-being category.

Last weekend, we heard a stroke had crippled our teacher friend. A day later, another call from Jan told us he had died.

This completely unexpected passing reminds me just how fragile this life is, and how suddenly life’s moorings can be loosened.

John’s story continues, as does all of ours, in the lives he has touched.

When John joined the two paddlers on Pelican Island just above the point where the mighty rivers join on the last day of the St. Louis Circumnavigation Project, he wrote his own poem to go along with those of his students.

So much depends

upon

a lone canoeist

floating

on the river

silently

receiving its grace

gratefully

John C Wiedmann, 1949-2011

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An avalanche warning sigh along the South Klondike Highway. Local avalanche safety instructors say interest in courses has risen during the pandemic as more Yukoners explore socially distanced outdoor activities. (Tom Patrick/Yukon News file)
Backcountry busy: COVID-19 has Yukoners heading for the hills

Stable conditions for avalanches have provided a grace period for backcountry newcomers

Several people enter the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Coast High Country Inn Convention Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 26. The Yukon government announced on Jan. 25 that residents of Whitehorse, Ibex Valley, Marsh Lake and Mount Lorne areas 65 and older can now receive their vaccines. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Vaccine appointments available in Whitehorse for residents 65+

Yukoners 65 and older living in Whitehorse are now eligible to receive… Continue reading

Diane McLeod-McKay, Yukon’s Ombudsman and information and privacy commissioner, filed a petition on Dec. 11 after her office was barred from accessing documents related to a child and family services case. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government rejects Ombudsman requests for documentation filed to Supreme Court

Diane McLeod-McKay filed a petition on Dec. 11 after requests for documents were barred

Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens, left, celebrates his first NHL goal with defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen during the second period of a game against the Washington Capitals on Jan. 22 in Washington. (Nick Wass/AP)
Cozens notches first NHL goal in loss to Capitals

The Yukoner potted his first tally at 10:43 of the second period on Jan. 22

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Former CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, actress charged after flying to Beaver Creek for COVID-19 vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

Most Read