Talk Of The Town

53774Speedy Benhoff

2458Speedy pictured with his brothers and nephews at a fundraising euchre tournament held last month in Beckemeyer. Front row, from left: Blake, Speedy and Austin Benhoff; (back row) Mel and Matt Benhoff.    How do you repay a guy who has spent countless hours, year after year,  humbly donating his time to organizing and working events for the benefit of others?
    Maurice “Speedy” Benhoff of Beckemeyer has done just that. 
    As one good friend commented, “He’s never complained about the hours put in. He just digs in and works to make each event a success.”
    Not only does he work. — with his infectious giggle, heartwarming  hugs and easygoing attitude — he has a way of keeping everyone smiling and laughing along the way, whether you are a volunteer or the beneficiary of the event.
    Speedy is current president of the Beckemeyer Community Development Club (BCDC), senior vice president of Beckemeyer Sons of the American Legion and involved with numerous other groups.
    For many years, he has served on the Logistics Committee for the Clinton County Relay For Life and has donated his time to numerous other benefits and community events.
    In late August 2015, he helped spearhead a benefit to support his good friend Trevor Hubbard.
    When Trevor lost his battle to stage 4 colon cancer earlier this year, Speedy stayed by his buddy’s side serving as a pall bearer at the March 1 funeral service.  Ironically, just eight days later, on March 9, Speedy, himself, was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic esophageal cancer.
    There really is no way easy way to repay a guy who has touched so many lives while giving his heart and soul to the community, but friends and family are rallying to show their support with Speed’s Stampede — an all-day benefit set for Saturday, June 9 from noon to midnight at Beckemeyer’s BCDC Park. 
    The day will include silent and oral auctions, bags and co-ed softball tournaments, kids games, raffles, plenty of good food and drink and excellent music by Lost Highway, Feedback and Black Top Boulevard (see details in box at right). 
    Speedy, 49, is now trying to regain some strength at Caring First Nursing Home in Breese, where administration and staff have quickly gained a grasp on just how many people he has touched in his life.
    Benhoff’s sister Mary Stefnisin, who works in the office at the nursing home, commented, “The administrator here said Speedy’s got more people coming through the door than when we get visits from (St. Louis Cardinals mascot) Fredbird.”
    Last week, Speedy recapped the series of events, which, he said, in just over two shorts months, have “rocked my world.”

Ruth 8054Retiring after 44 years as a bus driver for St. Rose School District, Ruth Koerkenmeier (on right) of St. Rose is pictured with Arlene Hilmes, who was Koerkenmeier’s original trainer for the district. Koerkenmeier’s last run will be Monday, May 21. A retirement party in her honor will be June 3 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Rose Park. All are welcome to attend.    For 44 years, Ruth Koerkenmeier of St. Rose made sure that students were safe getting off and on the bus going to and from school at St. Rose or the two Breese high schools.
    However, next Monday will be her last run and she is ready to enjoy retirement.
    “I am going to miss the kids and the routine,” she said Monday morning, along with her friend Arlene Hilmes, who had initially trained her back in the 70s.
    Her “routine” from Monday through Friday was taking off at 6:45 a.m. from the bus shed, bringing one load of children to St. Rose School and the high schools and then making a second run for pre-kindergarten students at 8 a.m. or so.  In the afternoon, she starts off again at 3 p.m. and is done by 4 p.m. 
    Koerkenmeier said that by the time you get through the stops and stoplights, you are pressed for time.
    “You constantly have to be watching the clock for the time,” she said, adding that this was the life of a bus driver.
    Koerkenmeier, 80, has been driving buses for the St. Rose School District since 1974, first under her trainer Arlene Hilmes. The bus company was then owned by Hilmes.
    Now, the busing service is through St. Rose School District.
    Koerkenmeier first took classes for busing in 1973 and started busing for St. Rose in 1974, under her trainer Arlene Hilmes. In fact, it wasn’t too terribly long ago when Koerkenmeier threw away her card from 1973 that was kept in her wallet.
    Looking back, Koerkenmeier said after all of these years, things haven’t changed too much, except maybe the kids.
    “Things were different back then, the kids were a lot quieter,” she said, adding that young kids would cry when they got on the bus because they were scared. 
    “Now, kids get excited to be on the bus,” she said. “Kids are more grown up, not scared like they used to be.”
    She said that she hasn’t seen much of a change with the students behavior though.
    “I don’t have any problems with the kids,” she said. “I cannot complain — I talk to them, I get along with them. I tell them to have a good day and they are saying the same thing back to me.”
    She said there are times that you can’t be their friend; but be the bus driver. 
    “But when you start them off at pre-kindergarten and you take them all the way through high school, they get to know you and you get to know them,” she said.
    Besides the difference in students and a difference in the busing (they are much more efficient in today’s world than the 70s), including having a radio system to communicate with others.
    There is also  a difference in things you have to know about being a school bus driver,  like having to know mechanical and maintenance knowledge.
    When asked why she wanted to retire now, she simply said because she wanted to stay on top of the game.
    “I’ve never had an accident or a ticket in all these years,” she said, adding that she still had one week to go, so “knock on wood.”
    “I like my job, I’ve always liked it and I still do,” she said. “I had to think long and hard about the decision to retire.”
    Koerkenmeier’s last day will be next Monday, May 21, on the last day of school.
    A retirement party has been set for June 3 at St. Rose Park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Members of the public are invited, including past students, to share memories of Koerkenmeier.
    “I’m sure there are many,” Koerkenmeier said.
    In her 44 years of busing students, she has had families with two generations and almost a third generation — if she had bused one more year.
    However, now, Ruth and Arlene joke that former students who were a little troublesome back in the day would come back to her as an adult, apologizing for their behavior back then.
    After her last route on Monday, Koerkenmeier plans to enjoy the summer, and take trips  to be with her family and with her friend Arlene and her family. 
    “You’ll miss it, the first year,” Hilmes told Ruth.
    Hilmes said that her first year after she retired (back in 2011 after 42 years), she really did miss being a bus driver, however, since then she has kept herself busy with her family.
    And that’s what Ruth said — ­ that she will miss the kids the most. 
    “But, I will have plenty to do,” she said.
    Ruth’s husband Robert passed away in November last year. She has six children, 18 grandchildren and 31 great grandchildren.
    Ruth and Arlene both said that they are blessed to have worked with the St. Rose School District and couldn’t think of a better district to work for.
    “I’m so proud to be a part of this school,” Ruth said.
    Dr. Patricia Cornell, superintendent at St. Rose, said that she  did want to share that Ruth Koerkenmeier has set the standard for all of their bus drivers. “She has high expectations for student behavior and kids comply with respect,” Cornell said. “Whenever I ride on her bus the polite exchange amazes me.”
    She said that when the bus comes to a railroad crossing, the students quiet down and after safely crossing the tracks, Ruth says “thank you” to the kids and they respond with “you’re welcome.” 
    “It is a part of the culture that she promotes on her bus. She wants the students to be safe but enjoy each other’s company. Since she was the driver for most of the parents, she has no worries mentioning any problems to them. Our kids are the best and it is because of people like Ruthie who impact their lives. We have been very fortunate to have loyal drivers that have taken care of our kids and their families for generations,” said Cornell.

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