Jack Lawson - The Man Who Loved Bonne Terre



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Jack Lawson holds his beloved Tinker Bell during a Veterans' Day commemoration in Bonne Terre in 2007. Mr. Lawson, who died June 9, 2008, is remembered  for the various ways he served his hometown throughout his life.  Daily Journal photo.

Nobody loved Bonne Terre more than Jack Lawson. From the church where he was a boy at Vacation Bible School to the city hall where he served as mayor to the courts where he played his beloved tennis, Jack Lawson is reflected in every corner of town.

Mr. Lawson died Monday at Missouri Baptist Health Center of acute leukemia. He was 88 years old.

“If anybody needed to know anything about Bonne Terre, they’d call Daddy,” said his daughter, Ann McGregor. “With his death, it’s like a whole generation of Bonne Terre is gone.”

Lawson grew up in Bonne Terre and worked as a purchasing agent for St. Joe Farming and Cattle Company. He was a World War II veteran, honored in 2007 by the Jackson Thomure American Legion Post 83 for having been a continuous member for more than 60 years. He served on the city council from 1981 to 1991 and was named mayor for seven of those years.

“From what I’m told, he was a very congenial  mayor who always had the concerns of the citizens at heart,” said Fritz Gower, current mayor of Bonne Terre. “He always had a love for the city and he will certainly be missed.”

Lawson was president of the Bonne Terre Board of Education and commissioner of the St. Francois County Baseball program in the 1950s.  Lawson led efforts to restore the historic Shepherd House and to expand the library.

“He could point to any building in town and tell you about it,” said Paul Williams, a longtime friend. “He could tell you anything about the St. Joe Lead Company. He was a fountain of knowledge. He remembered those things because he lived them. We don’t have many others left with his knowledge.”

In 1985 and 2003, he was named Bonne Terre Chamber of Commerce/Daily Journal Citizen of the Year. He was inducted into the Bonne Terre Hall of Fame.

“He was ‘Mr. First Congregational,’” said his pastor, Rev. Sally Ketterer of the First Congregational United Church of Christ. “He held every position of leadership there was in our church. We even have a picture of Vacation Bible School from the 1920s and Jack is in it as a little boy. He was known for knowing all there is to know about our church. He was our touchstone.”

She said the church’s philosophy is to gather to worship and go to serve.

“And that certainly was the case for Jack,” she said.

Lawson began playing tennis in high school and never stopped. He was featured in a story in the Daily Journal in 2005, just as he turned 86 years old. Jackie Berry played the game with him for more than 30 years. She called him an “amazing competitor.” Together they won many tournaments and brought home dozens of trophies.

“That’s a fact he was telling the nurses at the hospital even Sunday night,” said Berry. “He always gave his tennis balls away to the kids at the court. He was one of the nicest, kindest and most intelligent persons I have ever had the privilege of knowing.”

He taught younger players like Berry’s daughters and Danny Mueller to polish their game.

“The last time we played was the end of last summer,” said Mueller, now a Potosi High School teacher and assistant football coach. “He always gave me a good workout.”

Richard Lodholz called Lawson a mentor and good friend.

“When I was in high school he used to play tennis with me and his son, Ron, all day long on Saturdays, then put my bike in the trunk of his car and drive me home because he ran me to death,” Lodholz recalled. “I played tennis for four years on very good Washington University tennis teams and was fortunate to have a very good record, however, Jack was my biggest frustration. To his son, Ron and his daughter, Ann and all his family I pass along my deepest sympathies.  This was a remarkable man who had a positive influence on my life.”

With all his accomplishments, friends say he was proudest of his family. His grandson, Philip McGregor, called his grandfather the “most generous person” he had ever known. Ann McGregor said her father tirelessly cared for her mother, Mary, until her death.

“When my mother was ill, she knew she did not have a lot more time and we had gotten a dog and she wanted him to have a dog,” Ann recalled. “So, we got him a Chihuahua he named Tinker Bell. She rarely left his arms in the last 13 years.”

Funeral arrangements are pending at Boyer Funeral Home in Bonne Terre.

His church was planning a float for the first 4th of July parade in the city this year. Ketterer said she’d asked Lawson to be on the float, wearing his Army uniform. Now, they hope to find a picture of him in uniform to put on the float instead. It would seem a fitting tribute.

“He loved the town and he loved the good people of Bonne Terre,” said Ketterer. “He was proud that Bonne Terre was a good place to live.”

Published by THE DAILY JOURNAL, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Tuesday, June 10, 2008.


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Jackson Thomure American Legion Post 83 Trustee Ed Yoder and Post Commander Gerald Rokan honor Jack Lawson for having 61 years of continous membership with the post. Lawson, 88, a veteran, has always been active in the Bonne Terre community

Published by THE DAILY JOURNAL, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Tuesday, December 30, 2007.


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Jack Lawson, second from left, is joined by three of his regular tennis
partners, from left, Jackie Berry, Jeanine House and Bob Gawf.

BONNE TERRE - Jack Lawson first picked up a tennis racket when he was a student at Bonne Terre High School. He liked the game. He was good at it. He won a few championships. He still does. His competitors think that's a pretty notable accomplishment because Lawson is 86 years old today.

"He used to be the mayor of Bonne Terre and he's still the mayor of the Tennis Courts," said Jeanine House, who has played both with and against Lawson for years.

He plays regularly in Bonne Terre each Wednesday. At his most recent outing, he marched onto the city park courts wearing size 6-1/2 Reeboks, white shorts and a World Team Tennis shirt.

"We got second place in that in 1994 in Kansas City," he said of the competition advertised on his shirt.

The orange cap he wore that day was a souvenir from the local hardware store, but with the slogan, "do-it," it could just have easily stood for Lawson's life on the court.

He started playing tennis in the 1930s on courts then located at the corner of Oak and Church Streets in Bonne Terre. In the decades since, he's played on every court in the county. Almost anyone who played the game in the Parkland has had the chance to play him.

"Tennis is a lot of fun," he said. "I've played with a lot of different people over the years."

That includes Danny Mueller, 25, who used to watch his dad, the late Dr. Ted Mueller, playing in tournaments with Lawson as his partner. The younger Mueller has been playing with Lawson for about 12 years.

"If you're playing against him, you definately don't want to hit it to him because he can get a point off you," said Mueller.

Brittany Berry and her sisters were among the top players on North County High School teams. Brittany wrote an essay about her tennis mentor praising him for the way he helped her prepare for tournaments. Her mother, former Central High School tennis and volleyball coach Jackie Berry, has played with Lawson for 35 years. She was his partner at Wednesday's game.

"He can win a point in one stroke and it takes me 16!" said Berry. "His spin is unbelievable. You're watching and you think the ball is going to land here and it spins over there."

Lawson credits that spin to his early years playing with smaller rackets.

"That's what's made the game different now. You could put a spin on with the smaller racket," said Lawson. "The larger rackets are all about power."

Lawson uses a Head Titanium racquet. It's one of two he has - "in case I break one."

The team of Jack and Jackie went up against House and her partner for the day, Bob Gawf. For about an hour, they swatted the yellow balls back and forth over the net.

When Berry hits it hard and fast back over the net, it goes out of the legal playing area. Lawson tells her, "Good idea, Jackie."

"Thanks, but your idea would have been better," she responds.

Each player takes a turn asking Lawson the score. He always knows it. For him, that's part of the game.





Lawson plays up by the net and sends the ball in places his opponents never dreamed it would go. He plays back, raises his racquet high in the air and swats a ball his opponents might have expected he'd miss, but then again, he doesn't miss many.

"The trick to good tennis is you have to have patience," said Lawson. "You don't hit every ball as hard as you can."

He's been part of a regular group of Wednesday players since the 1970s. Some have come and gone, but Lawson remains.

"We play 'Jack ball,'" said Marty Gawf, who joined the group in 1974. "He drops, slices and spins the ball. He can see from the service line. He's just amazing. You learn something every time you play with him."

She said he will often give his partners and other players a pointer right there on the court.

"I think we all try to imitate Jack in our playing," said House. "We have such respect and admiration for this man."

Lawson grins sheepishly at all the praise.

Rev. Richard Northcutt has been playing tennis with Lawson for only a year.

"He has such a heart for the game and he loves to see others get as involved with it as he does," said Northcutt. "What amazes me about him is that over the years he has played, he's developed all kinds of strokes. And at 85, his body still listens to his mind so he's a fierce competitor."

Mueller agrees and said, "At his age, he (Lawson) gives me something to look forward to that tennis can be a lifelong game. It may take me that long to learn to hit the nasty spin shots he does."

Lawson is proud of the courts in his hometown. He helped to get them resurfaced recently after years of wear caused them to become "unplayable." Lawson led the efforts to put down a surface that requires no maintenance. He is always pleased when he drives by the Bonne Terre park and sees people playing on them.

Ask him about injuries and Lawson will quickly say he's never been sidelined.

"I fall down, but I still get up," he said with a chuckle. "I used to play golf and softball, but tennis is my game now - has been for a long time."

At the end of Wednesday's play, the score was 6 to 4. Lawson's team won.

He plays tennis about three times each week. He and 77-year-old Bill Allen have won senior tournaments together. Lawson watches tennis on TV. His favorite player is Pete Sampras.

In honor of his birthday, his playing buddies plan to take him to lunch - after their regular tennis match. It's as much a tribute to the character of the man as it is his prowess on the court.

Berry said one of his former partners, the late Van Taylor may have said it best when he quipped, "Whoever said nice guys finish last didn't know Jack."

As for birthday gifts, Lawson says he has everything he needs - and in this case, that includes his own fan club.

Published:  Daily Journal, Park Hills, MO, July 26, 2005.

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BONNE TERRE -- Jack Lawson is the "unofficial" historian of his church. And when you listen to him recall his own family history, you can understand why.

"I went to Sunday School here," he said. "My mother went to Sunday School here and my grandmother went to Sunday School here."

"Here" is the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Bonne Terre and its members are marking its 125th anniversary. Lawson is among those planning the celebration Oct. 4.

"This church is my life," he said. "My wife and I taught Sunday School here. A long time ago, we had a big Sunday School class. Our church started the first Sunday School in Bonne Terre in 1869 and the church was organized in 1878."

Lawson said the church came about as a direct result of St. Joe Lead Company whose superintendent, C. B. Parsons, was a member of the United Church of Christ.

"He wanted to build a church that was a replica of one he had seen in Europe," Lawson said, explaining its Gothic and Tudor style. Parsons himself died in 1910, just months before the church's current building was completed.

Its stately presence, complete with Tiffany windows and a wrought iron fence, can be found at Oak and Church Streets.

Dickey Kiser is the church's oldest member.

"We joined the church when my daughter was old enough to come to Sunday School and that's been somewhere between 50 and 60 years ago, "said Kiser. "The people here have always been just the best people in town. We love each other and we are concerned about each other."

The church will host its regular worship service at 10 a.m. Oct. 4, but at 2 p.m., they'll have a program of remembrance with old-time hymns, the history of the denomination and the history of the church. Former members have been sending in their own memories of the church.

"I always remember the Sunday School pins we got," wrote Jim Mills. "We looked like General Patton with all those pins we got for perfect attendance. The children of these families have gone out into the world and been successful in their careers and I have to believe the church was a part of that."

Alice Wolf McCarthy wrote, "I remember how much I liked Christmas Eve. There was a pageant and I was always Mary. At Halloween, the adults and children all dressed up and paraded before Aunt Gertrude and other judges to guess who we were."

McCarthy sent copies of her wedding pictures made at the church in 1947.

In Bonne Terre, its known as the "Terre Du Lac church" because so many of its members live in the nearby community.

"Oscar Bollman was our pastor when Terre Du Lac was just being formed," Lawson explained. "He visited all the people in Terre Du Lac and even had services out there."

In its recent history, the church boasts having had the first female pastor in town. Rev. Sally Ketterer has served the church since 1995.

"The traditional Congregational church does not tell people what to think and believe, said Ketterer, "but invites people to explore what they think and believe. We are an open congregation. We understand the Christian faith is a crucial part of life. "

Attendance on Sunday now averages about 45-50. The sanctuary was never designed to seat a crowd, since it was first primarily for the management of St. Joe Lead.

"But we're just plain folk here now," said Ketterer. "Everyone is welcome."

Published: Wednesday, September 24, 2003, Daily Journal, Park Hills, MO