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Laura Miller

Individual being interviewed: Laura Miller

Location: Foundation Grounds Coffee House; Maplewood Missouri.

Date April 11, 2012

Mia: Hi this is Mia and I am here with Laura Miller; who has so graciously taken her time to interview with us.  Laura could you tell us a a little bit about yourself?

Laura: Sure.  I grew up in Maplewood and I moved out in my 20s to the city (Saint Louis) for about 13 years.  My husband and I decided to move back to Maplewood with our family we have three children.  My children are 8, 5, and 10 months. 

Mia: Congratulations!

Laura: Thank you. We wanted to move to an area that had a good school district.  We pulled our children out of Catholic schools and put them in the public school system.  We knew Maplewood was the area that we wanted to move into.  We have been here two years now and are happy to be back. 

Mia: You moved out of Maplewood in your 20s to branch out?

Laura: Yeah and just to experience.  At the time when I was moving out I was in my early 20s and I lived at home during college. I still wasn’t ready to stay here in Maplewood.  In had not hit that turning point yet.  I Love the city life but once we had a family we knew the city wasn’t where we wanted to be.  A lot of the houses were too small and the school system wasn’t the best. We knew we wanted to have sort of a big family and wasn’t sure we’d be able to do the catholic school thing.  Both my husband and I are in the non-profit world and were not going to make millions (laughs).  So once are second child was born it was “okay time to start looking” We narrowed and centered in on Maplewood.  It took us a couple years to find the right and affordable house.  Because in the early 2000s you just saw the house prices sky-rocket; which for me was amazing to see having grown up here.

Mia: So tell me a little bit about growing up in Maplewood? What were some of your great memories? How were the schools?

Laura: I actually did not go to the public schools.  My parents made it a point of putting us through the catholic schools.  It was something they wanted and at the time the school district in Maplewood was not the best.

Mia: Yes we were just talking with the Superintendent of Maplewood about that.

Laura: Yes we had a failing school district and a lot of parents couldn’t keep their kids in the catholic school system.  The street I lived on was full of children and half of us went to the catholic school and the other half went to Maplewood.  So I had a lot of friends who went to the catholic schools and then also went to Maplewood.  My church is here and Maplewood so we all saw each other at church functions and church every Sunday.  Growing up you don’t really think much when you’re young about your community.  You just want to play with your friends.  You just want to know when you walk out that your friends are going to be there and run up and down your street freely; which we did.  We would leave in the morning and go play and ride our bikes.  My mom would stand on the porch and yell all of our names and we’d come running home.  Everybody kept an eye on each other, each other’s kids and each other’s house.  You knew you couldn’t get away with anything.  My parents grew up here.  My dad has lived in Maplewood his whole life and my mom moved into Maplewood when she was about 12.  Both my grandparents grew up about two blocks from me so we could walk to their house and go play.  There was a real sense of community.

Mia: Yeah its really close knit everyone knows each other!

Laura: And keeps an eye out for each other.  You know you’re young you’re in grade school.  I will say we went to Saint Michael’s in Shrewsbury and I will say that wasn’t a great experience.  We were called the “hoosiers from Maplewood”  

Mia: Just because…

Laura: Just because we were coming in and Maplewood was low to middle income families. Shrewsbury was middle to high income or upper; comparable to Clayton.  I think they perceived themselves as a better class for whatever reason.  So that was hard when I got into 6th , 7th and 8th grade.  When clothes started to matter and what kind of car your parents drove started mattering and so while I didn’t have the Izod shirts my family spent a lot of time together.  In my family the importance was spending time together as a family; not the type of clothes you were wearing.  There were five of us so you know it’s a big family. 

Mia: I have 12 brothers

Laura: Okay wow.  But you know how it is

Mia: Yeah the important thing is your family is involved.

Laura: Exactly.  So our church in Maplewood didn’t have a school anymore so most of the kids from our church went to Saint Michael’s.  Or they went to two of the other catholic schools close by.  So our church purchased a bus to take us all over there which was great.  My parents were extremely involved in the church in Maplewood and they were also involved in Saint Michaels because we went to school there.  They were splitting their time between the two.

Mia: That’s dedication.

Laura: Very dedicated.  Coaching our sports teams, helping at auctions, volunteering for events,  and also volunteering at Maplewood church events.

Mia: Did Saint Michaels have a high school?

Laura: No. All five of us went on to Catholic high school in the city.  The schools sort of got worse.  The school system the older I got it seems the worse it got.  I know they almost lost their accreditation. 

Mia: Yeah in 1998 or 1999 they were about to lose accreditation.

Laura: Yeah right before Linda came on they were about to lose their accreditation.  I graduated high school in 1990.  The five of us graduated in 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992.  I will say my parents took one of my brothers out of the catholic schools in 7th and 8th grade and put him in Maplewood because he had a learning disability.  Maplewood was able to handle it better than the catholic schools.  He did well but then he went on to Dubourg High School.  I don’t know if the schools were great; I don’t know if we still would have gone there.  It was a just a matter of my parents wanting us to have a catholic education. 

Mia: Yeah definitely.

Laura: Now god forbid if one of them had lost their jobs or couldn’t have afforded it they would have put us in the public school system. 

Mia: Was there a weekend hotspot

Laura: Yeah right across the street from here use to be a Vantigo which was a Mexican restaurant.  It was like a fast-food Mexican one step above Taco bell.  After church on Sunday we would meet up at Vantigo and hang out.  Why I don’t know.  But we did.

Mia: There was another gentleman that we interviewed who told us the White castle?

Laura: Oh yeah right down the street we use to hang out there in high school.

Mia: And the Steak’n Shake down the street?

Laura: Yep right down the street.  We didn’t hit Steak’n Shake as much; but White Castles was definitely a hang out.  My parent’s house was a hang out.  But that was that sense of community. My parents preferred us to be at home; they knew where we were and what we were doing.  It was very accommodating; a revolving door to door concept people were in and out of our house.  But we would hang out at Maplewood sporting events because our friends played.  We would go up to the high school and watch the soccer games and football games and support our friends at Maplewood.  Yeah I’m trying to think if there were any other hang outs.  Vantigo and White Castle were definitely hang outs.  Late at night the high school was a hang out. 

Mia: Did they still have the drive in?

Laura: No they did not.  I’m trying to think of another hang out.  Rocket side park it was down on Laclede Station road.  It’s been completely redone.  But it was an old metal plate in the  shape of a rocket and it was called the rocket place.

Mia: I bet everyone would hang out there?

Laura: Yeah it was a hang out spot.  We rode our bikes everywhere.  We hung out at the pool we would walk to the pool.  We’d walk pretty much everywhere the library, the pool.  The spot right here (Foundation Grounds) we are sitting in use to be EJ drugs we would get our candy from here.  We would come get our penny candy from here.  There use to be a Tom Boy on the other side of the rail road track.  A Tom boy is like a five in dine.

Mia: Yeah we have one of those in Highland

Laura: Yeah they have a deli area, groceries and penny candy.  That actually sat right in the middle of the neighborhood and the houses were all around it. It was back behind Greenwood on I can’t think of the side street it sat on.  But it burnt down and it caught on fire.  It burnt down and they moved right to the end of the street at Greenwood; it didn’t last much longer.  The family that owned it I actually went to grade school in Shrewsbury with their kids.  So we would run across the back yard and over railroad tracks to Tom Boy or we would go to  EJ Drugs.

Mia: Yeah good time.

Laura: Yeah it was and we did a lot of walking.  We walked everywhere. 

Mia: But if you look at kids today it seems as if they spend more time indoors and sitting.

Laura: Yeah playing the video games and computer

Mia: Is the Maplewood community still really close knit?

Laura: Yeah I think so.  I think when I got to high school a lot of my friends that I hung out with lived in South County which was a lot of new homes.  I could not wait to get out of Maplewood.  I wanted to get out of Maplewood so bad and was like “why can’t we have a new house?”  Our house my parents still live there it’s over 100 years old.  But you know it was an old house and there are things that come with old houses.

Mia: Yeah our house is from the 1920s.

Laura: Yeah we had to share rooms and then I looked at my friends houses who all had their own rooms and everything had locks.  New kitchens, bathrooms, big back yards, they had a trampoline.  And we had a train going through our back yard.  I just wanted to move.   I use to say “why can’t we move to south county” and my parents would say nope this was our home.

Mia: Did your parents work in Maplewood?

Laura: My mom worked in Maplewood at a business over on Greenwood.  She tried to get jobs that allowed her to be home shortly after we got home from school.  So literally we would pass her on the bus and wave to her.  If somebody forgot the key we would have to run back down to her and get the key then run home. Because she would be home shortly after.  That was in grade school and then once we got to high school she went back to a job she had years before.  She was always really close.  My dad worked for the county police so he was close in Clayton and had a  pretty flexible schedule.  Our parents would always be there for whatever school event we had going on. 

Mia: I was on Maplewood’s website and I noticed there is always a festival going on.  Do you have a favorite Maplewood festival growing up?

Laura: Actually the only thing they did when I was younger was Mapledays and I wasn’t allowed to go at night.  Because there were fights bad fights and anything could happen.  We weren’t allowed there at night; but we could go during the day it was like a big reunion.  Anybody who moved out of Maplewood would show back up and it’s still like that.  It’s not as rough in the evenings.  But that was really the only thing I can remember as far as any kind of event.

Mia: Do you have a favorite even now?

Laura: Yeah we have a couple of them.  I love the “Let them eat art event”

Mia: Yeah Rachelle was telling us about that.

Laura: Yeah it’s a great event.  Long story short I work for a non-profit organization and we produce the art for Clayton during September.  So Maplewood would put out an RSQ  request for publication that  they were looking for somebody to manage the artist component of “Let Them Eat Art”.  Our organization was hired so I’m actually working on the behind the scenes of it.  It’s great because I love the event.   But then at the same time for the last 7 years all my friends would gather down the street and we would meet at my house have drinks and then walk up there.  So now I don’t get to have that party but I’ll be here for the whole thing which is fun.  There was one growing up where the Shop’n Save was is now use to be K-mart and on the corner right across from where Monarch restaurant use to be three sculptures made of ceramic and they looked like totem poles.  They were there for years and one day they were gone. I always had wondered what happened to those sculptures.  I have always had a passion for art.  So then they disappeared.  I just figured it was part of the demolition and everything. When I got my job at the art fair I met the artist who made those pieces.  Well what happened she applied to be in the show and I saw these pieces and said I have seen this work before.  Where have I seen these pieces? Then I’m like oh my gosh this was the work down at the corner.  I got to know her and the city ended up giving the sculptures back to her so she has them.  I don’t know where they are.  I’ve worked with her on commission, anniversaries and stuff.  Seeing an art scene here in Maplewood is like a dream come true! 

Mia: Yeah with the Art boxes being painted over here; its normally something you see in Ucity on Delmar

Laura: Yeah or Clayton.  I love it I wish we had more public art.  I hope to eventually get involved in city government once my kids get a little older and I would love to see more public art pieces here.  We’ve got great spaces that could house it and there’s a lot of programs and artists that live here.  “Let them eat art” is just a perfect event for the community because it reflects the community.  It’s an eclectic community and that’s what I love that it reflects.  It’s an anything goes event.  Which I think is pretty cool.

Mia: When is the event?

Laura: Its in July.  This year it is July 13th.  It’s in the evening from 5-11 p.m. the streets are closed and you just walk.  That is what’s great about the event is it’s so easy to walk through Maplewood and you feel safe.  I remember as a teenager coming home late at night the only people we would were the drunks walking out of the bar and other people who shouldn’t  be in the street.  Now you wake up or you come home and people are jogging or walking with their strollers it’s such a great change.

Mia: It seems that change has motivated people to come out?

Laura: Yeah I think you’re seeing communities build what Maplewood already has; that center of commerce at Manchester with house all around it.  You have communities like Saint Charles and Saint Peters trying to build that.  Every community goes through its up and downs.  You’ve seen that in Ucity when they redeveloped the Loop.  A lot of these store fronts in Maplewood were vacant in the 1980s.  People went out to Crestwood, the Loop, and Central West end.  Yeah there weren’t any little boutiques or shops.

Mia: Yeah and now the mom and pop stores seem to be the trend

Laura: Yes and I understand they need big box business for the tax revenue I get that.  But at the holidays this is where I shop locally.  I love supporting these boutiques.  If you’re getting a Christmas present from chances are it’s coming from Maplewood or Sutton.  With the exception of my kids; I can pretty much get anything I need.

Mia: That’s another reason you and your husband moved back?

Laura: Yeah and with our church we continued to stay members we never left.  He really understood the sense of community.  I think coming from a small town he still felt like he was in a small town even though it was in a big city.  He loved that feeling and parking our cars for the weekends and walking to the parks, kids ballgames, libraries, pool.  And you can’t do that in the suburbs it’s to spread out.  We love Foundation Grounds this is our place.  My daughter she is 5 and she goes “can we go to the coffee shop mom?” and we just sit.  I love walking into the store and seeing your neighbors and friends. 

Mia: It’s just got the perfect balance.

Laura: It does and you’re centrally located which is a big thing; to interstate 40 or 44.  Were foodies we love the food and the restaurants.  It just feels like home you really feel like home.  I never thought in a million years I would come back or say my children go to Maplewood.  It’s funny because I talk to some friends who I haven’t seen in years and they ask “where are you living? “ and I say Maplewood and their like “really” but they don’t understand the changes in Maplewood.  I’m like yeah it’s great we love it and they ask where we go to school and they assume a catholic school and then I say Maplewood schools and their like “huh”. 

Mia: We talked to the Superintendent about some of the programs does your daughter participate in the chicken program?

Laura: Yeah.  My son is at the elementary school  in 2nd grade and my daughter is at Early Childhood Center.  My daughter loves the chicken it’s all we hear about.  They have other farm animals that come visit like llamas and sheep and different animals.

Mia: It’d be hard for a city kid to get that experience but Maplewood is bringing it to them.

Laura: Yeah and now you’re seeing a lot of our neighbors have chickens.  My kids want chickens now but I’m like sorry guys were not getting chickens.  I love the fact my kids come home and want to make sure all the food groups are represented in the dinner.  That was something we weren’t taught really as kids.  So the fact my daughter says mom we should walk its healthier is great and then their getting that from school.  The whole Sustainability program is phenomenal.

Mia: Could you tell me a little bit more about that?

Laura: Yeah it’s about sustainability and healthy lifestyle.  The kids get to plant gardens, harvest, and take care of the chickens.  My daughter said she got to go get the eggs from the chicken.  I thought the chickens and eggs were already separated; but she said “oh no mom you have to slide your hand under there really carefully”.  I was like you put your hand underneath the chicken.  My son he does well; but it was his first year in a public school so it was a little hard transitioning from a class of 10 kids to a class of 22 kids.  And the chickens got him he loves the chickens.  He saves a lot of his bread from lunch so he can feed the chickens.  Now the elementary school is getting chickens so he is very happy about that.

Mia: It seems it’s a great way to teach a kid responsibility

Laura: Yeah.  Recycling in the city wasn’t easy and here in Maplewood they make it easy for you.  And we have a compost pile and a recycle pile at home so the kids know what goes in where.  Sometimes I’ll be throwing something out and they’ll say mom that goes in the recycling pile.  That’s great their teaching and reinforcing that.  Both my husband and I are really happy with the district.

Mia: If you were talking with a younger couple your age thinking of settling down?

Laura: I would say move here I did it.  I actually have two interns who are looking at moving to an apartment.  I said I think you need to move to Maplewood I can help you find a great apartment! My sister is a real-estate agent and the company she works for is in Maplewood.  They have a lot of great apartments.  Two of them are considering moving here and for a young family I think it’s perfect.  You have 11 churches here in Maplewood.  There is a church on every corner and that creates a sense of community too.  I know for my parents that’s one reason they never moved.  They had plenty of opportunity to move; but they felt this was the right community to raise their family in.  So they stayed here through the good and bad times.   Now were back in the good times. With the church being here that was a big part of our life and that was a sense of community. 

Mia: It seems like there is also diversity

Laura: Yeah which is great.  It is and I want my kids to be exposed to that I don’t want to be living in the suburbs where everybody looks the same.  This is what the real world is like and our skin colors might look different or our hair but were all just people and it doesn’t matter. 

Mia: Yes I noticed walking in the school there was diversity and a such an emphasis on service with the quotes they have.  It was beautiful I have never seen anything like that!

Laura: Yes they have done such a great job over there.  What Linda did well is she brought the arts back to the district.  I’m a firm believer in the arts.  I know you have to know reading, writing, and arithmetic.  However, the arts get that passion in you and creativity which will spill over into the other areas.  Not having lived here when she started I always kept a tap on Maplewood’s reading.  I knew of Linda from Clayton and I was really excited to see her come you get what you pay for.  If you want a Superintendent that is going to turn the school around I’m sorry you have to pay for it. I know the lower to middle income community at the time didn’t see the importance in that. And my kid needs to learn how to read, write, the basics that’s what they saw as being important.  And they are don’t get me wrong but you need to have a school you want to go too that isn’t falling apart.

Mia: That’s inviting.

Laura: Yes that is inviting and a place you want to learn.  You want sports teams that are winning, that gets them excited, and builds school spirit.  Good plays and she did that; she created that.  I don’t know what the stats are for dropout rate compared to what it was 10 years ago but my guess is it’s got to be

Mia: Attendance is 95% and graduation is 92%

Laura: See yeah when I was a senior in high school I know at least 15 people who didn’t graduate from Maplewood and got their GED.  My kids love going to school it’s a great place to learn.  She’s done a phenomenal job.  I know there have been some ups and downs and people get upset about certain things but I think they have seen the turnaround in what she did and while they may not want to admit it.  Sometimes you have to step on some toes to get things done.

Mia: Yeah that’s exactly right

Laura: That’s what you have got to do and she did it. I’m sad to see her leave.  But you know in 10 years that’s typical. She did what she can do and now it’s time for somebody else to take it to the next level

Mia: If your living here in 10, 20 , or 30 years how would you like to see the city progress and grow?  Would you like to see it grow at the exponential rate its going?

Laura: I do.   I hope their able to have a healthy reserve so were not in a situation we were 10 years ago where the city was in severe financial distress. They have to keep the reserve and not tap into it; but keep growing it.  I know Marty runs a tight ship over there and good for him. I know a lot of cities that once they get extra money they say let’s do this and hire here.  But he doesn’t.  He runs a tight ship and that is what will keep the community going.  I hope there still able to maintain a balance between big box stores and mom and pop stores.  I would love to see a bakery, deli or a Tivoli type movie theatre.   I know there use to be a theatre here on Manchester.  Then you know maintain the park.  Parks are huge for families and keeping it a walk able community so you feel comfortable.  You know when I was growing up you didn’t run late at night.  But now you can do that; I feel comfortable going for a run at 9 at night because there is other people doing it.  Keeping up the city services.  The fire department use to not have all the fire equipment they needed; and the police department making sure they have the equipment and technology to get the job done. Also that their paid well so they will stay.  I’m all for raising my taxes as long as I know I have a community that is safe and their spending the money the right away. 

Mia: And that their taking care of investments

Laura: Yeah that their reinvesting in the community. 

Mia: It seems community investment is more emphasized here.

Laura: One thing I would like to see since we have so many artists here is more galleries and I know we have a couple but I’d love to see more.  The art walks are awesome! They do those on Friday night.  Personally I want more galleries and public art that’s my love.  I don’t know it’s just home I find myself talking about Maplewood a lot

Mia: It seems you have a pride of where you live

Laura: I do I really love my community

Mia: I was talking to some people from my home and other towns it seems like you don’t really come across people that are so proud of their hometown. But talking with you and other residents everyone is very proud to have lived here their entire life or to have been raised here and come back.  Or they come here because they have heard of how great it is.

Laura: I love that it still attracts diverse crowds and diverse from age to economical. I have seen the foot traffic it is so cool. I know I think of the Delmar loop there are certain restaurants and shops we like to go and there’s a nice mix of age down there it has some issues with crime but every community does.  I think having something that will keep people here like a restaurant, gallery, or going to see the show different things like that will keep people here.  Like jumping Jupiter it used to be the Jiving Whale.  I loved going there it was great.  I just hope it never loses that uniqueness and sense of community.  I feel like Maplewood knows who they are and they don’t try to stray from that.  Their an eclectic community and their proud of it.

Mia: Their not trying to model or be somebody else

Laura: Yeah their not trying to be something they’re never going to be. 

Mia: Maplewood is its own little place

Laura: Yeah it’s that sense of community and you can see from the people that live here their very proud.  I don’t know how you make that happen but you just keep it going don’t stop.

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