Date: February 22, 2012
Location: Maplewood City Hall
Individual being interviewed: Jason Watkins
Mia: This is Mia and Ann Marie and we are here with.
Mr. Watkins: Jason Watkins
Mia: At the Maplewood city hall and were going to ask a few questions. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself Mr. Watkins?
Mr. Watkins: I am born and raised in Maplewood. Went to Maplewood schools and graduated from Maplewood High School. I married my wife who was also a Maplewood graduate. We have two little girls and we also live in Maplewood. Both of my girls go to the Maplewood schools.
Mia: So you work with the city?
Mr. Watkins: I started working with the city when actually my freshmen year in high school. It started as a part time job with the Parks and Recreation department doing maintenance and helping them with the recreational programs.
Mia: Do you still hold that same position?
Mr. Watkins: I did that for four or five years then I went to Meramec after high school and did a couple years at Meramec. After Meramec was over they called and said they had a fulltime position open and I took it.
Ann Marie: What was one of your favorite things about growing up in Maplewood? Or one of the things you really liked about the community?
Mr. Watkins: It was just that small city feeling. I had two older brothers and we were able to go anywhere in Maplewood because my parents knew we were safe. We were a block away from anyone we knew.
Mia: Did your parents let you go into Saint Louis?
Mr.Watkins: We didn’t really venture into Saint Louis because everything we had was in Maplewood. As a little kid you don’t need a whole lot; an open lot to play in or a playground. All my friends were in Maplewood or Richmond Heights so I really didn’t need to go into the city too much.
Mia: When you were in high school what were the cool things for kids to do or favorite hangouts?
Mr. Watkins: I was an athlete in high school so my time was pretty limited; but in the summer probably the pool. You know all my friends were considered pool rats and I worked at the pool so I was there all through the day even after work that’s where I hung out.
Ann Marie: The pool is that right behind the city hall?
Mr. Watkins: No that’s the newer pool the older pool is very similar in location. But the building where the library is now that use to be the Parks and Recreation office. The pool use to be parallel with that building. Yeah that was the home away from home.
Ann Marie: Do Maplewood residents use the Richmond Heights Community Center? Do you guys share the facility?
Mr. Watkins: Yes I forget what year it was but Maplewood had closed their Parks and Recreation Department and combined it with Richmond Heights. Richmond Heights was kind of forming their Parks and Recreation Department. They built the Heights center which is a beautiful facility and decided they wanted to share it with us. Brentwood also shares the center and Brentwood shares the outer ice rink with Maplewood and the Maplewood pool.
Mia: I’m not sure on the time period but did they still have street cars going when you were a kid?
Jason: Gosh no I’m not that old
Mr. Watkins: Do you mind if we ask your age?
Mr. WatkinsI’m 33
Ann Marie: Oh you’re my sister’s age
Mr. Watkins: See that’s young
Ann Marie: So you graduated high school in 1996 right?
Mr. Watkins: 1997
Mia: Oh I have a brother that age. So how would you compare Maplewood from when you grew up in high school to what it’s like today? How has it changed socially and economically?
Mr. Watkins: Economically, I see a lot more now and pay attention more because I am an adult and live and work in the city. From the time I became an adult and homeowner it has been an incredible difference. Just the landscape of Maplewood has changed a lot too. We have had big stores move or change locations. Everything has changed for the better. It wasn’t by any means the projects before all the changes but it’s kind of like updating. As a kid K-mart was in downtown Maplewood that’s where you shopped. You know as a little kid I remember if I needed something I went to K-mart. We could walk there buy something and walk right back home. K-mart left and now we have Shop’n save and Wal-Mart moved into the area. It’s changed for the better and now it’s more updated.
Mia: I remember the Mayor mentioning the school district changes have been really positive and getting new leadership in the school district has really made a difference.
Mr. Watkins: Absolutely. My dad was a teacher in the school for 32 years.
Ann Marie: What did he teach?
Mr. Watkins: He taught Industrial Arts so woodshop and drafting. He was also an athletic director and wrestling coach for awhile. My mother was also secretary at the Early Childhood Center for 12 years. We have had so many changes in the schools. It seemed like 2 or 3 years after I got out (1999 or 2000) was really when the school started changing a lot. The school was able to pass a lot of bond issues to pay for beautiful renovations. The schools are 98% completely redone from when I was there (he graduated high school in 1997) I walk in the schools now and it’s just unbelievable. The Elementary school is completely new and the Early Childhood Center is where I went to Junior High. It’s completely different, instead of the old halls being lined with lockers and tile all that its carpeted and nice. They have done a lot of renovations and it’s neat.
Mia: Especially for the younger kids
Mr. Watkins: Yeah absolutely.
Ann Marie: When did Schafly’s come into Maplewood?
Mr. Watkins: They came in 2002 probably.
Ann Marie: Do you think Schafly coming in drew a lot of other businesses to Maplewood?
Mr. Watkins: You know I think so it was a turning point and the City management and Council at the time did a really good job of bringing some new businesses in. That was a turning point because it was Shop’n Save’s old building and then Shop’n save moved to the old K-mart. The old Shop’n Save just sat vacant and it was an eyesore. No business wants to move next to the eyesore. I think it was a big turning point. I don’t know if you have driven by Schafly’s on a Friday night? But it is packed.
Ann Marie: Yeah that and another person we interviewed was telling us about Monarch.
Mr. Watkins: Yeah a lot of people might drive by and say that’s too busy; but then they will look at this place or this place and find another restaurant. They are getting a lot of overflow of people.
Mia: It attracts more people into the city and visiting other businesses in the city.
Mr. Watkins: Also, I think Shop’n Save was a big part of getting everything started too. They built their new building and it’s a lot more attractive then the K-mart garage building. The old K-mart use to be two story parking; so all these businesses along Manchester parked their cars in K-mart. It almost enclosed and confined everything. It was a neat old garage they had garage sales; but then it started getting old and decrepit. After K-mart moved nobody wanted to take that building.
Ann Marie: How long did that building stay empty before Shop’n Save took it over?
Mr. Watkins: I don’t know. I think maybe four or five years.
Mia: What year did Shop’n Save move in?
Mr. Watkins: I can’t remember. I think it was right after high school.
Ann Marie: Are your parents from Maplewood?
Mr. Watkins: Both my parents were raised and graduates of Maplewood high school.
Mia: You have a long history of living in Maplewood. You could have moved into the city, neighboring suburb or another town. What is one of the main reasons you have stayed in Maplewood all these years?
Mr. Watkins: It’s like that saying if nothing is broke don’t fix it. That’s kind of my take on a lot of things. Part of me wishes I would have explored a little bit to have that experience to maybe have some comparisons. Both of my brothers did move out of Maplewood they’re not that far. One brother is in West County and the other is in South County. They don’t have any regrets either but their always drawn back to Maplewood events and hanging out at mom and dad’s. Convenience is very high; the shop where I work at is three blocks from where I live. I go to church in Maplewood, my parents live in Maplewood and my wife’s parents live in Maplewood. As far as the kids needing babysitters everything is right there. It’s very convenient it’s hard to give up a convenience like that.
Mia: What’s one of your favorite Maplewood events?
Mr.Watkins: I really liked Mapledays for a long time. Mapledays has been around as long as I’ve been alive.
Mia: Even as a kid that was one of your favorite events?
Mr. Watkins: Yeah because it was in the summer right before school started in September. This was when you got to hang out with all your friends and meet up at the carnival. When I became an adult we worked the booth for the church and stuff like that.
Mia: Does it last an entire weekend?
Mr. Watkins: Yeah they usually do it Labor Day weekend so its Thursday-Sunday. Unfortunately I don’t think Mapledays will be able to do the carnival this year. It’s been very hard; I think Mapledays stayed the same for so long and a lot of people want something different. It’s a very busy holiday weekend which can cause a conflict.
Ann Marie: Is it in downtown Maplewood?
Mr. Watkins: It’s not. It’s usually at Deer Creek Park. They have been doing a lot of renovations at Deer Creek park; they have a new soccer field, new irrigation, new sod. That field is where they usually put the carnival and it’s kind of hard to put a carnival on an area you just renovated. You know it would tear all right back up. I think the organization Mapledays is great for the community. I don’t think they make a lot on the carnival it is more to have for the kids. It was an event to get everybody together. Which Maplewood has a lot of those types of events like “Let Them Eat Art” is always a lot of fun. The whole downtown area is packed and full of people.
Mia: It seems (“Let Them eat art”) is really family friendly so everybody can enjoy it.
Mr. Watkins: Yeah absolutely.
Mia: If you were talking to a younger couple starting out with one or two kids and was looking at moving to Maplewood what would you tell them to encourage them to live here?
Mr. Watkins: I would say walk through the school and talk to the teachers and other parents. The school is so above average it is incredible. The programs they have going for the kids are incredible. I think are schools are top notch. I think that is the main thing parents look for. What better way to start then looking at the school. That would be the number one.
Mia: I guess that is one of the reasons your still here your kids are in a great school system and it is tight knit community.
Mr. Watkins: Yeah
Ann Marie: I know Rachelle said there are a lot of college kids moving into Maplewood have you seen a shift from the amount of families. Or do you think it’s still pretty even?
Mr. Watkins: I think its mixed and pretty even. We have a lot of small houses that are good first time houses. Which attracts a lot of college students and were very close to Wash U., Webster, UMSL and we have the metrolink running through the town. I think there is a lot of convenience for college students. Then at the family level you can have a really big house. There are plenty of big houses and the convenience of the schools. It’s really a perfect environment for either or.
Mia: How would you like to see Maplewood in 10 or 20 years from now for your kids?
Or even 50 years from now how would you imagine it to be?
Mr. Watkins: That’s a tough one I want it to keep improving. There is always room for improvement. For everything to stay exactly how it is today 40 years from now it would look rundown. Maplewood is getting used right now without improving it’s going to be pretty run down. I hope that they keep improving and building. I think the city has been playing a lot of catch up because Maplewood wasn’t doing very well in the 1980s and 1990s. We were fortunate to have Wal-Mart in here and that provided even though we lost a lot of houses they were able to add some security financially. For the city that’s allowed them to play catch up; in addition to more jobs and the street s are getting redone. When I was younger they did two or three streets every other year and now they are doing seven streets a year. It’s a drastic difference; I hope that keeps going and the Deer Creek center has been a big eyesore and I hope that gets a big development. It will be interesting to see how all these old buildings are taken care of and a lot of smaller businesses are going to come and go but it will be interesting to see in 40 or 50 years what it’s like.
Ann Marie: Is the Deer Creek center empty right now?
Mr. Watkins: There were two big clothing stores and a Kroegers. One of the stores Ventures was bought out by K-Mart and when K-mart went bankrupt they closed this chain because they had one in the Saint Louis Market place. Big Lots was in there for a little while but it didn’t draw the attention so they have been kind of vacant for the last ten years. But the rest of the shopping center is pretty vacant. The Driver’s license bureau is really the big attraction down there. Everybody has got to get their driver’s license. It’s such a big lot and over half of it is vacant. When I was growing up over half of that was the ball fields and it had two baseball fields on it. That was another hang out to.
Mia: During the summer was it like you left the house early in the morning played all day and as long as you were back by a certain time you were okay?
Mr. Watkins: To an extent if they knew I was with a friend or what friends house then yeah for the most part. Which is almost practically unheard of today. If my girls were to do that I don’t think I would have the same comfort level. I mean you still see a lot of middle and high school kids roaming around. That is one thing I would like to see more of its entertainment for that age group. When we were in high school we would do movies and stuff like that. Well kids today with all the technology. You know when I was a kid movies were in the theatre and after that you wouldn’t see it for a year or two before it got to VHS. Now it’s two months after a movie is in theatre’s that it comes out.
Mia: Yeah when I was a kid I remember waiting six months for a movie to come out.
Mr. Watkins: Yeah it took awhile so you wanted to go and see that movie. No their out so fast it’s I’ll see it when I can. It’s a challenge to find entertainment for middle school and high school kids.
Ann Marie: Especially with curfews like the Galleria or in the Loop.
Mr. Watkins: Yeah a lot of mischief comes from boredom. It would be a challenge, but to see them find something to entertain that age group would be a big plus.
Ann Marie: Did you see George Clooney when they filmed up in the air?
Mr. Watkins: I never got to see him personally, but they filmed part of the movie in my church. I think you interviewed Bob Harsh.
Ann Marie & Mia: Yeah!
Mr. Watkins: Well Bob and I go to the same church and the before and after math of them using our church. I worked the street closings and that was a neat ordeal. It was a lot of work and there are not a whole lot of scenes in that church. The amount of work it took for those few scenes was miraculous.
Ann Marie: How long were they in Maplewood for filming?
Mr. Watkins: It wasn’t longer than a week because I don’t remember missing a church service. It was fun because they had a pop up in the church where George Clooney apparently sat.
Mia & Ann Marie: Well Mr. Watkins thank you so much for your time.
Jason: Not a problem at all.