When Phil Elmore was 19, he ventured to Iowa and Missouri for work in radio broadcasting, but after three years he returned to his hometown.
"I just wanted to come home so bad, I didn't care I was leaving the career I always dreamed of," Elmore said. "I realized I really missed Belleville."
Elmore dedicated the next three decades to spearheading and managing events in Belleville that built up the community. He said his work is just an extension of how he served his community with his church youth group.
"It's just always been a passion of mine, just the way I was raised," Elmore said. "When you see a need in your community, you just go out and work for it."
When Elmore was a member of the Belleville Jaycees, the group wanted to help needy families and children, so they raised money by organizing the annual Deutschfest.
Elmore, 49, now lives, works and goes to church in the same Ward 7 he serves as city alderman. His parents, Lloyd and Mary Elmore, still live minutes away in the house where Elmore grew up.
At Belleville East High School, Elmore played varsity football and was the school's mascot, a Lancer.
Elmore laughed at the memory and said he was asked to be the mascot sophomore year when the school got a new costume.
"I'm pretty sure he volunteered," Elmore's wife, Barb, teased.
The couple says their marriage is strengthened by all the volunteer work they have taken on together through the Jaycees, going on mission trips and starting the Tour de Belleville.
Elmore was vice president of the Jaycees when Barb joined.
"I told her how to do a project (a pub crawl) and she basically told me to stay out of it," Elmore said.
But they went on to tackle being co-chairs of two annual Deutschfests sponsored by the Jaycees.
Their first date was an impromptu meal at the Hy-Ho Cafe.
When Barb told Elmore she was concerned about crossing the line between friendship and romance, he made her pay half of the bill.
But he called her the next day. The couple agree: Persistence was key. The two married in 1996.
For a few years, Elmore and Barb aimed for significant weight loss and exercise took over most of their free time. That's when Elmore started biking.
In the summer, when a stressful day awaits and Elmore wakes early, he hops on his bike. At 5 a.m. the streets are calm and he rides straight down East Main Street to 17th Street and turns around.
While waiting an hour for their turn to start the Moonlight Ramble bike ride in St. Louis, the couple figured they could bring the same or better to Belleville. In 2007, they held the first Tour de Belleville with 575 participants. The event, now organized by the city, has grown this past year to a crowd that topped 2,000.
Elmore said his dedication to community service is rooted in his faith. His trust in God was rocked when Barb had a miscarriage.
Elmore said he prayed deeply but he was so angry at God.
"Then the next year, he fixed that: He gave me two," Elmore said of his twins born in 1999. "So I couldn't really be mad at him anymore."
Barb said her husband suspected the good news when he saw the screen during the ultrasound. Her view was obstructed so she was caught off guard.
"They showed us the first heartbeat and then they said, 'Want to see the second one?'" Barb laughed. "We were very happy we picked a big house."
Barb said she knew how much Elmore wanted children and the experience told her what she already knew: that she picked the right man to share her life.
Daughter Nicole, 13, is 17 minutes older than her twin brother, Stephen. She plans on running for student council and he already helps Elmore with the family DJ business, Phil Elmore's Mobile Music Machine.
When Nicole told the family she wanted to enjoy the Daddy Daughter Dance with Elmore, Stephen and his older halfbrother, Brock, from Elmore's previous marriage, stepped in to DJ the party instead.
"It's been a unique fatherhood because not a lot of fathers can say they get a second chance," Elmore said, adding that Brock graduated from high school just as the twins started kindergarten.
Brock has taken over Elmore's DJ gigs and if Elmore is elected mayor, he plans on retiring from the insurance agency.
No one grows up wanting to be an insurance agent, Elmore said, but it has taught him how to work with people. So has being a disc jockey, event coordinator and officiant at weddings.
"You get to celebrate the happiest day of a person's life," Elmore said. "You also have to be a good communicator, and listen to what the person wants and act on it. There's no room for error."
So, aside from conspiring with the kids to get a puppy while mom was out of town and buying snow cones aplenty during Disney World trips, why should dad be mayor?
"I think this is what he was born to do," Stephen said. "He fits the bill perfectly."
Nicole said she knows her dad can handle people's reactions and what they need done.
"He takes care of the streets as far as I've seen," Nicole said.
Elmore said he knew he wanted to be mayor when he decided that running for state representative would keep him away from his family and hometown.
"I can do more for my community in Belleville as mayor than in Springfield as state rep," Elmore said. "My heart is in Belleville."
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at email@example.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.