Answer Man

Water washed away dream of rebuilding old Valmeyer

Q: There are many empty lots in the original town of Valmeyer where houses must have stood before the 1993 flood. Why are there no new houses there? Couldn’t they have built them on stilts like they did along the Mississippi River between Grafton and the Brussels ferry?

K.A., of Maryville

A: Even if your homestead had been in the family for a century or more, would you really want to return after seeing it buried under 15 feet of water and mud?

You bet you might — and so did many residents of old Valmeyer. Just a few weeks after the initial devastation on Aug. 2, some began erecting large signs that encouraged their neighbors to stay strong and resurrect a town that suddenly had been filled with rusting appliances, mildewed carpet and basketball hoops covered by corn husks left by the torrent of rushing water.

“Keep Valmeyer, help rebuild,” one read. “Your home is rebuildable,” read another nearby.

And, as you suggest, it could have been. Although about 60 percent of the town’s 346 homes sustained damage of at least 50 percent, federal rules would have allowed such houses to be rebuilt on stilts above the flood line.

Early on, even Mayor Dennis Knobloch, who would be instrumental in the town’s relocation, kept his options open. His home of 17 years had wound up under nearly 6 feet of water, but by mid-September he had already shoveled out most of the mud and torn down ruined walls.

“I’ll probably apply for a building permit so we’ll at least have the option,” he told the News-Democrat at the time.

By then, however, most residents already realized they never wanted to face that kind of peril again. In early September, the Southwestern Illinois Metropolitan Area Planning Commission offered an eight-page plan that proposed relocating the village to a 300-acre site above the old town. A week later, two-thirds of the 239 villagers who returned ballots said they were interested in moving Valmeyer.

If that weren’t enough to indicate the end was near, Mother Nature added a final death blow for many holdouts. Between Sept. 18 and 20, the river rose again, spilled through the hole it previously tore in the levee and flooded Valmeyer a second time. Enough was enough for Rick Roever, who had already reopened his printing business in the old village.

“When the water came up in September, we just couldn’t take it anymore,” he told us a year later. “Up until that time, I thought I was going to move back into my house.”

As a result, Knobloch and other village officials in October established the nonprofit Valmeyer Development Corp. and agreed to purchase a 500-acre parcel atop the bluffs for $3 million from Bluffside Dairy Farm Inc. and Philip Stemler. It was to be a mile or two east of the old village.

On Dec. 18, about 200 people attended a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the beginning of the new Valmeyer. Eventually, of the 650 Monroe County property owners who were forced out by the flood, more than 525 applied for federal buyouts. It also was noted that those who would have remained in old Valmeyer might have trouble receiving vital services, such as sewer and street maintenance.

“I wasn’t ready to leave when the flood came,” said Carol Berg, who grew up on a hog farm just outside the old Valmeyer. “I’ve mourned and I’ve grieved for a long time. But it’s going to be a good move. It’s time to look forward.”

By March, the new village was growing already as it voted to annex a strip of land between the old and new towns. It also voted to retain its old name rather than changing it to Valleyview as once suggested. And just one month later, Roever moved his MAR Graphics and its 85 employees to a new plant in the new village, whose population has grown from 897 before the flood to 1,263 in 2010, an increase of 40 percent.

“Valmeyer really symbolizes the American spirit,” the late Sen. Paul Simon told the crowd in December 1993. “What you’re doing here is an inspiration to all of us.”

Q: We have acquired a Falstaff m21 cooler from a relative. It is in very good condition and still in the original box. Would you give us an approximate value of it?

H.C., of O’Fallon

A: Like the old E.F. Hutton commercials, when I talk about financial matters, my colleagues often perk up their ears. That’s why I usually shy away from such topics, because the last thing I want to see is a friend lose a bundle over one of my hot tips. I fear I’d never sleep if I were a broker.

It’s also why I’ve always declined to answer what’s-it-worth questions in this column. I figure one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, so, by talking to the wrong person, I could wind up giving you unreasonably high expectations or watch you throw out a priceless antique by saying it’s valueless.

Instead, allow me to plug my friend and breweriana expert Kevin Kious’ annual Eastside Spectacular Brewery Collectibles and Antique Bottle and Jar Show on Nov. 14, at the Belleclair Fairgrounds in Belleville. If you take the cooler there between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., I’m betting you might find some folks perhaps willing to give you an idea of its value. Admission is just $2 (or $20 if you want to be an early bird between 7 and 9.)

If you don’t want to wait that long, you might try sending a picture of your treasure to Kious at whoisthealeman@aol.com and give him the particulars. For a second opinion, you might try contacting the Falstaff chapter of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America. You can write Brian Monaco at 6155 John Daly St., Taylor, MI 48180 or e-mail him at falstaff4ever@msn.com. You also can find many more resources at www.bcca.com.

Today’s trivia

Did you know the dictionary traces the word “vacation” to the very same word in French and Latin? I didn’t, either, but that’s where I’ll be the next two weeks.

Answer to Friday’s trivia: Those who have ever flown know what havoc changes in air pressure can play on the inner ear. You’re coming in to land and suddenly your ears close up. Although the feeling is annoying, many resort to pinching their nostrils shut and then trying to exhale through them. Often, this action can open up the Eustachian tubes again.

But what do you do if you’re an astronaut in a space suit and can’t touch your nose? Well, NASA apparently thought of that, too. Inside many helmets you’ll find a small piece of polyurethane attached to the helmet. When astronauts’ ears become blocked, they position their nose over this piece, which blocks the nostrils as your hand would. Then, they simply try to blow out to open their ears.

It’s called a Valsalva piece, after Dr. Antonio Maria Valsalva, a 17th-century physician from Bologna, Italy, who was particularly interested in the human ear. He described the Eustachian tube — and the maneuver to unclog it. He said it could help expel pus from the middle ear, too.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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