Answer Man

Picnic area is now a retirement community

Q: With all the news about the flooding in Valley Park, Mo., right now, it reminded me of some good times I had as a child in that area. In the summer we would visit my Missouri cousins and extended family at the Union Electric facility in Valley Park. I recall a number of picnic areas and buildings but not much more than that except the fun we had on a Sunday in the summer. Could you tell me where this park was located? It was for the employees of the electric company and their guests.

Rose Anne Bense, of Columbia

A: You may be surprised to learn that the place where you frolicked as a child now could offer you a home in your golden years. In 1998, Lutheran Senior Services bought the Union Electric property near Valley Park and built Meramec Bluffs, a continuing care retirement community.

For decades, the 50-acre site had been known informally as the Union Electric Country Club. In reality, it was no country club but merely a scenic retreat for thousands of UE workers and thousands more relatives and guests like yourself and your family.

But when shareholders of Union Electric and Central Illinois Public Service Co. agreed to merge into Ameren Corp. in 1995, they likely also signed the death warrant of the company’s bucolic refuge. Shortly after the merger was completed on Dec. 31, 1997, Ameren closed it and put the property up for sale, saying it had to cut the cost of maintaining and staffing it.

Ten months later, Ameren announced that Lutheran Senior Services, a nonprofit organization supported by the 74 churches in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod had agreed to purchase it. Fighting off objections from environmentalists, nearby residents and St. Louis County parks officials, it built Meramec Bluffs, which offers five levels of service from independent living to 24-hour nursing care.

Technically, it’s in Ballwin about a block west of Sulphur Spring/Vance Road and a half-mile north of the now-bloated Meramec River. To get a better idea where you spent those idyllic summer days, go to and click on “Meramec Bluffs” under “Senior Living Communities.” When that page pops up, click “map” on the righthand side under “Write a review” and you’ll find a detailed layout of the area.

Q: Is there a place I can recycle birthday and Christmas cards?

Bob, of Belleville

A: If you’re still in the giving spirit of Christmas, I’d heartily recommend forking over a little dough and sending them to the St. Jude’s Ranch for Children.

More than 30 years ago, children there began sending donors thank-you holiday greetings made from the cards they had received the previous year. The recipients were so delighted that they suggested the children make and sell the cards.

Now operated by Kids’ Corp., the operation produces new cards by removing the front and attaching a new back. The result is twofold: You can add to that holiday glow inside by knowing you’re putting all those beautiful cards to new use while helping an organization that has been providing a home for children since 1967.

Since opening its first home in Boulder City, Nev., the ranch has opened two additional campuses in Texas. It also has expanded its recycling program as well, accepting all greeting cards. Currently, they still have particular need for birthday and thank-you cards.

So if you don’t mind a little expense, box up your cards and send them to Recycled Card Program, 100 St. Jude’s St., Boulder City, NV 89005. Please note that they cannot accept Hallmark, Disney or American Greeting cards, and they cannot use any card that has writing on the backside of the front of the card. Using a Postal Service flat-rate box is probably the cheapest way to send large quantities.

Of course, they also would suggest buying cards from them, too. Packets of 10 are $17, which includes shipping and handling. For complete information, go to or call 877-977-7572. I’d certainly be glad to mention local groups offering a similar program, but I am not aware of any at the moment.

Q: While watching an old gangster movie the other night, I found myself wondering again how the name Patsy ever became a synonym for a stooge or scapegoat.

R.N., of Mascoutah

A: While the term’s origin is as American as Eliot Ness and Al Capone, it may trace its roots back 500 years to medieval Italy.

According to one popular theory, the slang term seemed to pop up about 1910 and may have come from the Italian “pazzo” — meaning “foolish” or “crazy” — which immigrants had brought over from the Old World.

In turn, pazzo may have come from the expression “uno dei pazzi” (“one of the fools”), referring to the Pazzi family of 15th-century Florence, Italy, that dared tried to assassinate the powerful Medicis and was slaughtered as a result. Hence, the thinking goes, “patsy” eventually became a sloppy pronunciation of “Pazzi.”

Others, however, point to a much simpler explanation. They say it derives from popular early 20th-century vaudeville entertainer Billy B. Van, whose character Patsy Bolivar usually became the innocent dupe of some nefarious villain.

Either way, the popularity of Patsy as a name soon became a fallguy itself to this new usage.

Today’s trivia

Here’s something I hadn’t thought about for years until writing this column: In which long-running comic strip would you have found a character named Bucolic Buffalo? Even harder: What was the name of his tribe?

Answer to Friday’s trivia: In May 1911, SKF, a Swedish ball-bearing manufacturer, registered “Volvo” as a new trademark. From the Latin word for “I roll,” it was originally intended as the brand name for a new line of ball bearings, but the name was soon dropped. Thirteen years later, Assar Gabrielsson, an SKF sales manager, and engineer Gustav Larson resurrected the name when they decided to build a car that could withstand Sweden’s rough roads and cold winters. The first Volvo automobile rolled off the production line in 1927.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer