Joe Semanisin recently removed brick pavers that are part of Maryville’s centennial memorial.
One brick at a time, close to 1,800 bricks.
“I try to be here every day for a couple hours,” said the 70-year-old just before finishing. “I go up at 6 to 8:30. It’s cooler. I play golf on Tuesday. It’s going pretty fast now. I got it narrowed down — 150 bricks a day.”
He noticed the memorial, dedicated in 2002, needed sprucing up.
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“It got kind of deteriorated,” said Joe. “The bricks (on the ground) kind of got a little crooked. They didn’t have a real strong (frame) around it. This time, we’ll put a concrete border around it. We’re going to redo the whole area. People who bought a brick deserve more than what they got. When we rebuild, we will do some things differently, redo it better than the original.”
If you drive along Illinois 159 in the early morning and glance to the east, you might have seen him.
A shock of white hair. Wire-rimmed glasses. Work clothes. On his hands and knees, pulling up bricks.
Soon, signs will be up near the memorial: “Buy a brick. Buy a bit of history. Restore the Memorial.”
That’s his doing, too.
Engraved bricks range from $60 to $600, depending on size.
“We will redesign the memorial just a little bit,” he said. “It depends how much money we can raise and how fast we can raise it. We will take any and all donations.”
Joe and wife Diane co-chaired the building of the memorial on city property for the town’s 100th birthday. The bricks, many with names of Maryville families or businesses etched in, pattern the area in front of an 18-feet-long by 6-feet-tall brick wall that offers clues to what the memorial is about.
The inscription reads: “Dedicated June 1, 2002. In honor of our veterans. In memory of our coal miners. And a tribute to our ballplayers on our 100th birthday.”
People who bought a brick deserve more than what they got. When we rebuild, we will do some things differently, redo it better than the original.
Joe Semanisin on redoing Maryville’s centennial memorial
A fountain is part of the memorial. So is a curved path just to the south, lined with lighted piers. The U.S. flag, Illinois flag and village flag fly nearby. A Korean War-vintage cannon on the corner belongs to the American Legion.
“All the brick was donated by Richards Brick in Edwardsville,” said Joe. “All the labor was donated. I’m a retired sales manager for Richards Brick. That’s why I know a little bit about brick. Dad worked there. My son is general manager there. Real good people. They donated all the brick for the piers, too.”
Now, the Semanisins are spearheading the rebuilding.
Why take on such a project?
“I lived here all my life and care about Maryville,” said Joe, pointing to a tan-sided house with orange shutters. “That’s my mom and dad’s house. I served on the village council. I’m a county board member. I was a volunteer fireman for 25 years. I’ve been a fortunate person. People have elected me. I am just community minded.”
He has seen Maryville grow. Once a town of 550 people, it has close to 7,200 residents.
“When I grew up, this was a bean field. That was a corn field. There was a big farm over there. The city got the ground from the state of Illinois for $1, thanks to Sam Vadalebene. He had a lot of power. It originally belonged to Assembly of God.”
The Semanisins live just a half-mile from the memorial.
“My wife is from Glen Carbon,” said Joe. “She was a Tiger. I was a Kahok. Now, my daughter (Vicki Fuhrhop, who lives in Troy) is a Triad Knight. She teaches at Collinsville High School. My son Michael is a general manager at Richards. Dad (Mike) was there 38 years. My son has been there 20 years; me, 48.”
As Joe picked up pavers, he talked about the names on them.
“The Louis Meyer Farm, 1857. The Walter Bohn farm. They’re both established families who have been here forever. Picchioldi & Sons grocery. The Drost family. John was mayor from 1953 to ’56. My dad Mike was mayor from ’48 to ’52.”
His dad was also a minor league baseball player in the 1930s and ’40s for the Nebraska State League.
“My dad was full of stories, mostly baseball.”
Why was Maryville such a baseball town?
“There wasn’t much else to do in those days after the coal mines shut down,” he said. “We were fortunate to have players go to the minors and the majors. All those guys on there, they were all in the same age group. ... A couple of them made it really big. Dwain Sloat and Bob Boken played for the Washington Senators. Ken Oberkfell (who played for the St. Louis Cardinals in the late 1970s and early 1980s) came from a longtime Maryville family.”
Joe picked up his trowel and got busy.
“When it was done, it was great. When we dedicated it that day, two former mayors came, the present mayor. There was a gathering of people in the community, families born and raised here. One of the ballplayers on the sign was there. It was a neat dedication. The Collinsville American Legion had their honor guard there. And Anderson Hospital provided fireworks that evening. It was neat being part of it.”
Joe hopes re-dedication will happen next spring, maybe around Memorial Day.
“The Mayor (Larry Gulledge) said, ‘Joe, do what you want. We don’t have any money to give you.’ He said, “You can put your sign up to sell brick.” I said, ‘Thank you,’ and then I started.”
“I think it’s going to be a nice project,” said Mayor Gulledge, “and will restore the memorial to the beauty we had in 2002. It’s a lot of work. It’s a pretty good-sized memorial. Joe will do a good job. He’s got a lot of volunteerism in him. He’s dedicated, he and his wife, Diane.”
Buy a brick
Help restore Maryville Memorial
Cost: A 4-by-8-inch brick is $70; an 8-by-8-inch is $120; a 12-inch-square gray granite stone is $250, or $300 if it includes a logo; a 16-inch-square gray granite stone is $600. The piers have an 8-by-8 brick that is $600.
How to buy a brick: Forms are on the Village of Maryville website, www.vil.maryville.il.us/; or call Joe at 288-7422 and he will send you a form.