July 04, 1936 - February 09, 2010
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||July 04, 1936|
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||February 09, 2010|
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Winnie Weber: Legislator was the Life of the Party
By Michael D. Sorkin
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
As a legislator in Jefferson City, Winnie Weber was known for her blunt talk, short skirts and a fondness for drink. For years, she held the unofficial but undisputed title of Life of the Party.
She was chairwoman of the House higher education committee and proud of her work to promote what now is Truman State University in Kirksville.
She died Tuesday (Feb. 9, 2010) at her home in Eminence, Mo., at age 73. She was recently bedridden with arthritis and osteoporosis, her family said.
A former teacher, Ms. Weber was a state representative from Jefferson County for a total of 16 years in the 1970s and '80s. In a county where politics is considered a full-contact sport, she fit right in.
"Bottom line, Hon, is that I'm just country folk," she said for a 1991 profile in the Post-Dispatch. "And country folk just tend to go off and do things and then ask later if they should've done it."
Winifred Pauline Faulkenberry was born in the Bible Belt on the Fourth of July in 1936, according to driver's license records, the third oldest of seven children.
The family moved when she was young to Eminence in Shannon County, where her father, a land surveyor, was elected mayor.
He had a habit of driving around town with pine seedlings in his car, stopping, getting out and planting a pine tree. It didn't matter that it was on somebody else's property.
Winnie likewise had a mind of her own.
When her high school held a Miss Eminence contest, Winnie announced that there was no sense in anyone else running because she had already bought her dress for the occasion. Declaring herself the winner, she and her girlfriends built their own float.
She graduated from Southwest Missouri State and earned a master's at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
After a brief marriage at a young age, she divorced and moved to House Springs. There, she rented a guest house on the property of Jefferson County Magistrate Glenn Weber, a powerhouse in the local Republican Party.
Weber fell for the 23-year-old schoolteacher with shapely legs, vivacious personality and raven hair — she had not yet turned blond. Although recently married, Weber got out of that marriage and married Winnie.
It didn't last long. Republican Weber and Democrat Winnie would go to bed and talk politics. Before long, one of them would end up sleeping on the couch.
In 1970, at 33 and divorced, she ran for the Legislature, campaigning in a red Corvette convertible.
By then, she knew nearly everyone in northern Jefferson County, either through Weber or by having taught voters' children.
She won, and won re-election two years later. In 1974, she ran for the state Senate and lost in the Democratic primary. She regained her House seat in 1976 and held it until 1988.
She decorated her office with photographs: Winnie dressed like Wonder Woman; Winnie with a smiling Lyndon Johnson; and, of course, Winnie in low-cut gowns.
Her office was a gathering place for legislators, regardless of party affiliation, lobbyists and reporters. It was a favorite stopover for Republican Gov. Christopher "Kit" Bond, now a U.S. senator.
"Winnie was a powerful advocate for her constituents, and a great ally to have on your side." Bond said Thursday.
Supporters said she was smart and deeply committed to advancing education in the state but figured she needed short skirts and blond hair to make the ol' boy network feel comfortable with her.
"She was a wildcat, and jumped out of a cake at the end of one (legislative) session," recalled a brother, Paul Faulkenberry, mayor of Eminence.
Ms. Weber herself made no bones about it: "Not only did I not avoid parties, I was the one who started them — and I was the one who'd be dancing on the table at it."
After an arrest for DWI in 1988, she lost her re-election bid. She tried again in 1990, but failed.
She returned to Eminence to open Winfield's, a bar, restaurant, store and her home, built from a rehabbed antique drugstore. Her brother said she hadn't had a drink in more than 20 years.
She never remarried, but in 1983, she met Buddy Lucas, who made millions selling textbooks at university bookstores. He was married but already separated. Winnie and Buddy lived together until 1990, when he died.
"I miss him very much," she said in the Post profile, and built a stone bench so she could sit next to his crypt in Columbia, Mo.
She returned one day to find her bench facing a missing crypt. Buddy's body has never been found.
"She died not knowing where he is buried," Paul Faulkenberry said.
Services will be at 2 p.m. Feb. 20 at Chapel Hill Mortuary & Memorial Gardens, 6300 Highway 30, Cedar Hill. Visitation will start at 11 a.m. that morning. Burial will be at the mortuary's cemetery.
In addition to her brother, survivors include two other brothers, Joe Faulkenberry of Eminence and V.T. Faulkenberry of Virginia Beach, Va.; and a sister, Paulette Williams of Eminence.
EMINENCE HISTORY - Winfield's, a restored fountain and emporium dating from Eminence's Roaring 20s, gained a second lease on life July 3, 1999 with a community-wide grand re-opening.
Winnie P. Weber, an Eminence native and former Jefferson County state legislator, returned home to resurrect the landmark drugstore with the help of family and friends. "We wanted to save the old Hyde drugstore because it had been the heart of our community for so many decades," Weber said. Dr. Franklin Hyde finished medical school in St. Louis and returned to Eminence to set up practice in 1897 - just in time to officiate at the hanging of a Winona man, a wife-beater and all-round scoundrel, at the courthouse. Hyde's son, William, graduated from pharmacy school in St. Louis and joined his father in 1920.
Three years later, Dr. Hyde's Eminence Drug Store with his medical offices opened for 11 months, but then burned, all but the 14-inch concrete walls. The fire consumed that entire side of the 100 block of Main Street, including - it's said - every auto in Eminence, all parked inside to protect against the cold in a garage next to the drugstore.
Hyde rebuilt, more cheaply but still uncommonly stylish for rural Missouri, and created what became a community gathering place.
Until the mid-1960s, the drugstore and fountain offered the only pharmacy services in Shannon County and, for about three decades, served as the Eminence post office, including horseback rural routes. The restoration work - which has added a glow to original features rarely seen outside major cities in the 20s - has preserved two dips in the solid oak flooring: one where the postmaster stood behind the counter; the other where customers lined up for service.
But those subtle touches take a visual back seat to the restored tin ceilings, crown moldings, copper-plated front walls, crystal imbedded in copper and translucent tiles in the sidewalk that are back-lighted from the basement.
Weber bought the drugstore and an adjoining building in October 1998, when it was destined to draw dust. A St. Louis architectural antique dealer, Lloyd Goode, has supervised most of the restoration since, and limited fountain and diner service began in April 1999.
Winfield's made the transition from a grill menu to full-service restaurant with an evolving retail mix, including novelties, local crafts and apparel. The fountain, after a public contest, has been dubbed Winnie's Hyde-A-Way, and celebrates her political years with larger-than-life posters of her and former President Lyndon B. Johnson and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, among others. A banquet room, with dual fireplaces, is available upstairs. Weber is negotiating with a young pharmacy student to locate here and make prescription drugs available in Eminence for the first time in more than 20 years.
Winfield's General Store in an adjacent historic building began offering a candy counter, sundries and one-of-a-kind items seldom found in south-central Missouri retailing. Now open in the basement of the drugstore is Rubes Roost a saloon where you can enjoy native hospitality and fantastic food with the atmosphere of a century old bar.
Winfield's, although a community affair and a personal commitment for Weber, is only taking shape because it's a family affair, too.
Weber's Brother, Paul Faulkenberry, a St. Louis antique dealer assists on projects. He's working on an oral video history of the folk medicine practitioners and other colorful characters in the area.
And brother Billy Joe Faulkenberry, a St. Louis antique lighting dealer, contributed one of the most eye-catching additions to the drugstore - a crystal chandelier in the entry that came from an old Chevrolet dealership in St. Louis.
The family's involvement in restoring part of Eminence's history is almost genetic: father Paul Sr. was the Eminence mayor for several terms. "Besides," Weber said, "I just had to save the one place that I knew would serve pineapple Pepsi."