Fire Fighters Association of Missouri

History’s Corner – September 2019

A couple of months age I received a call from Fire Chief David Pratte of the Bonne Terre Fire Department. Actually I should say the Bonne Terre/Big River Fire Service since he told me that the two departments had merged. The Big River Fire Department is a rural tag supported department that protects a large area around Bonne Terre.

Chief Pratte was calling to see if I would be interested in being the keynote speaker and MC for the dedication of their new fire station. My first question to him was, “how did you find me?” and the second was, “how did you know I was still alive?”

I guess the answer to the last question is oblivious if your department is a member of the FFAM, since these history articles keep appearing in the newsletter. The answer to the first was easy because he was acquainted with someone who was aware we had moved to Branson. 

He said that he had attended a number of classes I had conducted when I was with the University of Missouri and would be happy to have me there and I was honored and flattered to be invited. 

During the several decades I traveled around our state I had numerous opportunities to help dedicate fire stations, speak at dinners and I must say always enjoyed having a microphone in my hand talking about and singing the praises of the fire service and firefighters. 

I had no idea when I accepted this invitation that it would be one of the most unique and gratifying experiences of my career.

UNIQUE HISTORY OF BONNE TERRE

I must admit that I had very limited knowledge about Bonne Terre with the exception of knowing folks from that area of the state years ago. Chief Tom Robart from the Herculaneum Fire Department who served as the President of the FFAM from 1967 till 1971 was the first fire service person I remember talking about Boone Terre and the fact that St. Joseph Lead Company was responsible for the towns existence.

We also have family members that have first hand information about Bonne Terre. One of our son in laws, Patrick Cox’s mother, Jan McGregor Cox, was raised in that community and graduated from the High School featured in this article. Jan says that growing up there in the 1960’s was like living in a “story book town.”  Her Dad was an executive in the St. Joe Lead Company so we decided to check out the McGregor homestead while we were in town. 

The McGregor home in Bonne Terre as it appears today. Many period homes are still on the major streets in town reflecting the effect the St. Joseph Lead Company had on the community.

Rather than attempt to write a complete history of the city, here are the two plaques that the Missouri Historical Society has posted in the square.

HISTORY WAS MADE ON AUGUST 10

It would be truly fascinating to continue the history of this city and we could easily fill a dozen or so pages in doing so but the “real story” we want to tell is the unbelievable tale of the city improvements provided by one man for the glory of God.

The story starts several years before August 10, with the sale of the Bonne Terre High School and Gymnasium by the owners, North Central School District.  A local businessman, Mr. Sharo Shirshekan, purchased the property and he had a vision. 

His vision was to convert the High School building, as well as some Grade School property to a New City Hall and Police Headquarters and a number of apartments the city could rent for municipal income.

Then came the real deal for the Big River/Bonne Terre Fire Service. The Gymnasium next door to the City Hall building was magically transformed into one of the most modern and magnificent fire stations I have seen in my entire career.

Chief David Pratte was quoted in an article by Bobby Radford in the Daily Journal as saying, “We are so blessed, Mr. Sharo has helped us with this but he doesn’t want any credit and said It’s a gift from God.” 

During the dedication, Chief Pratte also stated that the gift of the new station, ladder truck and fire fighting gear for all of their staff would, “forever benefit this town and the surrounding area we serve.”

Authors’s Note

I have had the honor of helping many departments around our state dedicate fire stations and new apparatus over the last fifty years but I was humbled beyond words to be involved in this process.

I will close with the verse that is proudly displayed in this fire station, along with a huge American flag. 

Proverbs 3.6 – In everything you do, put god first, and he will direct you and crown you with success.