Nixon's hometown takes pride on Inauguration Day

Monday, January 12, 2009 | 2:26 p.m. CST

DE SOTO — The hometown of Jay Nixon took a quiet pride in his inauguration as Missouri governor on Monday.

While many of those who knew him well were celebrating at the festivities in Jefferson City, people in this quiet community 40 miles southwest of St. Louis said Nixon's rise to power has been the talk of the town.

"Are you kidding? I'd say that's the buzz. We're so proud of him," said Gwen Lewis, 67, a longtime physical education teacher at De Soto High School who advised Nixon's graduating class in 1974, helping them plan activities and events.

"He was a great kid, a typical fun-loving high school student," she said.

Nixon was born in De Soto in 1956, and politics runs in the family. His father is a former mayor of the town of 6,500 residents. His mother is a former president of the school board.

During his campaign for governor, Nixon often spoke of his childhood in De Soto. He recalled how answering phone calls at home for his parents helped pave the way for his own civic involvement later.

De Soto residents remembered Nixon as a strong student with many interests, an athlete who was also involved in drama club, honor society, the debate team. Lewis recalled that Nixon and other boys started a cheering section at the girls' volleyball games.

Retired teacher Mary Alice Weber, 80, also attended church with the Nixons — Jay has two sisters, Mindy and Penny — at St. Andrew's United Methodist Church.

Weber said Nixon has jokingly called her his favorite Republican. "He's a very hard-working person, with a great deal of integrity," she said.

De Soto residents have long felt Nixon would make an excellent governor, Weber said. He served in the Missouri Senate for six years before being elected attorney general in 1992, a position he held for four terms.

"I firmly believe he's the best person for the job," Weber said.

There's also hope in the community that Nixon's success might mean good things are in store for De Soto, a community with strong ties to railroad industries. Union Pacific railroad employs about 450 people, and De Soto remains known for its rail car repair and rebuilding shop.


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