COLUMBIA — Francis Vangeli has worked on a dairy farm, driven a taxi, mixed mortar and sailed around the world with the Navy. Now, he is running for U.S. Senate.
Vangeli calls himself a “normal, everyday guy” and says he misses the good old days when spending $50 a month on groceries was big money. He seldom leaves his house in the countryside, south of Columbia on Brandywine Creek Road. He goes to town two times a week and attends church on Sundays at Our Lady of Lourdes in Columbia.
What are his qualifications for the U.S. Senate? He is older than 30 and has been a citizen for longer than nine years, he said, citing the minimum requirements under the law. In fact, he is 73 and was born in Philadelphia.
Vangeli's abruptness and blunt manner reflect his impatience with the way things are.
His previous jobs have taught him that hard work is good, Vangeli said.
As he sat on his back porch early Friday afternoon, Vangeli talked about his experiences working on the farm. His brown, leathery hands are testament to years of working in active, labor-intensive jobs.
“You would not like it,” Vangeli said in a gruff voice of his work on the dairy farm while growing up. He planted corn by hand to fill in holes that the planting machine missed. He painted and drove a tractor full of hay bales.
“It isn’t what you do as much as how you do it,” Vangeli said.
Vangeli moved to Columbia from St. Charles in 1985. He is one of 17 candidates running in the August primary for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by longtime Republican incumbent Kit Bond.
Vangeli is running against Secretary of State Robin Carnahan of St. Louis and Richard Tolbert of Kansas City for the Democratic nomination. There also are nine Republicans, two Libertarians and three Constitution Party candidates for the Senate seat, according to the Secretary of State's website.
Vangeli grew up in Lansdale, Pa., with Italian parents. Vangeli said he didn’t know any American kids until he started school. His parents taught him “morality, patriotism and the need to help others, not restrict them,” he said.
Vangeli wants to apply those principles to government, saying that as senator he would preserve fair laws and respect people.
“Give government back to the people,” Vangeli said. “(We) need more real people in Congress.” For Vangeli, Congress wasn’t intended to be a permanent, full-time job. He believes Congress was intended to meet only once a year, and only if necessary.
“The government is spending too much money and doing too much,” he said.
Vangeli joined the Navy after graduating high school. After boot camp, he headed by boat to the Caribbean for training. After sailing through the Middle East, he went on scholarship to Villanova University, earning a bachelor's degree in education with an emphasis in math. He got a master's degree in theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Connecticut.
After Villanova, Vangeli set sail again with the Navy, traveling to Spain, Norway, Germany and Japan. He became a commercial pilot and flight instructor.
He worked for the Federal Aviation Administration in St. Louis for a year and then moved to Columbia. He retired after working for the Columbia Flight Service Station for 20 years.
Vangeli said he was looking for a nice, quiet house when he decided to move to Columbia permanently. He found that in his current home, located in a quiet neighborhood and featuring a sprawling front yard. From his back porch, a wide view of the field and trees beyond his small backyard can be seen.
A variety of critters live around there, he said. He has seen eagles, buzzards, deer and even coyotes.
Vangeli said he sits on his back porch on most days when the weather is nice. He has a bright red hummingbird feeder that hangs from one of the trees, and he refills it with a mixture of sugar, water and red food coloring.
He values low prices, balanced trade, state rights and tax cuts. It’s time for ordinary people to start running the country, he said.
“Ordinary (people) have values and ideas and solutions that are sensible.”
Vangeli considers himself “independently poor,” meaning his house is paid for and his monthly bills are covered, but there is little money to spend anywhere else.
“Sometimes there is enough to eat out,” he said. He saves money for emergencies or vacation, but he said higher prices and taxes prevent him from saving as much as he'd like.
“When you live under these restrictions, you value laws and regulations that are not burdensome and will not inflict them on your grandchildren,” Vangeli said.
Vangeli's opposes abortion, high taxes and recent health-care reforms. He also wants to reduce government debt, and he worries about the election process in general.
“There is a groundswell of discontent with the current leadership,” Vangeli said.
Vangeli doesn't know what his chances are for winning the Democratic nomination, but he said he believes elections are sometimes geared to keep people in office, or to elect candidates anointed by the party elite.
Vangeli said he has attended some stump meetings and listened to other candidates, and he feels they all would make good senators, with the exception of Carnahan and Republican Roy Blunt.
"Each has their own strengths," Vangeli said of the lesser-known candidates. "We all seem to be on the same page."
He also shares his ideas through his website, and said he writes letters to media venues, Congressional representatives and occasionally the president.
“A politician thinks about himself, a statesman thinks about his country,” Vangeli said.
His reasons for running are simple and unceremonious, true to Vangeli form.
“I got tired of these people."