This is one in a series of profiles on the five Columbia City Council candidates.
306 Whitetail Drive
Personal: Age 62. He is married to Kris Pauls. They have two children.
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Occupation: Retired Missouri assistant soil scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Education: Bachelor's degree in agriculture, Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State University).
Background: Represents the Second Ward on the Parks and Recreation Commission, president of the Hunters Gate Neighborhood Association, volunteer with the Columbia Hospitality Corps, member of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.
COLUMBIA — The transformation of Bill Pauls from overweight office worker to prolific runner began 17 years ago.
Pauls’ son, Jeff, pulled his 200-plus pound father aside and encouraged him to start exercising.
“He said, ‘You know, Dad, you’re starting to get that middle-aged look about you,'” Pauls said.
So Pauls started jogging. And nine months later, he had quit smoking and lost 60 pounds. Things stopped being “mundane.”
“Life became really good,” Pauls said. “My whole outlook on life changed.”
Since then, Pauls has run a marathon — 26.2 miles, he won’t let you forget — in all 50 states.
Pauls, who has lived in Columbia for 25 years and in the Second Ward for 11, took his jogging outfit to the quiet residential streets near Lange Middle School a couple weeks ago. On the back of his sweatshirt, loosely sewn over a white National Guard emblem, was his slogan: "Pauls for Council."
He walked from house to house, placing campaign fliers in screen doors, as no one was yet home from work.
“Normally I run,” Pauls said of his door-to-door campaign style. But on this day, he found himself too busy talking. It’s hard to cut Pauls off; he chatters nonstop, often anticipating responses and addressing questions before they are uttered.
Pauls, 62, lacks a politician’s penchant for calculated comments. Instead, he says what he thinks.
“I’m going to show people you can win this race with less than $3,000,” he said, only to backtrack later. “Whether I win the seat or not, I have been blessed to make this attempt."
In the middle of the Second Ward, which spans much of north-central and northwest Columbia, green yard signs dot the suburban landscape. A cartoon version of Pauls is shown jogging on each one, or, as they read, “running for city council.” At 306 Whitetail Drive, Pauls stood on his back deck overlooking the Bear Creek Trail, which runs five miles through woods and alongside fields.
“We’ve got geese that come into our wetland area every night. You sit there, and you listen,” he said. “And in a little bit the tree frogs will start. It’s fantastic.”
Around the neighborhood, Pauls is well known. He’s the president of the Hunters Gate Neighborhood Association.
Robert Williams, a retired Air Force colonel who lives down the street, said Pauls is instrumental in getting the neighborhood together for social events.
“About the last four have been at his house,” Williams said. “He’s not the least bit shy. He loves to talk to people.”
Chris Janku, who served as Second Ward councilman from 1991 to 2009, lives four houses down from Pauls. He is the campaign’s treasurer.
“(Bill) is an excellent neighbor,” Janku said. “He also has a strong community spirit.”
Pauls has represented the Second Ward on the Parks and Recreation Commission for the past nine years. Marin Blevins, the Fourth Ward representative and chairman of the commission, said Pauls approaches his work with passion.
“He’s a very focused person when he wants to achieve something,” Blevins said. “Bill’s very goal oriented.”
Dan Devine, who represents the First Ward on the Parks and Recreation Commission, said he’s known Pauls for a long time; their children are about the same age, and they used to live in the same neighborhood.
In his work on the commission, Devine said Pauls speaks his mind.
“He’s very good at listening to other proposals,” Devine said. “But he’s got his basic beliefs, and he’s going to follow those."
After retiring in 2007, Pauls also began volunteering with the Columbia Hospitality Corps, which is sponsored by the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau. Corps volunteers greet people and offer information about Columbia to people who stop at a kiosk along Interstate 70. He estimates he put in 400 hours there last year.
“I don’t wear out,” Pauls said.
From farmer to scientist and family man
Pauls calls himself an “old farm boy.” He grew up in Newton, Iowa, about 35 miles east of Des Moines. His parents’ farm operation included corn, soybeans and livestock.
“I had to go outside and work in all weather, early in the morning, late at night,” he said.
In high school, Pauls joined the local 4-H club and Future Farmers of America. He was shy, but 4-H and FFA changed him. Pauls learned public speaking during a competition in which members recited the FFA Creed. Decades later, he still remembers his presentation.
“I believe in the future of farming…,” he began, then fired off a lengthy oath, stopping to laugh halfway through. “You get the idea.”
After high school, Pauls traveled to Ames, Iowa, to attend college at Iowa State University. It was incumbent upon him to take over the family farm, so Pauls studied agricultural science. But the summer after his freshman year, at 19, a girl back home changed his life.
Pauls was fishing the Skunk River for catfish when she and some friends pulled up in a yellow Mustang.
“It was pretty much love at first sight,” Pauls said. “I told one of my friends, ‘I like her a lot, I’m going to marry her someday.’”
Pauls transferred from Iowa State to Northeast Missouri State University — now Truman State University — to follow the young woman, now Kris Pauls. They dated throughout college, and once Pauls graduated, they were married.
The couple had two children, Jeff and Kelly, after moving to Bethany, where Pauls filled a vacant soil scientist position for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service.
“We loved it; we had a lot of friends there,” Pauls said of Bethany. “The big thing to do was high school sports. I filmed the football team.”
A promotion to the Agriculture Department's state office moved the family to Columbia in 1986.
Even then, “our lives revolved around the kids,” Pauls said. He coached his son’s American Legion baseball team in the mid-1990s, sometimes becoming so nervous he would smoke behind the dugout. At the same time, his role at work was that of a stationary boss who edited manuscripts. He no longer walked eight miles a day in the field.
Fred Young, another soil scientist for the Agriculture Department, has worked in the state office for 15 years. He said Pauls loved his job before he retired in 2007, adding that “soil was his passion; the hook (for Bill) was the importance of soil to society.”
As for Pauls’ management style, Young recalled that he was straightforward and unvarnished.
“Bill would get angry, he’ll tell you straight up,” Young said. “And then he’ll calm down and work it out. He’s comfortable with his feelings.”
Pauls belongs to a group of people apart from university and secular circles. He has four priorities in life: faith, family, work and friends, in that order.
An “unapologetic” Roman Catholic who attends Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, he also belongs to an organization called LIFE Runners, which raises money for anti-abortion causes through races. Pauls hopes to participate in a St. Louis marathon for the group this October.
Raised a Methodist, Pauls converted to Catholicism after marrying. He said he’s disappointed when politicians say they’re Catholic but their actions don’t show it.
“They say, ‘I need to represent my constituency, so even though I believe this, I’m going to do (something else).' I don’t agree with that,” Pauls said.
"You don’t put the Catholic Church on your back and drag it into the council chamber, either."
On the go
During a meeting in his home, Pauls got out some of the soil manuscripts he worked on during his career with the Agriculture Department.
Kris Pauls reminded him to explain the science in plain terms. He pointed out the different soils on the map, including why it’s important to know where each type lies in the earth. It’s especially important for builders, Pauls said.
Then, remembering a looming campaign event, Pauls suddenly switched gears.
“I’d love to stay and chat,” he said. “But I’ve gotta go.”