When the tragic waters rose, a rural community rushed in to aid Nona, Missouri, family | St. Louis Public Radio

When the tragic waters rose, a rural community rushed in to aid Nona, Missouri, family

Jul 31, 2018

Along Augusta Bottom Road, in rural St. Charles County, sits the town of Nona. A century-old general store is about all that’s left, and Michael Bauermeister, its owner.

More than three decades ago Bauermeister converted the building into his woodshop. He and his wife, Gloria, brought their two young sons here in 1987. Michael set up the shop on the main floor, and he and his family lived in the 900-square foot apartment above.

“I remember being really impressed with how nice [the apartment] was,” Michael Bauermeister said. “I expected it to be pretty cramped and crowded, but it has nice high ceilings and lots of windows … it's small, but you always knew where everybody was.”

MORE: Read the full-feature version of this story and the rest of the '25 years later: Remembering the Great Flood of '93'

The only downside was that the building was in an area that was prone to flooding. They were even told before they moved in that the building had flooded just the year before. But the Bauermeisters thought the the building was ideal and the price just right. Gloria said they had just left Kansas City and they wanted to raise their kids here. And on top of that, they couldn’t resist the prime location.

“It was perfect,” Gloria said. “We wanted to be on the Katy Trail.”

The bike trail wasn’t there just yet, but they knew it was coming. What they didn’t realize was that the building would flood again and far worse, in a matter of years.

Michael Bauermeister works on a piece in his studio in early July.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

When the summer of 1993 arrived, things got off to a rocky start. Michael fell off of a ladder while trimming a tree and broke his back in June.

“And then a month later almost to the day is when the flood hit in July,” he said. “And so, I was still in pretty rough shape at that point. I was out of the hospital but still wearing a brace.”

Because he had limited mobility and wasn’t able to work, the community rallied to hold a benefit for them. By then the rainfall throughout the region was causing the Missouri River to rise. Gloria remembers driving to the benefit at their local American Legion Hall in Augusta and trying to dodge frogs that covered the road.

“So we're just like driving through this kind of sea of frogs getting to town where the benefit was at the Legion hall,” Gloria said.

Over the next month, the rain kept pouring in. Gloria remembers the sound of the rain hitting the metal roof of the shop. Day in and day out they watched the news as reports of the river charts showed it was continuing to rise.

Left: The Bauermeisters stand outside of their woodshop during the summer of 1993 as flood waters surround their home. Right: Michael and Gloria Bauermeister recreate that family portrait 25 years later. Michael still works out of the woodshop.
Credit Photo provided by Gloria Bauermeister; Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Even from the view of their apartment, they could see the murky flood waters from the Missouri River slowly creeping into their backyard. Gloria said she became even more worried when their neighbor Robert “Butch” Aholt, a member of the levee board, knocked on their door.

“He pretty much said, 'The river’s rising. You guys might want to think about that,'” Gloria said.

View the full project: '25 years later: Remembering the Great Flood of '93'

Aholt, like many in the community, had lived through several floods and was used to it. This time, though, he remembers feeling like it was different and that they were in a losing battle.

“We wasn't going to hold it and we knew the height of it was that they was going to have water in their house,” Aholt said, “and we decided we had to get them out.”

The Bauermeisters, neighbors and strangers went out on johnboats in the middle of the night to help lift things higher in the woodshop as flood waters continued to rise.
Credit Photo provided by Gloria Bauermeister

The Bauermeisters had never experienced anything like this before. Fortunately, neighbors and strangers stepped in to help. People loaned them trailers to put their belongings in and helped them move things to higher ground in their apartment. Even after the flood waters moved into the old general store, neighbors helped the couple take johnboats late in the night to lift Michael's woodworking equipment and other belongings above the water.

“Everybody had flashlights,” Gloria said. “We got on these boats, floated in to the door, got in and raised everything up, sloshing through the water in boots and raise things higher. Try to take more things upstairs.”

With their home flooded, their neighbor Franz Mayer offered to help. He and his wife opened up their home to them without hesitation.

“It's automatic,” Mayer said. “It was like 'oh great, we'll have a party.'”

As it turned out, it was a strange sort of holiday, especially for the Bauermeister’s kids. They eventually moved into the vacant home offered up by another neighbor, a place with much more space than their little apartment above the shop. Their two sons were finally able to get their own rooms and an old tree swing hung outside. And Gloria said the boys enjoyed the sweets the Red Cross truck brought, including the Little Debbie snacks and Hi-C that she would never buy.

Left: The Bauermeisters son, Zac, walks along a washed-out Augusta Bottom Road. Right: Robert "Butch" Aholt power sprays the Bauermeisters' woodshop after 1993 flood waters from the Missouri River left it covered in mud.
Credit Photo provided by Gloria Bauermeister

From time to time, they would check in to see their shop completely surrounded by the Missouri River. Michael said they were enthralled by the beauty of it, even though, it wreaked havoc on their lives.

“When the water was up it was like lakefront property down there,” Michael said. “It was like being on the shore.”

The building had withstood 13 feet of water flooding both the basement and the first floor. When the water receded the beauty disappeared, and the Bauermeisters saw the devastation it left behind. The grass in their front yard was nonexistent. The roads were in shambles. The building had a mix of mold, snakes, frogs and ton of a mud that had to be cleaned up. But they weren’t left to do it alone.

"A lot of local folks helped with just the nitty-gritty dirty shoveling out mud from the basement and hauling off materials that couldn't be salvaged,” Michael said.

Butch Aholt helped them powerspray everything the mud touched. The strong smell of bleach lingered throughout the building. One group helped them clean every nut and bolt in the shop. They even had friends from Kansas City take Michael’s heavy machines and restore them.

Michael Bauermeister demonstrates how high the floodwater rose in 1993 inside his woodworking studio.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

“It is amazing how when something like a tragedy or something bad happens a lot of the times all of this goodness rushes in,” Gloria said.

In many ways, the Bauermeisters were among the lucky ones. While Gloria lost personal letters and pictures from her late mother, they didn’t lose many other belongings and their house was still standing. Down the road, a neighbor’s house was completely swept away by the flood waters. Today, it’s nothing more than a mini lake.

Throughout that summer of '93, the Bauermeisters recall feeling overwhelmed by the support from neighbors, friends and complete strangers as Michael recovered from his back injury and they dealt with the flood. So they returned the favor. They held a thank-you celebration for the entire community where they performed a song they co-wrote called “Into the Hands of Angels.” It’s one of several songs the couple recorded on their album of the same name, which feature songs about their experience during the flood.

Gloria and Michael Bauermeister perform a song during a benefit at the local American Legion Hall in Augusta. The community put together the benefit for Michael after he fell off of a ladder and broke his back in June 1993.
Credit Photo provided by Gloria Bauermeister

Things slowly returned to normal. Michael was able to work again and business picked up. But in 1995 the river rose again. With the experience of '93 under their belt, they didn’t panic as water moved closer. In fact, the night before they eventually had to move out again, they sat out on the back porch with some of their friends and played Scrabble.

“They thought we were nuts, because they kept thinking we had to get out,” Michael said. “But I could tell we had at least another 12 hours.”

After two bouts of flooding, the Bauermeisters decided they had enough. So, they moved out of the shop for good and built a house across the road higher up in the bluffs. Michael said he’s sure this time around their house won’t get flooded.

“If we get flooded up there everybody's in trouble,” Michael said. “That's going to be biblical.”

Michael still works out of his rustic shop in Nona. A distinctive green metal roof covers the shop and a row of refurbished seats from an old car are lined up on one side of the porch. Surrounded by farm fields, he likes the solitude broken only by the occasional driver along Augusta Bottoms Road and bicyclists along the Katy Trail.

While he wouldn’t want to tempt fate, he can’t imagine working anywhere else.

“I couldn't leave this building,” Michael said. “It's too much part of me at this point.”

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @Marissanne2011