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High Fives: Mary Delach Leonard

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 29, 2013 - For the Beacon's fifth birthday, we've asked people to share five favorite things from over the years.

1. Experiencing firsthand the resilience and graciousness of residents of the Missouri Bootheel under the most trying of circumstances: While covering the aftermath of the 2011 flooding, these incredible Missourians -- who had all lost their homes -- not only trusted me to tell their stories, but some even cooked for me. On a blustery fall afternoon, Milus and Wanda Wallace treated me to delicious beef stew, pulled pork sandwiches and banana pudding, served from the back of pickup trucks parked in a barn they were rebuilding on their farm. And 73-year-old “Miss Aretha” Robinson, displaced from Pinhook, Mo., made lunch for me: fried AND baked chicken because she didn’t know which I’d prefer. (I liked them both.) People are amazing.

2. Calling into the office and saying to editors Susan Hegger and Donna Korando: "I’ve got this idea” and hearing them say, “Go ahead and try it.” Which is how I happened to write an open letter to Rachel of Cardholder Services – she of robocalling fame -- that drew responses and “solutions” from frustrated people all over the country. My favorite: Get a police whistle and blow. Or the time, Brent Jones, the Beacon’s presentation editor, took my “I have this idea” call and then worked a small miracle with my pictures and digital recordings made at a Granite City steelworkers rally during the height of the recession.

3. Working alongside dedicated young journalists willing to do what it takes to tell the story. A shoutout to Puneet Kollipara, who interned at the Beacon when he was a student at Washington University. Puneet, now a reporter for Science News in Washington, helped me tell a story about a mobile health-care bus in rural Missouri. But more amazing: He went with me to a Cardinals game and consumed more food – hot dogs, nachos, ice cream, beer -- than I have ever seen consumed in nine innings. Kudos also to Mizzou intern Ryan Schuessler, now studying in Spain, who took pictures for a followup on the Bootheel flooding. Ryan gallantly rode on the back of a wagon in the sweltering sun while I rode up front -- under the shade of a canopy -- with the mayor of Morehouse, Mo. At some point, he ripped a long slit in the back of his jeans, which the people of the Bootheel must still be talking about.

4.  Getting to write the “long story” when it matters, such as my work with the staff of the Nine Network on the “Saving the Mortgage Crisis,” which led to my playing a small role in helping a St. Charles couple save their home from foreclosure. While reviewing a pile of their documents I found a letter about a government-mandated program they had not understood. At my prodding, they called to see if they were eligible. They were referred to a HUD hotline where an experienced housing counselor listened to their story and then intervened with their lender, successfully cutting through four years of red tape: Modification approved. Because of a needle in a haystack.

5. Shaking Stan Musial’s hand. I am a lifelong Cardinals fan, but I’d never met The Man until I was covering “Stand for Stan” Day at Busch Stadium. After his cart had circled the field’s warning track, it stopped just inside the gate where stadium workers clustered about him. I stood back watching the love. But as the cart pulled away, No. 6 turned to me, reached out and grabbed my hand. Then he looked me in the eye and smiled his Stan Musial smile. When he died, it was my honor to interview mourners for a Beacon tribute story.

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