KIMMSWICK • Hank Goehring once patrolled the streets of this river town on a golf cart. He was the police chief, an alderman, emergency management director and owner of a gift shop. On Friday, he came back to the town he loved but that he hadn’t visited since 2011.
“It’s good to come home,” he said as he ate the same sandwich, the Market Street Special (smoked turkey, ham, bacon and provel cheese), that he regularly lunched on years ago at The Dough Depot restaurant.
No golf cart on this trip though. Goehring, 80, relies on a wheelchair, as does his wife, Loretta.
Because of the difficulties of transporting them, their family had been unable to bring them from their Eureka nursing home back to Kimmswick for a visit. That’s where the Twilight Wish Foundation, a national nonprofit group that grants wishes to senior citizens, came in. It helps those who are older than 68 with an income of less than 200 percent of the poverty level or who live in a nursing facility and cannot make their own wishes come true. Since it was founded in 2003, the organization has granted more than 2,170 individual wishes to seniors throughout the country.
Deanna Balestra, a real estate agent who lives in Maryland Heights, recently spearheaded the formation of the first chapter in Missouri, and Goehring’s wish was its first to be granted. She’s the chapter’s president and came with the Goehrings to Kimmswick. Some people have elaborate wishes; others, like Goehring, just want to return to a place special to them.
“For a lot of people, it means so much to come home,” Balestra said.
Goehring’s social worker told him about the program, and he knew immediately that he wanted to ask to be taken back to Kimmswick.
“It’s a godsend, it really is,” Goehring’s daughter, Donna Renner of De Soto, said of the program. She accompanied her father and stepmother as they ate lunch, stopped at City Hall and took a look at their old house.
Everywhere they went, the Goehrings ran into people they knew. One shop owner, Dennis Evans, came up to their table at the restaurant to say hello after hearing they were back in town. The two men used to see each other every day.
“I don’t see how anybody cannot like this town,” Goehring said, his face beaming.
The Goehrings’ lunch was on the house. Goehring left a tip and packed up part of his sandwich to take back to the nursing home, along with some cookies, for later. Mobility 4 U donated their transportation by van and Right at Home of St. Louis supplied the two aides to help the Goehrings get around.
Goehring wanted to be out in the air, on the streets of his town. He was its police chief from 1988 to 1991; before that, he was a St. Louis police officer since 1956.
“Roll me down to City Hall. It’s only a half a block,” he said after lunch.
City Clerk Tammy Benack greeted them there with a big smile and hugs. Goehring told of the two rooms in back of the 111-year-old building once used for jail cells – one is storage now, the other a bathroom. Benack filled him in on the town’s happenings — a new coffee and spice shop being built, the names of those on the Board of Aldermen.
Steve North, the public works director, stopped in. He told Goehring about the condition of the town’s culverts and floodwater pumps. The men for years met every Friday morning at the Goehrings’ house – North brought the doughnuts, Goehring supplied the coffee. North hugged Loretta Goehring, 79, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and slept for much of the day. She smiled.
Jeff Roorda, who was Kimmswick’s police chief and city administrator while Goehring was an alderman, popped in to say hello when he heard they were in town.
“It’s the same thing as Make-A-Wish for kids, but it’s for old farts,” Goehring told Roorda of the program that brought him there.
Phil Stang, who holds the Ward 2 spot on the board that Goehring once held, came by to introduce himself.
“Take care of my town,” Goehring told him.
Then it was on to the house Hank and Loretta shared, the historic Gerard-Kratochwil House. A plaque out front says it was built in 1909, but Goehring said it’s likely older. The Goehrings’ greyhound dogs once ran there. Their goose statue still sits out front. Loretta Goehring used to dress it for holidays and deck it out in a raincoat.
“A wonderful young couple lives there now. They’re taking really good care of it,” neighbor Donna Paszkiewicz assured them.
As the Goehrings made their way back to their van, which was to drive them by the Anheuser Museum and Estate before heading back to Eureka, he mused that he was glad to see the town, which relies heavily on tourism, so busy.
“Thank you for everything,” he said to Balestra before boarding the van. “I can never repay you.”
For information on making a wish through the Twilight Wish Foundation, call Deanna Balestra at 314-791-5881 or go to twilightwish.org.
Article from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, October 18, 2014 By Leah Thompson.