The Champ

Bill Bangert wanted a world-class domed stadium in St. Louis County, but all he got was a tiny town. Now the 77-year-old dreamer is back in Missouri with a few more nutty ideas.

Because of his seemingly outlandish ideas, Bangert "wasn't treated very nicely by the media," says Carl Stifel, who was involved in some of the real-estate deals involving Champ. "He was ahead of his time in his ideas, but a lot of them were very, very good."

Former St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary remembers when Bangert ran against former County Supervisor Lawrence Roos. "I remember the debate, because Bill Bangert was quite a character. He had gone to the Scottish Highland Games and was some kind of he-man discus-thrower or shot-putter. I think he was exceptional, and he went away with a medal. I don't know the whole story, but he was famous for that, and he talked about it in the debate -- how he'd won all these medals and he was happy about it but he'd really be happier if he was elected county supervisor." Bangert lost.

But, McNary says, as crazy as some of Bangert's ideas may have seemed decades ago, they don't seem so crazy now: "It was so far off, and, yet, where is the village of Champ? That's where Riverport is. Today there is an amphitheater there, and that's where I was going to put a domed stadium in order to keep the football Cardinals in town. So Bill Bangert wasn't so far off with his ideas, but he sure was pretty far ahead of his time."

Bangert won a medal in the 1985 World Veterans Games in Rome. He continues to throw the shot put and discus.
Bangert won a medal in the 1985 World Veterans Games in Rome. He continues to throw the shot put and discus.

After an absence of nearly 20 years from Missouri, Bangert and his wife, Rosemary, returned in 1997 to be closer to two of his five daughters, one of whom now lives down the street from him and another who lives in OFallon, Mo. At his home in Marthasville, he still works out for at least an hour every day, throwing a discus in the yard that his dog, Jake, fetches for him. He exercises on a treadmill, ski machine and stationary bike in his basement. More than three dozen medals hang on the wall -- all of which Bangert won after he turned 70. He says it is athletics that has helped him get through his many defeats. "Competition has been an antidote for me to deal with all these problems," he says. "I could come home and work out for an hour and get rid of all that tension. Athletics really saved my life."

He has kept busy competing in events across the country and in Canada, in senior and masters games, regularly finishing in first or second place. Rosemary was recently Mrs. Senior Missouri. Bangert takes some credit for it: "I was competing in an event in Columbia, and I heard about this contest, and I said, 'Do you mind if I enter my wife?' She was visiting my daughter in Florida, and I called her up on the phone and said, 'I entered you in this contest for Mrs. Senior Missouri.' She said, 'Oh my goodness.' She wasn't too happy about it." But Bangert notes that she took home the big trophy, now prominently displayed in his basement workout room. "I won my event, and she won hers."

In 1998, Bangert ran unsuccessfully as a U.S. Taxpayers Party candidate for Warren County presiding commissioner, saying he hoped to become the oldest elected official to win a world championship in the World Veterans Games. And he has continued to churn out ideas. One involved creating a 200-acre island at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers with a massive fountain that could shoot a stream of water more than 1,000 feet in the air, a monument to the bicentennial of the 1804 Lewis and Clark expedition. "People come from all over to see things animated," he says. "People are always interested in fountains and things like that." The idea got him a story in the Post-Dispatch, but that's about it.

Bangert has also written letters with his idea for a "Commemorative Olympics" he would like to see staged at Washington University in 2004 in celebration of the centennial of the 1904 Olympics held in St. Louis. The games, he says, would be senior games but open to anyone in the world who wanted to compete. He figures the medals could be created to look like the medals won in 1904. Besides, he hopes to compete in those games. He'll be 80 years old.

The idea that has really captured Bangert's fancy is one he believes could rectify a 97-year-old slight to a Polish artist who came to America in 1904 to show his work at the World's Fair.

Bangert learned about the artist, Jan Styka, about 10 years ago, while still living in California. He and his wife were invited to give a concert on the life of Christ, based on African-American folk songs, at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif. They performed in front of a massive painting, called "The Crucifixion," that was 195 feet long and 45 feet high.

According to a history of the painting compiled by Forest Lawn, the painting took seven years to complete. Styka received an invitation to display that painting, and others, at the 1904 World Exposition in St. Louis. But when he arrived in New York, he was told there was no facility at the fair that could house a painting as large as "The Crucifixion." He left the painting at a warehouse in New York and traveled on to St. Louis, where, on the last night of the fair, all of his canvases were destroyed in a fire. When he returned to New York, he learned customs officials had seized his huge painting for nonpayment of duty. He never saw the painting again.

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