Funky Town

Smokestacks, strip joints and a seriously solid tax base: Welcome to Sauget, Illinois

Whether the Saugets should feel guilty about their village's peculiar success is a contentious matter, one seeped in the institutional atrophy of a short-lived gilded age gone terribly awry.

Named in honor of the Monsanto Company's founding family, Queeny Avenue snakes eastward from Highway 3, passing the aptly named Dead Creek and Sauget's 1950s-era village hall before T-boning shortly after performing its final function as one of the village's three primary residential streets.

The spacious abode of Rich Sauget Sr. stands out amid the modest dwellings of the tiny town of 249
Jennifer Silverberg
The spacious abode of Rich Sauget Sr. stands out amid the modest dwellings of the tiny town of 249
If John "Vito" Parisi weren't K-9 Officer Bear's supervisor, his midsection might  be in for a hard chomp
Jennifer Silverberg
If John "Vito" Parisi weren't K-9 Officer Bear's supervisor, his midsection might be in for a hard chomp

On Queeny the homes are modest and lack any sense of conscious aesthetic unity. Lawns are tidy and pickup trucks oft-utilized, with union stickers proudly displayed on rear bumpers. Out on the sidewalks -- a luxury 'round these parts -- blue-and-white Belleville News-Democrat receptacles await the daily headlines alongside standard black mailboxes with red flags and gold numeric stickers. The Post-Dispatch, it would seem, is not the paper of record in St. Clair County. For many here, the big city across the river might as well be a solar system away.

"There are people on this side who think you need a passport to cross that river," says Cahokia native Bob McDaniel, director of the peculiarly named St. Louis Downtown Airport, which straddles the Sauget-Cahokia border.

"There's no place in the world like Sauget," adds the new mayor, Rich Sauget Jr. "You could have no idea you're living in a metro area. We had an officer drive someone across the bridge the other day, and he was like, 'Oh, wow!' He hadn't been to St. Louis in fifteen years. They think we're on the other side of the world."

Tall, bespectacled and boasting a baby face that contrasts sharply with his prematurely graying hair, Sauget Jr. was the youngest member of the village's board of trustees before being appointed to fill the office of mayor until the next election, in 2005. He was the only resident who expressed interest in the $24,000-per-year job when his great-uncle resigned amid the lingerie scandal; presumably, his candidacy went unchallenged because he was the lone trustee to hold the only credential that's ever mattered in the mayor's office: the surname Sauget.

"Basically, everybody has the perception that we own the town," Sauget acknowledges, not without a tinge of sarcasm.

Rich Jr. lives with his expectant wife and two kids (the third will join the family any day now) in a white one-story house on Ogden Avenue, which intersects the avenues of Little, Queeny and Nickell. That last road, the most southerly of the three, is named for Dr. Lloyd F. Nickell, the original operations manager at Monsanto's east-side plant. According to D.J. Forrestal's Faith, Hope & $5,000: The Story of Monsanto, the St. Louis-based chemical giant acquired the plant, previously known as Commercial Acid Company, in 1918, instantly doubling its employee rolls and expanding its production capabilities to include sulfuric acid, zinc chloride, chlorosulfonic acid and salt cake, an impure form of sodium sulfate. In 1997 Monsanto spun off its east-side operations into a self-sustaining company called Solutia, with the new entity assuming the role of the chemical behemoth's ugly stepson on the east bank of the Mississippi.

The mayor's younger sister, 26-year-old Annie Sauget Miller, lives "one block over and three houses down" on Nickell and earns her keep doing some marketing for her father's many business ventures and by redesigning the interior of the Oz, one of the two nightclubs opened by her late uncle Vincent Sauget and now operated via a trust set up by Vincent's widow, Charlotte. Rich Sr., patriarch and prominent regional real estate developer, lives next door to his son in a massive, stone-cut edifice that resembles a French country manor, a home in which one assumes his family's European ancestors would have felt right at home.

The first Saugets, Antoine and Victorine, arrived in St. Clair County in 1848, by way of France and New Orleans, with their five-year-old son, Armand, in tow. Years later, with the cooperation of wife Pauline, Armand Sauget would beget thirteen children, among them Leo. A farmer by trade who didn't see much sense in changing out of his overalls before conducting official village business, Leo Sauget would go on to help organize and incorporate Monsanto in 1926 and served as its mayor from then until 1969, by which point the town had voted to rename itself in his honor. While the change in nomenclature was not without a healthy dose of sincere appreciation for the man and his years of service, there are varied opinions as to what really prompted the shuffle. Some say it was intended to eliminate longstanding confusion among postal couriers, while others suspect it was a public-relations ploy by the chemical company to divert regulatory attention at a time when the environmental movement was crawling out of its infancy.

Rich Sr., Leo Sauget's grandson, moved his family to the village from Belleville, the St. Clair county seat, in 1985. Both Riches played college baseball and football at Notre Dame and are the only known father-son tandem in Fighting Irish history to letter in both sports. Big Rich, a catcher, was up for a cup of coffee in the majors with the Atlanta Braves, though he never got into a game. Fittingly, he first donned a big-league uniform in the visitors' dugout at Busch Stadium, where, he says, the first player to greet him was the great Henry Aaron. Rich Jr. spent a short while pitching in the Chicago White Sox minor-league system before returning to Sauget to work for his father in the real estate business -- Rich Jr. owns a pair of Quiznos Classic Subs franchises and helps his dad manage a portfolio of properties in the St. Clair County area -- and, perhaps more important, to begin a career in public service.

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