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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book recounts the life of local 'political great'

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

CHARLESTON -- A book recounting the accomplishments of one of Missouri's greatest political figures -- a resident of Southeast Missouri -- is now available.

A book signing scheduled Wednesday in Jefferson City for the release of "Warren Eastman Hearnes: A Memoir" by Rob Crouse will be attended by both the former governor and his first lady, Betty Hearnes, Hearnes confirmed Monday.

"I think the book's great," said Hearnes, a resident of Charleston.

"The Hearnes commissioned me to write the governor's memoirs I think probably for several reasons," Crouse said. "One is I've known the Governor and Betty since I came to Jefferson City in 1987 when I arrived to work in the Missouri House of Representative's communications department. ... When Betty ran for governor against John Ashcroft, I helped her some with her campaign, and then I was the speechwriter for Gov. Carnahan, Gov. Wilson and Gov. Holden."

Crouse explained that job includes writing a record of what that administration has achieved as this written record is required at the end of a governor's administration under state statutes.

John Ashcroft started a trend of leaving this record in the form of a book, according to Crouse. Consequently, Crouse co-authored books for both the Carnahan and Holden administrations.

"Gov. Hearnes and Betty had seen those and because we had a longstanding relationship, they contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in working on the governor's memoirs," he said.

The invitation to write former Hearnes' memories was a welcome opportunity for Crouse.

"He's one of the political greats in Missouri," he said. "He's the first governor I can remember following in politics."

The book starts with the beginning of Hearnes' life but soon gets to the central subject: Hearnes' "monumental contributions as a public servant," Crouse said.

Crouse credits Hearnes with being responsible for Missouri becoming a pioneer in providing mental health services.

"At that time, most states were still approaching mental health from the institutional perspective," he said. "He brought mental health out of the dark ages in Missouri with resources for treatment and rehabilitation." Nine mental health treatment-diagnostic centers were established around the state during Hearnes' administration, according to Crouse.

Another major achievement was the "tremendous advances in elementary, secondary and higher education," Crouse said. "As a legislator, he was responsible for sponsoring the teachers retirement system which is considered one of the finest in the nation for teachers."

In addition to the establishment of colleges in Joplin and St. Joseph that took place during the Hearnes administration, state aid to public schools grew 167 percent with a mandated percentage going to teacher salaries; appropriations for higher education increased 204 percent; vocational educational funding increased 933 percent; and funding for junior collages increased 812 percent, according to Crouse. "We're talking about a dramatic change in what happened in education as far as Missouri is concerned," Crouse said.

Crouse said Hearnes was also responsible for a number of large companies locating in Southeast Missouri. "One of his greatest achievements was bringing Noranda to the New Madrid area," he said.

Hearnes also played an instrumental role with the hospitals in Sikeston and Dexter, according to Crouse. "The highways had to be widened to qualify for the hospital grants and he made sure that was done," he said.

Other accomplishments include signing Missouri's first civil rights legislation and establishing the state's Division of Tourism.

With an 80 percent approval rating, Hearnes was not only the state's first governor to serve two terms in succession, "he was also one of the most popular governors we ever had," Crouse said.

As Crouse works full time as director of college relations for Westminster College in Fulton and is very involved in the community theater of Jefferson City where he lives, the book and its research were completed over a course of two years on nights and weekend.

One of the valuable resources for the project was the Gov. Warren E. Hearnes Museum in Charleston.

"It's full of correspondence and memorabilia from the governor's life," Crouse said. In addition to what is on public display at the Hearnes museum in Charleston, there are "boxes and boxes in the back" of material from speeches to policy papers, he said.

Just as valuable was the former first lady who kept all sorts of useful material, according to Crouse.

"Betty had kept notes of many anecdotal things that had occurred plus she has a remarkable memory," he said.

Crouse explained her contributions were especially important as his goal was to include enough anecdotes to make the book an enjoyable read as well as giving readers "a clear idea of what Gov. Hearnes was like as a man and as a leader and the circumstances that shaped his life."

He described the former first lady as "the driving force behind getting this book done. I think Betty particularly wanted to see this book written so everybody would understand the tremendous achievements Gov. Hearnes had both as a legislator and a governor. Having done the research, a lot of the services we all take for granted we have because of Gov. Hearnes."

Betty Hearnes also played an important part in projects that ended up being among Gov. Hearnes' most well-remembered accomplishments such as the renovation of the governor's mansion and leading Missouri to be the second state in the nation to establish a council for the arts. "Warren championed Betty's causes," Crouse said.

Appropriately, Hearnes dedicated the book to his wife.

"They are a phenomenal couple -- born on the same day. You can basically say they were destined to be together," Crouse said. "I admire them both."

The book is available by sending check a check for $12 plus $5 for shipping and handling to: Betty C. Hearnes, P.O. Box 509, Charleston, MO 63834