Wallace says he did it for Louisiana
Tom Wallace is no longer mayor of Louisiana, but his phone is still ringing off the hook.
After four years on the city council and 18 years as mayor on and off since 1968, people are still calling for advice and direction.
Three weeks after leaving office, Wallace is willing to give that advice, but he’s looking forward to traveling and full retirement in the years ahead. He will always look back at his time in office with pride.
“I’ve not always done everything right, but I did it for Louisiana,” Wallace said. “I enjoyed it. I raised my family here and I cared about Louisiana.”
Wallace grew up in the Clarksville area and graduated from Clopton High in 1956. He joined the Army with six graduate buddies and returned to Pike County in 1959 to become an apprentice electrician.
In 1960, he married Lona Wallace, which he considers the best move he ever made.
“She’s my backbone,” Wallace said. “She’s been the foot in my bottom all these years.
“She didn’t always agree with me and she’d let me know it. But without her and the support of my children, (Tom, Stacey and the late Billy Wallace) I wouldn’t have run a second time.”
After four years on the council from 1968 to 1972, Wallace was appointed mayor in January 1972. He ran for a full term that April and served until 1982.
During the ensuing years, he was defeated in the mayor’s race three times. But like a seasoned boxer, he kept coming back to claim the championship, winning the mayor’s office two more times with the last victory in 2010.
During those years, he was a Louisiana policeman and then caught on with Missouri Edison, now part of Ameren Missouri.
“I was making $2.02 an hour with the police department and Missouri Edison offered me a job,” Wallace said. “I started as a laborer and in 13 years I worked my way up to management.”
Wallace spent the next 22 years with Missouri Edison and eventually was the district superintendent for an area that went from Hannibal to Louisiana, Troy and Vandalia.
Although he didn’t go to college, Wallace took 16 different courses with Missouri Edison. He helped run Khoury League for years and started getting involved in local politics.
“Everything I know about the city was on-the-job training and experience is the best teacher,” Wallace said.
Highlights of his political career start with the building of a new wastewater treatment plant in his last term. He is also proud of keeping budgets in the black, helping land the city pool, the expansion of the library and helping create a retirement fund for city employees.
He considers the purchase of the old Ameren building for a new city hall during his tenure as a major coup.
“We bought the building for $100,000 in 1999,” Wallace said. “It was built for $660,000 in 1966. A headline from the Press-Journal about the purchase is one of Wallace’s favorites. It reads “Deal of a lifetime.”
He is also proud of helping to build Wallace Memorial Park for the community.
The park didn’t start out with the family name and was under construction when Wallace’s son, Billy, drowned in 1978.
“He was 15 and his greatest love was baseball,” Wallace said. “I had promised the Khoury League kids that one day we’d have a great ballpark,” and Wallace was glad to see it built.
“It brought the community together to build it, the Lions, the Rotary, firemen and everybody came together.”
It was even a finer tribute when the city council decided to name it Wallace Memorial Park.
“I didn’t do all that stuff myself,” Wallace said about his accomplishments while in office. “It was always done with the city council.”
Through the years, political connections at the state level were instrumental for Louisiana, Wallace said.
“We got the license bureau here because of Senator Norman Merrell and Representative Ozzy Osborne,” Wallace said.
Although Wallace is proud of his accomplishments, there are some regrets.
“I regret that we didn’t build the boardwalk on the riverfront,” he said. “We also shouldn’t have just given the ground to BNSF at the industrial park. We should have traded them for the riverfront property. That was my stupidity.”
Wallace decided to not run again “because of all the quibbling and people with their own agendas,” in and around city government.
The open political war with new Mayor Bart Niedner was also no picnic, Wallace said.
“To call me a tyrant and give the Nazi salute (at board meetings) was way out of line,” Wallace said. “I used to be a lot tougher than I am, but everything I did was by the book and I listened to the city attorney.
“The last four years I was back in office, I didn’t miss a day.”