ROSE GRONEMEYER talks with resident Scott Walters at the restaurant at the Village of the Blue Rose in Clarksville, Missouri.

ROSE GRONEMEYER talks with resident Scott Walters at the restaurant at the Village of the Blue Rose in Clarksville, Missouri.


If Rose Gronemeyer was looking for a sign that the house on the hill with the breathtaking views of the Mississippi River was the right location, she found it in the bathroom.

She and her friend, Judy Browning, had spent a few years looking for the perfect spot to build a small community for adults who are developmentally disabled. They thought they had found it in Warren County. But an adjacent landowner expressed concern to county leaders and, as Gronemeyer put it, “We did not want to be where we were not wanted.”

They then saw a newspaper ad for about 60 acres in Pike County, anchored by a five-bedroom house.

The asking price was out of reach for the small nonprofit group, which started in 1989 with Gronemeyer and friends holding yard sales and bake sales.

But the longtime friends decided to take the drive up Highway 79 and look at the picturesque piece of property between Clarksville and Louisiana. They wanted several acres to create what would be called the Village of the Blue Rose — a name Gronemeyer came up with — and they would at least get an idea of what was available, even if it appeared out of financial reach.

Gronemeyer settled on the name for the nonprofit after reading “The Blue Rose,” an early work by noted author Gerda Weissmann Klein. The writer compares the flower to a developmentally disabled young girl named Jenny — rare and delicate, needing additional tending.

As Gronemeyer and Browning walked into the house, they peeked into the main floor bathroom, just inside the front door.

The frame on the mirror and the light fixtures on either side of the vanity were painted with blue roses.

The women looked at one another.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Browning said to Gronemeyer.

This had to be the home for the Village of the Blue Rose, they quickly agreed. They told the woman selling the property the blue rose story.

She dropped the price and, in 1996, the Village was born.

Blue roses have been romanticized since at least 1945 when “The Glass Menagerie” by a then-struggling playwright named Tennessee Williams debuted on Broadway. In it, a disabled character named Laura explains to Jim that she has a medical condition, pleurosis. He mishears her and thinks she said “blue roses,” and that becomes her nickname, a symbol of delicate beauty, different from the rest.

At the Village, Gronemeyer tends to her blue roses with care — something she sought to do for the entirety of her career.

For 39 years, Gronemeyer worked as a special education teacher at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Florissant.

Mary Grenfell is a speech and language pathologist who has admired Gronemeyer since she first saw her in action nearly 25 years ago.

“That was at a time that the professional view was that if (children with disabilities) could communicate and meet their daily needs and wants, that was good enough,” Grenfell said. “But Rose didn’t see it that way, and she told me that. She said everyone had the right and deserves my services so they could reach the highest potential. She was right. They did learn, and continued to learn. I’m always astounded by Rose.”

Throughout Gronemeyer’s time at Sacred Heart, parents would ask her: “What will happen when our children complete their education?”

It’s a question that stuck with Gronemeyer as she spent years with each of her students, focusing less on their limitations and more on their possibilities.

While still at Sacred Heart, she organized the Village of the Blue Rose, eventually opening a resale shop in Old Town Florissant in 1992. Four years later, the organization acquired the 60 acres in Pike County.

The Village started small, with just the house, which was soon converted into a restaurant and bed and breakfast to create a revenue stream for the nonprofit and a place to work for the residents with various disabilities, including Down syndrome.

In 2000, four years after the property was purchased, a house was built for up to four women to live in. A red barn was constructed to serve as an antiques shop, then a building for a flea market. In 2005, a house for three men opened.

By 2007, Gronemeyer had closed out her career at Sacred Heart.

“I retired in May and moved up here in June,” Gronemeyer said.

But Gronemeyer has not forgotten her students. In fact, all three men and one of the three women who reside at the Village previously attended Sacred Heart.

“They were very good years,” Pat Friedel said of the time her son, Tom, spent at Sacred Heart, starting at age 11. But after graduating 10 years later, there was not an immediate plan. Tom Friedel lived at home for four years until the men’s residence opened.

“He is pretty high-functioning. I was hoping that he would be able to do something to continue to develop,” said Pat Friedel, of St. Charles. “I think the Village has supplied that for him.”

Gronemeyer has seen most of the Village’s residents grow from middle schoolers to adults. In her eyes, the blooming continues.

She serves as the house parent for the men and as the nonprofit’s executive director. She does not take a salary. Retirement for the 70- something woman with the big heart and tiny frame is nowhere on the horizon.

“This is my interest and my love. I couldn’t imagine life without our special people,” Gronemeyer said.

“I’m like their mom.”

Indeed, the residents have embraced Gronemeyer as their mother, living independently for the first time, away from family members who struggled with letting go but who wanted the best for their children.

At the Village’s restaurant, Tom Friedel moved about the large dining room, taking orders, clearing plates, refilling coffee.

The daily special was chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. He assured guests it was the perfect meal for a cool, rainy day.

Tom Friedel has lived at Blue Rose since 2005. Giving diners the best experience possible is his goal each day.

“Seeing a smile on my customer’s face means the world to me,” he said, as a big smile crossed his face.

Gronemeyer and her husband, who died 15 years ago, had three children. She is now a grandmother and great-grandmother, grateful for the two families she has, both the biological one and those she lives with at the Village of the Blue Rose.

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