- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (AP) - Every so often Marvin Webb will drop in at Eaker’s Family Barber Shop and pull out a cigar from underneath the cash register by the front door.

Webb turned 80 years old in January, and he is Edwardsville’s unofficial goodwill ambassador. He is known by most everyone as “Preach,” a nickname penned for him by Albert Pauli ages ago and has stuck with him through the years, though he also answers to “Cat.”

To his considerable number of women friends he is affectionately referred to as “Six-timer.” He seems to know they say it with mock opprobrium and an implied wink, and Preach takes no offense whatsoever.

“He has a whole slew of women, and every one of them calls him Six-timer,” says Lisa Pauli-Petrich, who grew up in Edwardsville and can’t recall a time when she hasn’t known him. “It’s just a little inside joke because he always has so many girls.”

Preach seems to have an equal dose of passion for: carnations, “I’m a Cop” police badges, John Wayne and Elvis movies, and singing “Kansas City” or “Blue Suede Shoes” for Butch Moore and the Mo’ Pleasure band up at Laurie’s Place.

And cigars, of course. Back when Preach was a ubiquitous presence on the sidewalks downtown, he routinely picked up Phillies Blunts on his walk from his home on Highland Street to the Madison County Administration Building. Now Kari Eaker, the third-generation owner at Eaker’s, stashes cigars for him by the front door. If they happen to be gone some morning, Eaker encourages him to go ahead and take a dollar from her tip jar nearby.

“Sometimes, even if he takes a cigar, he’ll take a dollar also,” she says from her shop in Edwardsville. Sometimes Preach pokes through her mail near the front door and asks whether she wants him to run some mail up to the Post Office for her, or pass out fliers downtown.

It speaks to his trustworthiness.

For years Vicky Vanzo allowed Preach to walk the deposits from Vanzo’s Taproom a few blocks over to the bank. Preach’s younger brother, James Webb, says that an uncle who once managed the old Edwardsville Bank often allowed Preach to make bank deposits from several downtown merchants.

“He is a fine man of good character, and he is certainly a fixture in our community, particularly our downtown Main Street area,” says Jay Keeven, who met Preach after he become the city’s police chief a couple of years ago. The Edwardsville Police Department long ago made him an honorary police officer.

Preach has always been protective of friends. When, as a young girl, Pauli-Petrich would ride her bike up town, Preach would look for her. “He’d get his badge out and say, ‘Kids, look here, I’m a cop, now what are you doing? You’d better behave yourself,’” she recalls. “Then he’d take your thumb and press it down on his badge like he was taking your fingerprint.”

Any time a politician came to town, Preach was there. “And he always had that badge,” Kenny Krumeich, now a trustee for Edwardsville Township, recalls. “He’d say ‘I’m a cop,’ and hold onto his coat like a big shot. I will always remember that, as long as I live.”

One year, when Krumeich’s dad, “Skip” Krumeich, was running to keep his seat in County Board District 17, someone gave him a red-and-white t-shirt to advertise the campaign.

“I’ll bet you he wore that shirt out,” Kenny Krumeich says now.

Back in the day, Preach was known to wear a carnation on each lapel every day, thanks to the employees at the August Mirring floral shop on North Main Street.

Unless there was severe weather, Preach spent much of every day walking down North Main Street and over to the old Edwardsville High School. And back.

A couple of major surgeries in recent years, though - one on each knee - have slowed him down. “He always had his shoes re-done at Alexander’s,” near the corner of Vandalia and North Main,” Pauli-Petri says. “They re-soled his shoes all the time because he put so many miles on them.”

Marvin Webb was born on Jan. 12, 1936. It was an era before special education in public schools, and when Marvin struggled to read and write, he eventually dropped out while he was still in early grade school. John Webb was a laborer, and people say Marvin was a “carbon copy” of his father. After he dropped out, John Webb’s second wife, Lillie, began walking Marvin around town and introducing him to the businessmen along North Main Street.

“She wanted the merchants to sort of keep an eye out for him because he was the special person that he is and she didn’t want anyone picking on him or him to be a problem for anyone,” James Webb said during a recent interview.

Preach began hanging out downtown, and it wasn’t long before merchants had taken him under their wings and allowed him to pass out fliers and run errands.

“He’s just an honest-type guy, very lovable,’ James Webb says. “People just found him to be who he is. There’s no deception in him. There’s never been a color thing with him, never anything like that.”

Preach began frequenting Vanzo’s Taproom, a popular hangout for locals and, later, for SIUE students. Judges and lawyers frequently walked over to Vanzo’s from the Madison County Courthouse for a lunch and a beer. Preach was also a mainstay at Imber’s Men’s Wear, where Jerry Legow saw to it that Preach was perpetually outfitted in sartorial splendor. When Imbers announced they were closing - in late 2012 - Preach was crushed.

Over the years, scores of high-profile citizens have called Preach their friend. Legow was among his closest friends. As were EHS basketball coaching legend Joe Lucco, State Sen. Sam Vadalabene, and Congressman Mel Price.

“Senator Sam used to send his private driver over to pick Marvin up, and he’d send a little note with him,” James Webb says. “Everybody knew my mother as Momma Lillie, and she would bake pies and cakes and things, and he would take them over to Senator Sam,” he says.

“When Mel Price came to town, Preach was there,” says Krumeich.

Preach grew up attending Mount Joy Baptist Church in Edwardsville. Over the years he made it habit of attending every funeral in town that he could, whether he knew the deceased or not. “I don’t think he knew half the people, and I don’t think half the people knew him,” James Webb said.

One of his unofficial jobs was to work at the old Wildey Theatre on North Main. “Miss Duffy was the owner,” Webb says. “She made him an usher. He’d say ‘All right, the movie’s gettin’ ready to start, y’all be quiet.’ Afterward he would show everybody outside.”

Most everyone who has grown up in Edwardsville has their own Preach story. Jerry Cobetto, now an administrator for Probation & Court Services for the Third Judicial Circuit, was about 8 years old when he first met Preach at an annual rally for Madison County Democrats. One of his early memories of him involves one of the city’s parades, either the annual Halloween Parade or the Little League. “Someone put Preach on the back of a pickup truck and they had put signs under the truck bed saying “MR. EDWARDSVILLE,” Cobetto says. “He was sitting on a lawn chair on the back of the truck waving at people.”

It’s that simple charm that pulls people in to the Preach orbit. For several years, Preach would walk over to the old Edwardsville High School every day and amble down the hallway, glad-handing whoever came into his path. “It was part of Preach’s daily rounds,” Cobetto says.

In the early 1980s, Cobetto played saxophone and pedal steel guitar for a band called Blue Ridge. During a gig one night at the now-defunct Spanky’s, Cobetto had with him a medallion that his grandmother had brought back from a pilgrimage to Elvis’ home in Memphis. During a break, he gave it to Preach, “I presented it as a trinket from Graceland. It had Elvis’s picture on it,” Cobetto says. “He was in Hog Heaven.”

Marvin Webb was a fixture at local concerts and at local dances. Cobetto can show you his high school yearbook picture of Preach singing Bill Haley’s 1955 hit, “Rock Around the Clock.” That Preach referred to it as “Two-o’clock Rock,” matters little. When Cobetto asked him to come up front with the band and sing “Two-o’clock Rock,” Preach, of course, obliged. “He just said the words over and over,” Cobetto says.

Cobetto has other yearbook pictures of Preach from his high school days. There was one from 1974. Preach is 38 years old. He is sporting a white shirt and holding the mic in his left hand, singing, most likely, “Going to Kansas City” or “Blue Suede Shoes.”

James Webb has a couple of photos at his home that he says few people have ever seen. In one, Marvin is perhaps 12 years old, and decked out in what appears to be a straw hat; sister Lavon, slightly older, is dressed in a white dress and a bonnet. The other shows Marvin atop a bucking bronco, perhaps from carnival that came through town, James says. The photos are in black and white.

They remind James of a story about Preach and the legendary Mississippi River Festival. The outdoor summer festival ran from 1969 to 1980 on the campus of SIUE, and over the years it drew top-flight acts such as the Who, Joe Walsh and Ella Fitzgerald. Webb recalls that it was in the late 1970s.

On the day of the event, “Marvin would not wait,” James recalled. “He would say, ‘I’m gonna walk up to SIU tonight.’” It was well over five miles, and James himself tried it but once. The memory of his brother setting out for the festival brings a smile to his face. “Sometimes he would get a ride. People would stop and say ‘Come on in here, Marvin! What are you doing walkin’?”

But Edwardsville, of course, has changed with time. Webb guesses that more than half the friends his brother grew up with have passed away. Nadine Penelton, Sam Vadalabene, Joe Lucco, Jerry Legow. And countless others. Preach still walks around Edwardsville a bit, but he’s slower now and when he does walk downtown, James gives him a boost by driving him up to the Wildey Theatre first.

From time to time, Preach will still make it over to Laurie’s Place to listen to the Mo’ Pleasure band.

“But the younger generation comes in, they don’t know him. It’s sort of heartbreaking,” James says. “But he is still blessed to be here.”


Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, https://bit.ly/1OxQ6i7


Information from: Edwardsville Intelligencer, https://www.goedwardsville.com

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide