I Am Joplin: Melodee Colbert-Kean

Back in grade school, my friends and I formed a club called the Busy Bees. Our goal was to perform service projects in the community. While I do remember several afterschool club meetings held at my house, I don’t recall ever doing any community projects. While our intentions were good, we Bees weren’t really that busy.

 

A few decades later, I found the person who I think could have led our club to accomplish great things in the community. She’s Melodee Colbert-Kean, a Queen Bee buzzing with seemingly endless energy and a passion for service. While I can’t transport her back in time to mentor our club, I certainly appreciate all the things that she does for the place I now call home: Joplin.

 

melodee history

Melodee’s career highlights include serving as Joplin’s first African-American mayor, and as President of the National League of Cities. She has met President Obama and traveled the world as a representative of Joplin. With all of these accomplishments under her belt at only age 50, I’d assumed that she’d been interested in civil service most of her life.

 

I was wrong.

 

Serving in Joplin Government

Melodee’s foray into city government began in 2005, when City of Joplin Council Member Jim West held a meeting with members of the black community to see if anyone was interested in running for one of the open council seats. Melodee was convinced that some of the older citizens at the meeting would be interested, but no one volunteered. Recognizing the importance of the black community having a voice at the council, Melodee (somewhat reluctantly) answered the call.

 

Melodee has been the voice of her community since she was elected to the council in 2006, and her term will expire in 2020. It’s a position that she doesn’t take lightly. To prepare for council meetings, she reviews the meeting packet, talks to community members, and drives around the city to to educate herself about the issues to be discussed. “It’s very involved because you’re representing the people,” she says. “You have to be connected to the community.”

 

When citizens approach Melodee with issues, the first thing she asks them is if they are registered voters. To Melodee, this is necessary because “if you’re not voting, we really don’t have a lot of things we can do.” The second thing she asks is for them to provide at least one solution. “It makes people stop and think because it’s easy to complain,” says Melodee. “But, how about a serious solution? Your everyday citizens have some of the best ideas.”

 

When Melodee was elected Mayor of Joplin in 2012, she served as a conduit between Joplin and the rest of the country – and world – during the crucial post-tornado recovery period. Oh, and she happened to do this while raising her youngest daughter Alissa (who’s 11 now), proving once again that she’s a Queen Bee.

 

During this time, Melodee was also highly involved with the National League of Cities, an organization representing 19,000 cities whose leaders strive to make a difference in the places where they live. She served on various committees in the league, ran for a board position, then was encouraged to run for an officer’s seat, which she won. She progressed from Second Vice President, to Vice President, then finally to President in 2015.

 

Through her civil service, Melodee has been able to travel around the world, representing Joplin and offering others the insight she gained from leading our city in the aftermath of a crisis. Through these journeys, she’s learned a lot herself. Her most memorable trip was to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “If you get a chance to visit a culture outside of your own, my goodness! The wealth of knowledge, information, and appreciation you have for people outside of yourself is amazing!”

 

Serving Comfort

While Melodee recognizes the value of visiting other countries and cultures, she understands and honors the importance of the people and traditions of her hometown of Joplin. So much so, that she’s opened a restaurant that serves the kind of food that she grew up with. It’s called ME’s Place (named after her: Melodee Elaine), and it’s a labor of love that she shares with her husband William. “We’re the true mom-and-pop.”

 

melodee mes

ME’s Place is located on Broadway Street, which is off the beaten path as far as the Joplin dining scene goes. But this was a deliberate choice; this was the neighborhood in which Melodee went to school as a child. “To me, it was more of a sense of giving back to the community by opening a business on Broadway,” says Melodee. “Not only was it the original Route 66, but it used to be thriving with businesses, and the majority of them were black businesses because this was the original East Town – the only area that black people could live in at that time. It meant a lot to me to open it here.”

 

Melodee’s passion for preserving the history of Joplin’s East Town is reflected in a small room at ME’s Place, where poster boards covered with newspaper clippings and photos of important figures in the neighborhoods history are displayed.

 

The food served at ME’s Place also reflects the heritage of this Joplin neighborhood, along with a bit of flavor from Louisville, Kentucky, where William is from. His specialty is fork-tender smothered pork chops, which are served on Fridays. He also makes Southern-fried catfish, meatloaf, and sweet tea. “People rave over that tea,” says Melodee.

 

Chicken and dumplings, as well as peach cobbler, are Melodee’s signature dishes. This is the place to come when you want comfort, to taste something like what Grandma used to make. The food here “brings people back,” says Melodee. “You center them back on family, on good feelings. To be able to do that is amazing.”

 

Serving the Community

Believe it or not, but the aforementioned gazillion things that Melodee does aren’t the only ways she serves the community. She’s also been on the boards of several Joplin organizations, including Joplin Metro Credit Union, George Washington Carver National Monument, and Missouri Southern State University. Her experience on these boards has helped her hone her listening skills. “I learned how to be quiet,” she says. I learned that it’s okay to disagree, but be respectful.”

 

She also felt inspired to establish a business called Prayerful Portions. The name came to her in the middle of the night, long before she figured out what she was going to do with it. Eventually this business came to be an umbrella under which she and other members of her family (including her tech guru son) consult with people and small businesses to help them figure out what they are trying to do and, more importantly, why they want to do it.

 

Serving Her Family

It’s obvious that Melodee is passionate about her service to her community, but there’s an unmistakable light that sparkles in her eyes when she talks about the family that she’s created with her husband William, “an all-around good guy,” according to Melodee. The Colbert-Kean clan consists of Melodee’s two adult children, Tyler (a Marine sergeant stationed in Okinawa, Japan), and Typhanee (an educator in Nashville, Tennessee); William’s daughter Amber (a medical student in Tennessee); and the couple’s daughter Alissa (a middle schooler).

 

Serving Her Soul

Melodee and I talked at length about the things that she does to serve the community, but I had one lingering question: What does she do to serve her own soul?

 

Ideally, she likes to visit the beach to unwind, but when she can’t get there, she relaxes by reading, doing puzzles, spending time with her family, and listening to music. “Music is my center. It brings me back to focus, or transports me off somewhere.”

 

In fact, Melodee is so passionate about music that she even DJs at parties, weddings, and other events. “My mom did right when she named me Melodee,” she laughs.

 

Serving the Hive

Now that you have learned about Melodee’s many contributions to the Joplin community, can you see why I think she would have made a great mentor for my club, the Busy Bees? She’s a woman who gets things done and who inspires others to make their community a better place. Like she says,”If you’re going to be someplace, why not make the best of it?”

 

Well put, Queen Bee.

 

ME’s Place is located at 1203 Broadway Street. Click here to follow it on Facebook; click here to read about my experience there.

 

To read about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Route 66

Thousands of tourists travel historic Route 66 through Joplin each year.

 

Are you one of them?

 

I wasn’t.

 

Sure, over the years I’d utilized Route 66 at some point nearly every single day as I’d take my kids to activities and run errands, occasionally noticing the historic road’s signage when stopped at a red light (which, by the way, seemed to be posted on multiple roads and therefore perplexed me – more about that in a minute).

 

But I’d never really explored Joplin’s portion of the Mother Road through the unadulterated eyes of a tourist, who travels the highway in order to experience an important part of America’s history.

 

Me? I’d been using Route 66 as an efficient way to get across town to Target. I finally realized that it was time to rectify that, so I decided to travel Route 66 through Joplin like a tourist.

 

route-66-general-sign

Three Alignments

 

Remember how I mentioned that I saw Route 66 signage on multiple streets and how that confused me? I did some research and learned that Route 66 was realigned twice after the original construction of the road (click here for more about the history of Route 66 in Joplin).

 

Here’s a brief summary of the three alignments, coming from Webb City’s Broadway Street and heading west toward Joplin (you can see a map of this by clicking here):

 

1926: Broadway (Webb City) to Madison/North Range Line to Zora to Florida to Utica to Euclid to St. Louis to Broadway (Joplin) to Main to 7th. This is the portion of the Route that I only recently discovered, and it winds through the Royal Heights neighborhood to Broadway Street (which used to be Main Street when Joplin was known as Joplin City a loooooong time ago).

 

1937: Broadway (Webb City) to 171 to North Main Street to 7th.

 

1958: Broadway (Webb City) to Madison/North Range Line to 7th.

 

Attractions Along – and Slightly Off – the Route

 

There are some attractions located a block or two off the Route that I think are important to point out.

 

Joe Becker Stadium (1301 East 3rd Street)

Built in 1913, Joe Becker Stadium is two blocks south of Broadway (Route 66), and was once home to baseball great Mickey Mantle when he played for the Joplin Miners in 1950.

 

George A. Spiva Center for the Arts (222 W. Third Street)

With national and regional exhibits, art classes and workshops, and a gift shop with one-of-a-kind items, this center is abuzz with creativity and talent.

 Spiva-princess

And there’s a bonus: admission is free! Go see for yourself why Spiva Center for the Arts is the visual arts hub of the Four States.

 

Joplin City Hall (Newman Building, 602 South Main Street)

I think this is one of the prettiest buildings in Joplin, and I wonder what it must have been like to shop here over a century ago when it was a high-rise department store. Today, the building houses Joplin’s municipal offices, as well as its Convention and Visitors Bureau, which serves as a great resource for tourists (and residents) who are looking for things to do in the city and surrounding area.

 murals-gude

As a Mother Road traveler, be sure to stop in the lobby of the Newman Building to look at the incredible painting “Route 66, Joplin, Missouri” by world-renowned artist Thomas Hart Benton, which offers a snapshot of life in Joplin during the height of the Mother Road era.

 

Route 66 Mural Park (619 South Main Street)

Located across the street from City Hall, this park pays tribute to Joplin’s contribution to the Route 66 culture. With two murals plus an oversized 45 record imprint of “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” this park provides an ideal backdrop for photos of Route 66 sojourners.

 

route-66-joplin-mural-park

Other murals painted on buildings downtown capture bits and pieces of the history and character of our city. If you’re up for it, take a walking tour to get to know Joplin through its public art.

 

 

Restaurants on the Route

 

Soul food, gyros, pasta, veggie dogs, and doughnut burgers – did you know that you can try all of these on the Route in downtown Joplin?

 

You can! Maybe not all of them on one day, though…

 

If you have a hankering for some made-from-scratch food that comforts your soul, visit MEs Place (1203 Broadway), owned by former Joplin Mayor Melodee Kean.

 

MEs-sides

If you’re craving Greek food, stop at M & M Bistro (612 South Main Street), which serves fresh, flavorful Mediterranean delights, like gyros and hummus.

 

For some great local pizza (the Buffalo Chicken is my favorite), try JBs Downtown. (112 South Main Street).

 

If wings are your thing, definitely try some of Missouri’s best at Hackett Hot Wings (520 South Main Street), where you can choose from 13 signature flavors.

 

karma-donut

Both vegetarians and carnivores alike achieve sweet bliss after eating at Instant Karma (527 South Main). Here, you can order inventive dishes like the Bio Diesel (a veggie dog served with homemade bleu cheese coleslaw) or the Heavenly Donut (a hamburger served with a glazed doughnut as the bun). Round out your meal with one of the many craft beers on the menu.

 

Need some something sweet after your meal? Try a scoop of Bear Claw or Red Velvet Cake ice cream from Caroline’s(1027 South Main). Located three blocks off the Route in the historic Gryphon Building, this old-fashioned ice cream shop is worth the slight detour.

 

 

Last Stop Before Kansas!

Schifferdecker Park (7th and Schifferdecker)

Named after Joplin businessman and philanthropist Charles Schifferdecker, this park is the last stop on historic Route 66 before the Kansas state line. In addition to being a wonderful place to have a picnic or to let the kids run around on the playground, there are several other activities that you can do here that you just might not know about.

 

Schiff-golf-water

For instance, you can float on a lazy river at the Joplin Aquatic Center, play 18 holes of golf at Schifferdecker Golf Course, catch a performance at Joplin Little Theatre (the longest continuously running community theatre west of the Mississippi), and see a necklace found in Bonnie and Clyde’s Joplin hideout at the Joplin Museum Complex (where you’ll also learn that Schifferdecker Park was once called Electric Park and had a huge roller coaster in it!).

 JLT-interior

So, my Joplin friends, how many of these places have you been to? If you’ve visited them all, then I applaud you.

 

If not, here’s your challenge: For one day, be a tourist.

 

Start at North Range Line Road and trace historic Route 66 solely for the purpose of pleasure and discovery, rather than as a means of getting from point A to point B.

 

You might even play “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” to get you in an adventurous mood.

 

If you ever plan to motor west,

Travel my way, take the highway that is best.

Get your kicks on Route 66.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.