This week, Mid Rivers Newsmagazine talks with Len Pagano, the mayor of St. Peters since 2007. Pagano previously served as a Ward 3 Alderman from 1983 to 2007. He has been a resident of St. Peters for 35 years and also served in the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy.What are some personal rules you never break?
I truly believe this: Sundays are dedicated to going to church. No matter what, that is my first rule. My second rule is that no matter what other rules I may set, whether they be at city hall or with my family, those are rules I never break. I don’t tell other people to do something [if] I’m going to go and do the opposite … if I make a statement or I truly believe something, it’s a rule. Also, at board meetings, I really believe professional attire is important. I’ve witnessed other governments where the professional attire is just not there, but in the city of St. Peters, it is. I’ve carried that ever since I came into office in 1983.
What were some turning points in your life?
Let me describe what I just told a bunch of students. I was in office as an alderman for 25 years. I used the words, “Patience has its rewards.” It took me 25 years to become a mayor, and one of the things I emphasized is that there’s a long list of things I’m making a difference with today. Can you imagine that a major corporation [Amazon] had 31 sites to choose from and they chose St. Peters? That there has proven what I’ve always said: That big things are going to happen in our city. That’s really changing everything on my behalf because everything I’ve been saying for years is happening. More jobs, and what’s unique about that phrase is everything from entry jobs to the highly-technical jobs. Professionals in every field. I’m just so proud of that, and it really is a turning point right now, and it took 35 years for all this to happen.
One of the things that’s interesting about my background is, when I moved out here in 1976, I got into a big battle with the U.S. post office because I had a homemade mailbox. I did it according to specs and everything, but I went to battle against the post office here, [and in] downtown St. Louis and Washington. Long story short, we compromised. Inside the mailbox, I have to have another mailbox that says, “Patent Pending. Approved by Postmaster General.” That’s all I had to. There was a lot of news media covering that story and that’s when people said, “You should run for public office.” I never even dreamed of doing that. Remember, St. Peters was gravel roads, Mid Rivers Mall wasn’t there, and in fact, Hwy. 70 was nothing like it is today. From that point, I got to be part of building a city. I think, “Gosh, I can remember when this happened, and now this is here and this is here.”
In the police station we had in old town St. Peters, the jail was one chair. You had to sit in the corner. It sounds like Mayberry, but it’s true. Naturally, we progressed. We added more officers and have naturally progressed. I’m just amazed. I truly mean this: I believe I could write a book on all the changes that have taken place, and now we’re in the process of creating a new downtown St. Peters right across the street from city hall.
What’s the last adventure you went on?
There’s two of them. I’d heard so much about a place up north called Mackinac Island. It’s all horses and buggies throughout the entire island, and there are hotels, etc. I know there’s a place called the Grand Hotel, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be in town close to [Lake Heron] and so forth. I got to go around town and meet the people, and I ran across all these students that actually live and work there all summer long, and in some cases, some of them actually try to stay the entire school season while going to Michigan State. There was so much history there, especially about the military. There was a base there and so forth. I’ve never done this before, but when I went through, you know how you see signs everywhere talking about what something is or what something means? Maybe it’s my age, but I read every sign that was there.
The second time was when my wife and I went to Alaska, we did a land and cruise. The cruise was very nice because you get to see the glaciers, but when I was on land, I realized then how differently some people live. It just amazes me. That was an adventure because I saw families live without electricity or even simple things like running water. I talked to them and they’re just as happy as can be. In a lot of ways, and I even said this to my wife, we are so spoiled. These people truly live off the Earth. Not all of Alaska is obviously like that, but I was very interested in people that live off the grid. I just know myself, and I couldn’t do that.
What big event do you think will happen soon that most people aren’t expecting?
It’s a vision of mine, and I really hope this happens, and it’s called the HyperLoop. That’s the thing they were talking about in Chicago. They’re designing to put in a Hyper Loop where you can get from Chicago to the [St. Louis] airport in 12 minutes. You go underground and move at high speeds. It’s something that the inventor of Tesla [created]. I’ve been watching him, and they’ve talked about a Hyperloop from St. Louis to Chicago. The one that I really want is from maybe the airport, but it would be nice if it was from St. Peters, all the way to Kansas City. Do I think it’s going to happen? I’m going to say yes, but we don’t know a timeframe. Some people might say that’s thinking really far out, but I truly believe it will happen.
Here’s one of the reasons I’m looking so far out: all these major corporations that are coming here, one of the ingredients to make everything really pop in this area is that we have to have an airport that has a major hub that brings in international and everyone from wherever they’re coming from. It’s truly important, and my hopes are the HyperLoop and for the airport to not just be a local hub, but an international hub.
What is something absolutely everyone can agree on?
I truly believe, in this region, that education is No. 1. I believe everyone would agree with that. We have to improve our education, whether it’s higher education or trades. Whatever it is, we need to improve on that. I came from a generation where, if I had a class of 100, there might be 10 that go to college. Today, it’s 60 percent, maybe 70 percent. Then, others may wind up going in the future. I do believe education is the number one thing we should all agree on. That might be political in our capital right now because that was not the priority, but I believe that should be a priority. I think education has a lot to do with understanding people.