We have some sad news to share. John McPheeters, our beloved friend and co-founder of Magnificent Missouri, passed away on June 8th. Missouri has lost a devoted, life-long conservationist. John’s loving family and all of us will miss him forever.
John Carroll McPheeters
June 8, 2020
John McPheeters never walked down the straight and narrow path. He looked at the world in a different way and carved his own trail through its landscape. His ingenuity and creativity were evident in all of the projects he took on throughout his life.
In his twenties, McPheeters purchased Bryan Island in the Missouri River. This began his trajectory of farming and tending the land that he loved so much. Later he took that energy to his wife Connie’s family farm, Bowood Farms, in Clarksville, MO where he continued in agriculture. His enjoyment of gardening and landscape design led him to start the wholesale perennial nursery that now supplies plants to the retail location of Bowood Farms in St. Louis’ Central West End. When the idea of opening a retail location sprang up, his true passions for architecture, design, creative reuse, and neighborhood beautification were ignited. His three children, Alex, Lizzy, and Katherine joined him on the journey of creating and running Bowood Farms, Cafe Osage, and Holliday and they continue his work to promote gardening, urban beautification, conservation work, and a love of architecture, design, and nature.
McPheeters was a farmer of the soil and of ideas and invention. Seeds and ideas planted at Bowood Farms have come to a glorious fruition in which art and nature have been farmed to revive a neighborhood. He was one-time president of the Garden Club of Saint Louis, and in a note to its members regarding his death, McPheeters was described as “humble and practical and could turn dreams into action. John loved the Missouri countryside, but was equally involved in nurturing and supporting the city.” This is most evident in his ongoing work with numerous city parks including Taylor Park, Kennedy Park, Fountain Park, and Forest Park. John cared deeply for people and felt we were all at our best when we could connect to nature either in the country or a city park.
He gave his time and thoughtfulness to many organizations that sought out his advice. He served on the boards of the Center for Plant Conservation, Bellefontaine Cemetery, The Nature Conservancy, New City School, the Whitaker Foundation, the St. Louis Metropolitan Zoo Museum District, and Magnificent Missouri. As an active supporter of the Missouri chapter of The Nature Conservancy, he worked hard to bring attention to and conserve Missouri’s natural areas and important ecological past. If you knew him you know that his number one enemy was invasive bush honeysuckle and he advocated for its removal. Some of the regional projects to which he was allied were carried out in collaboration with his friend and associate, the author, conservationist, and co-founder of Magnificent Missouri, Dan Burkhardt.
“John and I became acquainted about 12 years ago,” Burkhardt wrote, “which in St. Louis time is like yesterday.
We bonded first over a love of Missouri conservation and hatred of bush honeysuckle and that provided some pretty good glue. We developed the idea of creating Magnificent Missouri on a drive back from Shaw Nature Reserve one day. John volunteered Bowood as a place for our first event and we were off to the races as we planned our first ‘Conservation Celebration.’”
If Burkhardt addresses the regional, the eminent scientist, writer and environmentalist Dr. Peter Raven represent the national and international platforms. Like Burkhardt, he has a reverence for John McPheeters and his contributions and the work he has done. Raven wrote, ‘‘With some of his family roots in a fourth-generation farm up the river in Pike County, John acquired an early and passionate love of nature. Any community would count itself fortunate to have a member as kind, generous, encouraging, and unassuming as John McPheeters, a true friend, and promoter of many worthy causes.”
John’s passion for the City of St. Louis, specifically the Central West End, was born through his experience of raising his kids in the neighborhood in the 1970s and 80’s. He was active in the early years of New City School and served on the board as it grew to become a neighborhood anchor. He valued education and supported efforts to improve access throughout the region. He himself was a lifelong learner. John grew up in St. Louis and attended St. Louis Country Day School. He attended Vanderbilt University for a short time before enlisting in the United States Army and serving in Vietnam. His friendships with his classmates from Country Day School remained strong throughout his life, and his close-knit group enjoyed many adventures together.
John loved floating the rivers of Missouri and also enjoyed sailing with friends and family in the waters of Nantucket Sound, usually with a Heineken in hand. The summers of his youth were spent with his brothers in the cool waters of Biddeford Pool, Maine. He loved to travel and experiences and typically chose to drive the scenic route, even if it was a little out of the way. He never looked down but always looked out, to the horizon, to see what his next adventure, collaboration, or project would be. John was a loyal friend, an admired employer, and a sought-out advisor. He will be missed deeply by everyone who had the opportunity to know him and work with him.
John McPheeters died peacefully at home Monday night at the age of 73 after a long battle with cancer. He was the son of the late Carroll West Jones and the late Thomas S. McPheeters. His wife, Connie Bascom McPheeters, survives him, as do his children, Alex Wiles McPheeters (Jenny Korb McPheeters), Lizzy McPheeters Rickard (Dave Rickard), and Katherine Holliday McPheeters; and grandchildren, Patrick and Margaret McPheeters and Audrey and Charlie Rickard. His siblings survive him as well: Tom McPheeters (Nancy); Hugh McPheeters (Muffy); and Peter McPheeters (Eve), as do step-siblings: Jack Legg (Inge); Louisa Deland (Frank); Marnie Reeves (Dan); Mark Scullin (deceased) (Cindy) and Judy Scullin Tilson.
The family requests that any donations in memory of John be made to one of his two favorite Missouri conservation organizations: the Missouri Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, P.O. Box 440400, St. Louis, MO 63144; or Magnificent Missouri. 10411 Clayton Road #302, St. Louis, MO 63131.
Burial will be private.