Bob Kassing

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Kassing Says He's the Original Cynical Pessimist


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Bob Kassing is president of the First Illinois Bank, 327 Missouri Ave., on the northwest corner of Collinsville and Missouri avenues. His uncle was Ollie Briedecker who was president and chairman of the board of the bank when it was First National.

Interviewed in his office next to what once was the busiest retail street in Southern Illinois, Kassing said "I dunno, I don't see any hope if you want the truth. I guess I'm the original cynical pessimist around here, but I've been here ... I'm not from East St. Louis, but my uncle was president of this bank at one time, and I've been coming here since I was a child. Lived in South St. Louis. I've been here in my capacity now for 24 years, and I always thought maybe 10 or 15 years ago we were at the absolute bottom, but I don't see a bottom."

"You sound hopeless," I said.

"Maybe I've been here too long. I don't see any hope with that gentleman in City Hall running it. Nor his council."

But Kassing also is on the board of East St. Louis Junior Achievement.

"We run a Junior Achievement center at 72nd and State Streets, probably one of the most successful in the entire Mississippi Valley. We've got kids that we have to turn away because we can't get enough advisers. We're out there three nights a week, have four bays. We have trouble getting advisers for obvious reasons, a hard time getting women to go out there. Two nights we have four bays; we are trying to fill the fourth bay the third night.

"We're probably serving several hundred kids out there. They show up, they're very respectful, you don't have any problems. And if there are problems, the center manager takes care of them right away. And it's all volunteer work. Monsanto, Union Electric, Illinois Power, the banks and so forth.

"We also run a program at the high school. The kids in the high school, some of them really want to be taught; they want to know how they can better themselves and get out, I guess. I don't know whether we help them or not. If you've ever been privileged to go to an annual banquet, they always have two speakers, a boy and a girl who are achievers. And it is an outstanding evening. It makes you feel good."

"You are not as pessimistic as you say you are, you find good in the people," I suggested.

"We've got a lot of good people here."

"I have beard there are blacks who won't take a stand because they don't want to be involved in politics," I suggested.

"I've had some people tell me that.

"I dunno," he continued, "I don't even know who could run for mayor that I would give strong support. We have always hesitated to throw our support behind anybody. You always run the danger of being called a racist trying to control whoever with campaign funds, etc."

You've got to have leadership. There's no leadership down there.

Anytime something goes wrong, it's whitey trying to take over.

As for Carl Officer:

"He and I haven't spoken for years. I can do without him very easily. We lost the bank accounts years ago; we just recently got them back, but we get nothing but garnishments. (City Atty. Eric) Vickers called the other day when they (the city's firemen) had the garnishment and wanted to know if we could hold off 30 days before we filed our answer, and I told him no, and asked him 'Why in hell don't you pay the firemen the agreed upon amount and you wouldn't be garnished.' He said 'quit telling us how to run City Hall.' I said 'Then quit trying to tell me how to run the bank. If you don't like it, take the deposits out right now. We did well without them before, and we'll do well without them now."'

The bank doesn't have a large loan demand, but "makes do" with other investments. Housing loans mainly are FHA, 90 per cent guaranteed by the federal government. Stan Sieron, one of the biggest private owners of real estate in East St. Louis, is on the bank board.

Is there red lining?

Kassing said every house is looked at individually, and appraisals, for a quick sale are made on all houses. A problem occurs when the house may be good, but there is a burnout in the block, empty lots grown up in weeds, poorly maintained houses that affect the resale value of the house the buyer is seeking. And there are relatively few blocks without a burnout or a trashfilled lot.

"There are some areas worse than others. Go around Pfizer (Chemical Co.). That's really bad," he said.

Is the tax burden a problem for East St. Louisans?

"I imagine the taxes are somewhat significant." He said people pay as much in East St. Louis as in Fairview Heights or Belleville, but "for half a house." The city's plummeting assessments result in climbing tax rates.

Will Metro Link help the city?

"It can't hurt, but I can't see anybody coming down here and park their car and take the Metro Link to St. Louis."

Are you afraid to come down here?

"No, I'm down here all the time though, that's different. We have a hard time getting help to come down here unless they are from the area or worked down here in the past."

Does the perception of danger exceed the danger?

"Yes, I think. Once we get people to come down here we don't have as big a problem because we are right off the highway and bang, right into our parking lot. We've got a guard downstairs."

The Metro Link parking lot will be just two blocks down the street.

"I know, but you can walk two blocks down and get accosted to buy crack, too. You know how Belleville people feel about East St. Louis, there is no way they are going to come down here and park their cars. I live in Chesterfield. That link isn't going to do a damn thing for me."

If it goes to Scott?

"I don't see them moving out there."

"I hear blacks are begging for work. Couldn't it take them to jobs at Scott?"

"Who are you hearing that from?"

"The people they are asking," I responded.

"There are people who want a job and people who want to work. There is a difference. I think Metro Link will be super for people wanting to go to St. Louis, but it will be a helluva long time before it gets to Scott. They have more problems there because there is a natural rail line from down town St. Louis to Lambert," Kassing said.

Will the gambling boat help?

"I agree with Mearl."

(Mearl Justus opposed gambling on boats saying it will bring more crime.)

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"How many people are going to come over and spend $1,000 a day to gamble on a riverboat? You've got (gambling at) Fairmont Park. Are they making big money? If they are depending on riverboat gambling to pay the $34 million loan (governor's state bailout) back, I don't want to buy any of their revenue bonds.

"Something's wrong with our society if we think gambling is the only answer, an alternative to hard work, good ideas - and it's not Illinois and East St. Louis, look at the country, everybody wants to have a lottery, and what's it done for education in the State of Illinois?"

What about the riverfront and expansion of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial?

"I'm on Target 2000 and we support development of the riverfront. But he confided that the site being below the levee wall doesn't help."

He isn't aware of any interest by investors in condos or other large-scale developments on the riverfront.

"One of Carl's pipe dreams."

No, Jerry Costello's.

"Jerry's been talking to *** ****. He doesn't have any money, any of that kind of money. He's more of a developer, needs financing.

"Jerry has been extremely good for East St. Louis. He has done more than lip service. We have had him talk to Target 2000 several times.

"Unfortunately, they won't let the city have federal money unless they funnel it through somebody like Target 2000." Target 2000 is composed of a mixture of blacks and whites, businessmen and labor unions, and is working to get East St. Louis on track by the year 2000.

The federal government required multiple signatures including Target 2000 representatives to pay for the repaving and sidewalks for Broadway, Collinsville and Missouri Avenues.

Target 2000 solicited $60,000 form St. Louis corporations to fix the Jones Park swimming pool, and operated it for one year, hiring the life guards and concession stand operators and supervising the operation. For the only time in its history, it actually made money. The city took it over the second year. It is closed in the summer of 1990.

Target 2000 has plans to build a subdivision of moderately priced homes near 72nd and State in an attempt to get school teachers to move back into the city. The project has been plagued by many problems, the latest being the discovery of a "damn piece of Indian pottery" that added $20,000 to the cost.

Target 2000 has its own financial problems. You can only go to the same financial sources so many times, and there are few corporations left to carry the cost. You go to Rotary, Junior Achievement, Target 2000, we're all the same guys. We sometimes don't know what meeting we're at, there are so few of us.

"Basically, without Monsanto Chemical Co. all the organizations would be in trouble, because they contribute quite handsomely to all of them, either with time or people or money."

Target 2000 was 10 years old a year ago. "It wants to go out of business before 2000."

You don't want to see if your goals are reached?

He half-smiled.




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