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Kirkwood mayor says community knows how to love

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Walking carefully with the help of his son but looking remarkably well, Mike Swoboda entered the room to a standing ovation. Fifty people stood around the edge of the spectator section, which seated another 75. More than 50 others spilled out the door and into the gentle spring air. A battery of five television cameras in the back of the room recorded the event.

Swoboda called Kirkwood an "old and proud town" and a "strong and beautiful place" as he called on citizens to work to "keep it that way forever." The crowd gave Swoboda multiple standing ovations as he was awarded legislative proclamations and received the good wishes of the 27th District Masons.

His serious expression broke into a characteristic grin when Kirkwood School Superintendent David Damerall and School Board President Matt Cottler presented him with an honorary Kirkwood High School diploma. Damerall said that Swoboda always looked miserable at an annual breakfast before the Turkey Day game when he had to admit he was a Normandy High School graduate.

The main signs of the Feb. 7 shooting were his cautious gait and a visible mark on his face from one of the bullets that struck him. As he sat in the mayor's chair at the center of the semi-circular council table, he nodded almost imperceptibly toward friends he recognized in the audience. As he left the chamber to multiple standing ovations he looked right and left recognizing friends. His son, Michael Swoboda Jr., helped him walk into and out of the chamber and his wife, Sue, was present as well.

Those in the audience were friends or just acquaintances who wanted to express their respect for the man who worked tirelessly as a council member and mayor and who had suffered such grievous wounds as he neared the end of his service. Swoboda said there was "no place he'd rather be" and added, "I have loved serving Kirkwood."

One friend there was Steve Smith, a lawyer who has served as a municipal judge in Kirkwood. Smith, who saw Swoboda in the hospital after the shooting, said Swoboda's recovery was amazing. He even has fine motor skills to tie his shoes and can walk up stairs, Smith said of his old friend.

Security was heavy. Three officers stood at the entrance to City Hall, checking men's waistbands and women's handbags. Another five or six officers, including Police Chief Jack Plummer were in the council chamber. One was posted at the entrance to the room and one stood at each end of the council table, blocking any access to the council members.

Five city officials were killed Feb. 7 with Charles "Cookie" Thornton assaulted the city council chamber attacking the city he accused of operating with a "plantation mentality." Thornton was killed by Kirkwood police. A handful of African-American residents were present in the council chamber for Swoboda's return.