Cape Girardeau's Limbaugh family has fashioned a legacy in law and conservative politics that has been woven into the very fabric of Cape Girardeau's existence.
Cape Girardeau is full of community champions but none more respected than the late Rush H. Limbaugh Sr., a scholarly lawyer and civic-minded gentleman whose life spanned more than a century of changes in the river city.
The patriarch of the well-known Limbaugh family, his personal legacy was in many ways the city's legacy as well.
He remembered Cape Girardeau before there was a Mississippi River bridge or a floodwall along the riverfront. He recalled President William Howard Taft's visit to Cape Girardeau in 1909, the opening of the city's first Mississippi River bridge in 1928 and Houck Stadium in 1930.
He remembered a Cape Girardeau that had dirt streets and streetcars. His life spanned a century of transportation improvements, from horse and buggy to the space shuttle.
Limbaugh, who died on April 8, 1996, at the age of 104, left behind a legacy of lawyering intertwined with a staunch commitment to civic duty.
His son, Stephen N. Limbaugh Sr., is a federal judge in St. Louis and presided over a major court case involving desegregation of St. Louis public schools in the 1980s.
Stephen Limbaugh Sr. said in a 1984 Missourian interview that a good judge needs a good disposition.
Limbaugh said a sense of power comes with being a federal judge. "It's very ego-gratifying to be a federal judge," he said shortly after being appointed.
Rush H. Limbaugh Sr. practiced law for many years with another son, Rush H. Limbaugh Jr., who died in 1990 at the age of 72. Rush Limbaugh Jr. loved to talk politics, a characteristic he passed down to his son, famed conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh III.
While he's arguably Rush H. Limbaugh Sr.'s most famous grandson, other grandsons have been in the public eye as well.
They include Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., a former Cape Girardeau County prosecutor who serves on the Missouri Supreme Court; David Limbaugh, a Cape Girardeau lawyer, author and syndicated conservative political columnist; and banker and ardent Southeast Missouri State University booster Jim Limbaugh.
Rush Limbaugh III's brash criticism of the Left has angered liberals while helping to put Cape Girardeau on the political map for conservatives and sparking a legion of so-called "dittohead" fans. His talk show has the largest radio audience in the land.
A college dropout, Limbaugh refers on the show to having "talent on loan from God."
"I see myself as a benevolent dictator. Nobody has any rights on my show but me. Nobody has the right to be dull and boring and ruin my show," he said in a 1987 interview.
The Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau continues to hand out brochures to visitors offering a self-guided tour of Rusty Limbaugh's boyhood haunts.
The CVB also sells Limbaugh T-shirts and memorabilia. "He has a very loyal fan base," said CVB director Chuck Martin. "It's amazing how many people come in and take that driving tour."
The mother of Rush Limbaugh III, Millie Limbaugh, was the gracious matriarch of the Limbaugh family, loved by Republicans and Democrats alike.
George W. Bush met privately with an ailing Millie Limbaugh at her Cape Girardeau home during a campaign stop in Cape Girardeau in August 1999.
Millie Limbaugh died on March 3, 2000. "Millie never knew a stranger. She was your friend if you just had a minute," Mary Frances Kinder, a longtime friend of the Limbaugh family, commented after Millie died.
Fans of Rush Limbaugh III often stopped by to visit with the famed conservative's mother.
"You were always able to find her. She made friends of everyone that she met," said state Sen. Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau. "She was a great ambassador for Cape Girardeau."
While her son, Rush Limbaugh III, has a huge national following, local historians insist that Rush Limbaugh Sr. has had the biggest influence on the Cape Girardeau community.
"I can't really think of anyone who contributed any more to the early 20th century growth of major institutions in Cape Girardeau than Rush Limbaugh Sr. He appeared to be involved in just about everything," said retired history professor George Suggs of Cape Girardeau.
The Limbaugh patriarch was involved in the early development of Southeast Missouri Hospital, active in the Salvation Army for nearly half a century and was extremely active in the Boy Scout movement, not only in Cape Girardeau but in surrounding counties, Suggs said.
"It would be difficult to extract him out of the Cape Girardeau community without leaving a tremendous void."
Suggs' taped interviews of Limbaugh formed the basis of a book published by Southeast Missouri State University Press last year. The book was titled "Rush H. Limbaugh and His Times: Reflections on a Life Well-Lived."
Suggs ranks Limbaugh as one of the top Missourians in the state in the 20th century. "In terms of his contributions and abilities and his talents, he was a very significant figure in Missouri, particularly in Southeast Missouri," Suggs said.
Limbaugh served as city attorney for several years, mostly in the 1920s. He practiced law for nearly eight decades. He was still practicing law when he was 101 years old.
"He, perhaps more than anyone, made Cape Girardeau the legal center it is today," said Frank Nickell, a history professor who directs the Center for Regional History at Southeast Missouri State University.
"He was distinguished. He was polished and he symbolized the best of the legal profession."
Longtime Cape Girardeau lawyer Al Spradling Jr., a former state senator, said Limbaugh was an accomplished attorney. "He was considered the state's outstanding lawyer when it came to probate matters," Spradling said.
"He and my father were great friends. My dad just thought the world of him," Spradling said.
Rush Sr.'s gentlemanly demeanor, legal intellect, public speaking prowess and willingness to volunteer his time to community projects turned his name into a household word, Spradling said.
"He had a reputation throughout the state of Missouri, which he passed down to his sons and his grandchildren. The Limbaughs are the first family of Cape Girardeau," Spradling said.
"You mention the word 'Limbaugh,' and people think of Cape Girardeau," he said.
Limbaugh started his own law practice in the fall of 1916, at a time when there were only 28 or 30 practicing lawyers in the entire county. Today, there are well over 100 lawyers in the area.
In the early 1900s, a lawyer handled everything from civil suits to criminal cases. "There was a time when a lawyer could confine his workshop in a single office bereft of all furnishings and equipment except a table, three chairs, a set of the latest Missouri Revised Statutes, a typewriter and a spittoon," Limbaugh once said.
When Limbaugh began practicing law, there were Justice of the Peace Courts where less serious cases were handled. Sometimes those cases were heard at the homes of judges or on their front porches, he recalled in a 1991 Southeast Missourian interview.
In his first year as a lawyer, Limbaugh made less than $500. He couldn't afford a car so he walked to work. Limbaugh bought his first car, a second-hand Dodge, in 1922.
"They were not walled in like our cars are now," Limbaugh told a Southeast Missourian reporter in 1991 shortly before his 100th birthday. "You drove an open car except in bad weather. If you were caught in the rain, you had to put up the curtains."
Limbaugh -- who grew up in Bollinger County -- was 13 when he visited the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904, accompanied by his mother and a neighbor. They made the trip by train.
For a Southeast Missouri farm boy, it was a dramatic experience. The fair introduced Limbaugh to electric lights, ice cream cones and hot dogs.
"I don't think I'd been away from home more than 15 to 20 miles before," Limbaugh said. "Well, I just discovered the world at that time."
Limbaugh served as a state representative in 1931 and 1932 and worked for creation of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and consolidation of public school districts.
He was 40 years old when he was elected to the Missouri House. "We received $5 a day for our service in the entire term and railroad fare from home to Jefferson City and back," he said. A legislative term lasted 60 to 90 days.
Limbaugh said he got out of politics because he had a law practice to run.
A lifelong Republican, Limbaugh was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1936.
One of Nickell's favorite photographs of Limbaugh shows him all dressed up at the national convention. "There's a dapper guy," Nickell said.
Limbaugh had strong ties to Southeast Missouri State University. Not only did he attend school there -- he was editor of the Capaha Arrow student newspaper -- but he ended up serving more than 40 years as the school's attorney. That job was passed on to other members of his law firm in the 1960s. The firm today continues to handle the university's legal business.
In 1949, a tornado damaged Limbaugh's house as it cut a path through the city, killing 22 people.
Limbaugh and his family weren't hurt. They were attending Rush Jr.'s wedding in Kennett, Mo., at the time.
Limbaugh was a "gentleman of the old school," Suggs said.
"You somehow sensed you were in the presence of someone who had an innate goodness about him."