meet along the way: Mary Jane Buchheit

Women do incredible things. Here, we feature the stories of women who are a part of the Southeast Missouri community by way of living here, being from here or passing through. We hope these stories inspire you to connect with others and that they encourage you to be who you are in the world. We need you and your unique gifts.

This story was first published in the September 2018 issue of “The Best Years (TBY).”

Life stories from the namesake of Perryville’s mary jane burgers + brew

She has been a homemaker, seamstress and florist, a 4-H leader, part-time postmaster in Old Appleton, Missouri, and substitute bartender at the Silver Dollar Tavern. She was a columnist for the Republic Monitor, enjoys photographing and painting old barns and doesn’t own a computer. Her favorite color is blue, and she collects cobalt-colored glass. She has seven children, 16 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

Her name is Mary Jane Buchheit. You might know her as the Mary Jane of mary jane burgers + brew in Perryville, Missouri, and mary jane bourbon + smokehouse in Cape Girardeau.

Buchheit has accomplished much in her life. She was a member of the St. Joseph Parish Choir in Apple Creek, Missouri, for more than 40 years and also spent much of her time decorating the church. She is responsible for the creation of the Christmas Country Church Tour, named by AAA Magazine as a “Travel Treasure” in 2015. She is currently a tour guide at the St. Joseph Parish shrine and museum that celebrates the history of the 190-year-old parish, as well as a member of a garden club and regular for lunch at the senior center.

She can often be seen at her church or at the restaurant in dresses and skirts she sews lace on to, and wearing jewelry she collects from garage sales. She says she dresses up because “time’s running out,” and she doesn’t try to pretend she’s not “glitzy.”

The team at mary jane burgers + brew calls her “Grandma.”

She is, in fact, owner Carisa Stark’s grandma, and an important figure in Stark’s life. So much so that Stark named her restaurant in Perryville and the Cape Girardeau location sequel, mary jane bourbon + smokehouse, after her.

“I grew up with Grandma babysitting me and my brothers and cousins,” Stark says. “We spent a lot of quality time together. She’s just a fun lady.”

Stark recalls taking car trips with her grandma and cousins when they were younger, rolling down the windows of what Buchheit calls her “old jalopy,” banging their hands on the top of the roof and singing “Shoo Fly Pie” together. Stark says each time Buchheit has a car that rolls over to 200,000 miles, they still celebrate this tradition.

Because her grandma is an important figure in her life, Stark says she wanted Buchheit’s character to be a statement about her restaurant.

“Naming a restaurant is kind of like naming a baby — it’s about what sounds good and what matches the feel of the business,” Stark says. “My grandma is so fiercely independent, so positive, so strong. That’s the culture I want to lead in my business.”

Buchheit says she was initially surprised when Stark presented the menu to her with her photo and name at the top, thinking it was a joke. After the confusion was cleared up, Buchheit says she felt “honored.”

“It’s fun,” Buchheit says of her namesake. “I enjoy visiting people there — I stop in about once a week or so and sit at the bar and chat with people, and we have fun talking about it. They want to know the story, so I always tell them how it all happened. Then they want to do a selfie, so we have fun with that.”

The famous photo

In the photo on mary jane billboards and menus, Buchheit’s hair is brown, just above her shoulders, poufed on top and curled on the sides. She smiles confidently into the distance, her arm draped over the back of a chair. It is 1950, and she is 17.

This photo is the reason Buchheit learned to paint. It was taken when she was a bridesmaid in her friend Rosella Milflet’s wedding. Milfelt’s friend, a professional photographer, photographed each of the bridesmaids individually in her studio across from Rozier’s grocery store in Perryville.

Around this time, Buchheit’s uncle, who was stationed in Germany, told her about a new painting method called tinting that used transparent paints and cotton Q-Tips to make black-and-white photos color. He sent her a few tiny tubes of the paint, and Buchheit applied the technique to the photograph. Buchheit has enjoyed painting since.

“Sometimes they show up at garage sales, so they’re getting known,” she jokes of her paintings.

Over 80 years on the creek

This is what Buchheit says she would name her autobiography if she were to write one, since she has lived next to Apple Creek in Old Appleton, Missouri, her whole life, excepting the two years she and her husband moved 20 minutes north to Perryville. The home she grew up in that her father built sits just up the hill from the house she and her husband built.

“It’s pretty rare because people move so much nowadays,” Buchheit says of her eight decades lived in Apple Creek. “I just love being here. I’ve been here so long in the middle of nature with woods all around me and the creek and the brook and the wildlife.”

While her children were growing up, they enjoyed sledding down the hill, building bonfires, and swimming and fishing on the creek with the other residents of Old Appleton. The town often had parties and parades for the residents’ anniversaries and birthdays, including an 100th birthday party for the bridge.

Buchheit says she loves putting on celebrations and entertaining because it brings smiles to people’s faces.

“Carisa and I have a lot in common,” Buchheit says of her granddaughter. “We both love to do a lot of things so that a lot of people can be happy.”

Buchheit’s life has not been unmarked by pain, however: her husband left her and three decades ago, one of her daughters died in a car accident.

This, she says, is why family means so much to her and why she believes strong families are important within society.

“You’ve just got to meet the pain and walk through it,” Buchheit says of how she has handled life’s challenges. “Belonging to a church and hearing the Word of God and knowing how life should be, how God wants it, I think that’s important, and it’s just about the only thing to fall back on in times of losses like that. … So [I] just kind of go through it and learn to accept. Pain never totally goes away, you just learn to deal with it, and it becomes part of your life, and you learn from it. Family life is so strong to me because of what I’ve gone through; it’s very important to me. And so I work on it every way I can.”

Buchheit says she and her family maintain strong bonds by getting together on holidays and birthdays to — yep, you guessed it — celebrate.

One last (very important) thing

Buchheit’s mary jane burgers + brew menu recommendations?

The crab cakes. Or the pork rangoons. Or any of the burgers.

1 Comment

  • Barbara Miller
    I must say, I grew up in Old Appleton forever knowing Mary Jane as one of the greatest ladies in the community definitely a wonderful Christian lady to look up to. I've gone to church with her pray with her and enjoyed great visit times. We are blessed to have her as part of our community and love every moment we spend with her.