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Kingdom of Callaway Supper guest has many ties to area

Kingdom of Callaway Supper guest has many ties to area

February 9th, 2019 by Jenny Gray in Local News
Janet and Stephen McVeigh.

Even eagles come home to roost, and such is the case of each guest of honor at the annual Kingdom of Callaway Supper.

This year's guest of honor is Stephen McVeigh, accompanied by his wife of 43 years, Janet. He grew up just east of Fulton, a typical farm boy among other farm boys rambling across the countryside.

And while the farm is still in the family, McVeigh has traveled the world, much of the time as a Shell Oil executive. He and Janet live in Spring, Texas, but they will soon come home to greet old friends at the supper, set for 5-8 p.m. March 5 at William Woods University.

Callaway roots

It's no wonder McVeigh is inspired to do family genealogy as his is fascinating.

His original Callaway ancestor is Stephen Guerrant, for whom he is named.

"He came to Callaway County in 1825; he homesteaded our farm, the farm I grew up on," McVeigh said. "That was five years after the state of Missouri was formed."

Originally from Virgina, Guerrant removed to the west after the finalization of the Louisiana Purchase. His wife was Lucy Ann Harden, who also came from Virginia. Her roots go back to a Revolutionary War soldier who was found serving at Valley Forge in 1777. Their daughter, Sally Ann Guerrant, married James McVeigh, and together, they had Joseph McVeigh, Stephen McVeigh's grandfather.

"When I retired in 2005, I was visiting my sister and going through old records and found a 1905 Fulton Telegraph article," McVeigh said. "It said James McVeigh, when he was 60 years old, decided to take a trip back to Louden, Virginia, and he documented it for the paper."

In that article, James detailed a trip to the Washington Monument where he rode an elevator to the top.

"When it was built, it was the tallest structure in the United States," McVeigh said.

The McVeighs came from Ireland, with Edmund McVeigh traveling from Dublin as an indentured servant, then assisting the first survey of the city of Philadelphia.

"The reason that I do it (genealogy) — first of all, I'm curious," McVeigh added. "To me, it has been a very humbling experience. When you look at what your ancestors did, their trials and tribulations and about what they went through I just have a healthy respect for our ancestors."

McVeigh said his father, Odie Clinton McVeigh, married his mom, Minnie Kroell, and he was born in 1950. McVeigh attended the one-room Lamar Elementary School (on County Road 108 just off Route Z) for eight years, and then went on to Fulton High School, there he participated in varsity football, track, debate and National Honor Society. He graduated from Fulton in 1968 as valedictorian.

McVeigh attended the University of Missouri/Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology) under academic and athletic scholarships, and was a starter on their varsity football team for four years. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering in 1972. Along the way, McVeigh also served as student brigade commander in the Army ROTC program. He received an officer commission (second lieutenant) and served in the Army Reserves until 1980, retiring as captain.

He met his wife, Janet, in late 1974 when McVeigh was living in Santa Monica, California, on his first assignment as an engineer out of college.

"I met Janet at a club in Marina del Rey as she was living in West Covina and attending nursing school at Pasadena City College," he said. "We got married in Long Beach in 1976 after a job transfer sent me from L.A. to Ventura, then to Long Beach."

A year later, they were transferred to Houston, Texas. Later, they were living in New Orleans when oil exploration was happening in the Gulf of Mexico.

"That was my dream job," McVeigh said. "Then my boss called."

The boss made McVeigh a job proposition that changed everything.

"I thought, 'What did I do wrong?'" he said. "That's where they used to send the prisoners. It's the gulag."

He had to break the news to Janet.

"I said, 'We're being sent to an island in the North Pacific,'" he said.

McVeigh and Janet were off to Sakhalin Island — just off the east coast of Russia, just north of Japan, once occupied by the Mongol Empire and home to several indigenous groups of people and those prisoners.

"It's a very long island, about 1,000 kilometers north to south, and 30 to 100 kilometers wide," McVeigh said.

It can be pretty arctic, too, with winter temps dipping well into the negatives.

"It's quite cold up there; the ocean freezes over," McVeigh said.

From 2000-04, he was to be CEO for the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company, a joint venture partnership which was the first offshore and liquefied natural gas development project attempted in Russia. Shareholders included Shell, Mitsui and Mitsubishi.

"It was the biggest project Shell had ever done," McVeigh said, adding the company was looking for new sales markets in Japan, South Korea and China. "It was a real trailblazer project — a $15 billion project with 25,000 construction workers."

He spent time traveling from the island to other offices in Tokyo, Moscow, the Hague (Netherlands) and London.

"I was on the road all the time," McVeigh said. "I experienced 50 time zone changes every month."

That would be like living in Central Missouri and working in London, England, flying home on the weekends.

"Do that for four years," McVeigh said. "That's what it was like."

He also spent months in Moscow, and spoke highly of the Russian people.

"Culturally, it was a wonderful experience," he said. "Living overseas is an exciting life and it can be rewarding, but it has its ups and downs."

The work on Sakhalin Island also was quite dangerous, and explosions were always a concern. Every time McVeigh had something proprietary to discuss, he did that from the Netherlands.

"I told Janet, 'It's not like living in the United States. Every time you get on the phone, it's probably wire tapped,'" he said.

McVeigh said he and Janet had a code.

"If I call and say be ready to go in 10 minutes, don't argue with me," he said, laughing.

After that experience ended in 2004, McVeigh retired after 32 years of service with Royal Dutch Shell Group of Companies. He enjoys being home in Texas or at the family's vacation home in Southern California. He likes golf, spending time with family and traveling abroad.

He's been a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Fulton since childhood, and said he returns there when in the area visiting friends, family and the farm, retained in part by his sister.

"One thing I will have to say, the roots of our family are deep in Callaway County," McVeigh added. "My great-great-grandfather is buried right there on the farm. One day, I will be buried at Ebenezer Church."