After years of renovating their 20th century home, Gary and Sherri Zenishek received a message on Facebook from neighbor Jami Wade asking if they would like to be nominated for an award. Wade had taken notice of their excavations but also how the restorations were bringing the home back to the look she remembered growing up — minus the Lincolns in the driveway.
"We weren't expecting it because we didn't promote or anything," Sherri Zenishek said. "It was totally out of the blue; we were humbled because it was a very fun experience."
The couple was recognized July 31 for their restoration of 1508 West Main St. The Jefferson City home has a rich history, with only two families in ownership for its first 100 years.
The Golden Hammer Award recognizes individuals in Jefferson City who have restored historic structures at least 50 years old, preserving them for years to come and showing the pride the community has for its past.
The family home
The West Main home was built around 1913 by Stephen Vincent and Florence Bedford, according to a history of the home compiled by Deborah Goldammer with the Historic City of Jefferson.
Stephen had purchased the land with George Haigh for $2,000 and later split it to build 1500 and 1504, respectively, with the two sharing a driveway. Stephen practiced medicine in the Meyerhardt building off of High Street, and he and Florence raised two children, Mary Delores and Stephen Kaiser, in the home.
It was a full house: Florence's mother, Mary Kaiser, and sister, Anna Kaiser, lived in the house with the Bedfords and their children. In 1940, there was a domestic worker, Douglas Chappel, 22, listed as living with the family as well. Chappel lived in a private home on the property and earned $260 a year, according to the census. The home was always ample for entertaining and family reunions.
In 1941 at age 26, Stephen Kaiser was killed in a train- automobile collision, which left behind his wife, Anna Winkler, and infant daughter, Annie. Like his father, Stephen was a pharmacist and well-known in the community, serving as a member of Knights of Columbus.
Stephen Vincent died in 1944 and Florence in 1970, both while living at the West Main home. Dr. Bedford was known as "the Good Samaritan" to clientele in and outside Missouri — his obituary in the Jefferson City Post-Tribune said he was known for working tirelessly for his patients, even prescribing medicine from his sick bed in the home.
"Even (from his bed), he prescribed for those who couldn't do without him," the article said. "If he had been paid for any considerable part of his efforts in his profession he would have died the community's richest man."
Records show that Stephen's sister, Mary, and her husband, John Laurence Hogan Jr., were owners of the house until June 30, 1972, when ownership was transferred to Frank Wallace and Lois Glasscock May.
The Mays lived with their four children, Douglas, John Randolph, Bruce and Jeanne, at the West Main home. Like the family before them, they were also invested in the community — Frank was an attorney and chairman of the Boys Work Committee of the Sunrise Optimist Club, while Lois served as the director of the Missouri Governor's Mansion during Kit Bond's administrations. Both college educated, Frank served on the Missouri Public Service Commission, and Lois helped Carolyn Bond with the restoration of the mansion.
Lois and Frank kept the place lively, according to Goldammer's research. They loved to entertain, and Lois had a passion for trying new recipes and dishes in the home. It was her "greatest joy" to turn their home into a playground and classroom for their grandchildren, great-grandchildren and godchildren, according to her obituary.
For the Zenisheks, the Mays were also close friends.
The families met at their church in Hartsburg around 1993 and became fast friends. Frank and Lois later became godparents to the Mays' youngest son, Stephen. When they moved to Jefferson City off Pattlewheel Circle, the Mays were just down the street — and showed up on their porch asking how they could help. Both families' children went to the same school, so Frank May took and picked them up from school every day, and the West Main home became their after-school spot.
They referred to Frank as "Papa" and were often over for meals. Sherri remembers the way the home felt and the memories in it.
"We remember exactly where he sat, where his telephone was, the smells of the kitchen and Frank's smoking a cigar on the side porch," she laughed. "We were family to them even though they weren't blood related."
Gary remembers the Mays always telling stories of their time working in Jefferson City.
"It was 20 years of just listening to numerous stories that never repeated," he said. "Frank always had funny stories we tell our grandchildren now. And Lois' stories about the Governor's Mansion, serving prisoners, doing state functions and working out of her (West Main) kitchen because there weren't enough stoves there."
After 59 years of marriage, Frank May died Aug. 22, 2010. The home remained under Lois May's name until Jan. 29, 2016, when the Zenisheks became its owners. Lois was moving out of the home, and Gary and Sherri were feeling something "pulling on their heartstrings" — it would turn out to be a win for both parties.
"I approached (Lois) and told her we'd be interested in buying the home," Gary said. "She lit up like a Christmas tree."
Lois died May 10, 2016, leaving behind three children and grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren.
'An eclectic blend'
Renovation of a centuries- old home isn't easy, especially during a pandemic, but the two have managed to make the ground-up restoration "an adventure."
The Zenisheks installed new windows and doors in fall 2018 but didn't start major renovations until January 2020. Much of the changes have been functional while they've left the design elements the same. They modernized the air conditioning and redid the plumbing and electrical work, as the home still used knob and tube wiring. The hardwood floors were refinished, and an upstairs sun porch was converted into other functional spaces.
Many historical elements remain: The doors on the main floor were kept, and the windows have original leaded glass. The brass hardware vintage chandeliers and pieces of furniture the Mays had brought in from across Missouri are still there, while new furniture had to be ordered online due to the pandemic.
In the 1970s, the Mays discovered a summer kitchen and grotto in the backyard that had been completely covered by overgrowth. When the Zenisheks took ownership of the home, they made repairs to those structures along with the garage.
They call their modern updates mixed with the original design "an eclectic blend."
"Other than landscaping and fine tuning — there was a lot of paint and elbow grease that went into the outside — it looks like it did in 1911," Gary said.
He and Sherri Zenishek plan on staying at the West Main home long term and would love to see it kept in the Mays family through their grandchildren. They are proud to have made the restorations to the place they've felt connected to for 20 years.
"We don't ever think about 'We shouldn't have made it a modern home,'" Sherri said. "It's always felt like we were at home and were meant to be here."