Ed Leach started out his life on a farm in southeast Missouri, but his family moved to St. Louis so his dad could work in the factories that were booming after World War II.
Leach, who now lives in Washington, explained that life on the farm was a self-preservation situation at best, and the family wanted something more.
This spirit of advancement stayed with Leach throughout his life and motivated him to open his own printing business in St. Louis even though he knew little about the trade.
The family moved to St. Louis in 1947 when Leach was 8 years old, and he remembers simple days of playing marbles, roller skating and going to the movies for a dime. Going to Cardinals games was “just stuff you heard about.” He recalled an area called “chicken town” on the banks of the Mississippi River where poor people lived, but he did not go down there.
City life was obviously a big change from the farm.
“I could never remember riding in a vehicle until we moved to St. Louis,” Leach said. “We had a wagon and team of mules (for transportation).”
Coming from humble beginnings and rising to become a successful city businessman did not come without its share of stress and uncertainty. But for the most part Leach just looked at it as another challenge to overcome, which he did.
As he sat at the kitchen table of his Washington home looking out over the large lake in his backyard, Leach said he could have never imagined the success he saw in the commercial printing business.
His wife, Dodie, said he was always ambitious and stood apart from his peers when he was in his youth.
“You could just see he was a different person than the rest of the kids I knew,” she said.
They met in the Soulard Market area of St. Louis where people “bummed at,” he said.
She recalled that he had a car, a 1950 Ford, at a young age, worked numerous jobs and was always seeking the next step up.
Prospects for a better life and nicer home for his family drove Leach, who said he never rented a place to live, always opting to buy instead.
“I always had this look-ahead, charge, move-up mentality,” Leach said.
He graduated from a technical high school in O’Fallon, achieving a specialty in commercial art. He went to work in the conveyor factory his father was in, even working across from his dad at one point.
Leach later worked for the McDonnell Douglas aircraft manufacturer, but layoffs struck the company.
After losing his job, Leach decided to take a big risk and start a business. So he chose commercial printing even though he knew very little about the field. Letterhead, flyers, business cards and brochures were his products.
Early on it was worrisome as the money was slow to come in from customers. But he started landing many clients, even large ones such as Ralston Purina and the Ferguson-Florissant School District.
He saw firsthand the evolution of the printing business, starting out in the black and white days and retiring during the digital era. And these days many people are doing their own publishing on personal computers.
Leach is not sentimental about the old ways, saying, “I was always looking forward to change.”
He recalled one time he asked someone at the school district if she would like to order a colored brochure, which was an extravagance then. When he brought up the idea of color, the school district representative initially balked, saying, “‘Oh no, our budget wouldn’t allow for that.’”
Leach offered to do it in color for free, and he said that was a great investment because after that the district wanted more and more color.
In the 1990s, another company bought out his printing business, and he stayed on for about eight more years.
When he retired, he and Dodie decided to move to Washington because they liked the area so much, particularly the friendly people.
Now they enjoy supporting the downtown merchants and having friends visit them.
Leach can often be seen at the Phoenix Park tennis courts striking forehands and backhands with zeal, and he has a shelf of trophies in his home.