In 1981, John Griesheimer walked into a Washington City Council meeting for the first time to sell pickup trucks.
Thirty-six years later, he is retiring as one of the longest serving public servants to the residents of Franklin County.
In that time, he has served as a city councilman, first district county commissioner, state representative, state senator, and back again to presiding commissioner of Franklin County.
Over his 36-year career, Griesheimer was undefeated in all 15 of the elections in which he was a candidate.
“I just wanted to sell cars all my life,” he said. “I never had any inkling of going into politics. Then I started going to the city council meetings and really got into what they were doing, planning the direction of the city, and I realized I wanted to be involved.”
Now that all is said and done, the accidental politician says helping people was always his goal and he hopes to continue that even in his retirement.
“I’ve had to make some tough decisions in my career,” Griesheimer said. “I always did what I thought was right and for the best of everyone as a whole.”
In his career that has included local, county and state government, Griesheimer says his top accomplishment was getting the Amtrak station in Washington.
“It happened Oct. 29, 1995,” he said. “That was something I had worked for since 1982 when I was first elected to the Washington City Council. I could never understand why Washington wasn’t a stop.”
Griesheimer added the process was not an easy one, wrestling with not only the Missouri Department of Transportation, but Amtrak officials in Washington, D.C., as well.
“The door finally opened when I was elected to the House,” he said. “I remember the day they had the first stop in Washington, about 400 people showed up.”
No. 2 on Griesheimer’s highlights came in 2004 with the establishment of the enterprise zone along the Interstate 44 corridor through Franklin County.
“At that time, it stretched from Sullivan to Pacific,” he explained. “Now, it extends to the Gray Summit area. It’s been a huge success and created hundreds of jobs in the corridor.”
Not all of Griesheimer’s highlights came decades ago.
The project holding the rank of third on his all-time accomplishments is the opening of the new Bend Road bridge outside of Pacific just last month.
On a hot early summer day, Griesheimer was given the honor of cutting the ribbon on the $4.5 million project, which for the first time allowed full access for emergency vehicles and school buses to rural areas in the Meramec River Valley.
“I am so proud of getting that done,” he said. “It has been needed for so long.”
Accomplishments aside, Griesheimer says the people he worked with throughout his career are who he will miss most.
He had planned on retiring at the end of his current term in January 2019, but mobility issues forced him to cut his tenure short.
“I really hate going out this way,” he said. “I’ve had so many great friendships here and in Jefferson City.”
He especially mentioned his decades-long personal and private friendship with Franklin County Clerk Debbie Door, who also is retiring at the end of the year.
“Debbie and I went to high school together,” Griesheimer said. “When I sent my resignation letter to the governor, I included a personal note and I did the same for Debbie. I really cherish that friendship.”
As he enters retirement, Griesheimer said his first priority is to get healthy.
“I have to get where I can walk again and to do things,” he said. “Once I do that, I’d like to start volunteering at the train station.”
He will remain active in the Washington Lions Club and remain on the board of directors for OATS Transportation.
“I’ve always enjoyed fixing problems,” Griesheimer said. “If there is anything I can do to help steer people in the right direction, at the county or state level, they can still give me a call.”
Last month, his son Aaron Griesheimer surprised his dad by announcing he will be following in his footsteps by running for a seat in the Missouri House of Representatives.
Griesheimer was first elected to the Washington City Council in 1982.
After six years he ran and was elected as Franklin County First District commissioner, where he served two terms from 1988 to 1992.
He was first elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 1992 before term limits were established and served five terms, or 10 years.
When term limits finally did catch up with him, he moved to the other side of the Capitol building and was elected to two terms (2002, 2006) in the Senate, serving a total of eight years.
Griesheimer came back to the county commission in 2010 after serving a total of 18 years in the state Legislature.
His second term as presiding commissioner was to have ended on Dec. 31, 2018.