JACOB — Besides being a well-known place to get fried chicken, the Bottoms Up serves as the unofficial headquarters for just about everything in The Bottoms.

Never was that more evident than it was in late December, when the Army Corps of Engineers predicted the Mississippi River would crest at record high levels.

The region known as the Mississippi River Bottoms includes the communities of Gorham, Jacob, Raddle, Neunert and Cora City. 

Kristi Thies, who along with her husband, Jason, owns the Bottoms Up in Jacob, does not feel like their efforts during a recent flood predictions were extraordinary.

“We just did what needed to be done,” Thies said. “I’m glad we had a place to use.”

When the predicted crest was announced Dec. 27, Jackson County Board Member Andrew Erbes talked to Jason Thies about using the pavilion at the Bottoms Up as a staging area for boxes, packing supplies, tape and other things needed to pack and move belongings to higher ground.

He agreed to begin on Tuesday because the business is closed Mondays.

“He was giving up some space he could have people eating," Erbes said "I thought that was big of him."

He told Erbes to bring a load Sunday evening, but then sent a text to say they would be open on Monday — the first time in recent history.

On Monday, their efforts grew.

Little Caesars donated pizza, which was quickly exhausted by the nonstop flow of volunteers.

“That’s what kept going,” Kristi Thies said.

“The response from the community was phenomenal,” Erbes said. “These people had to literally pack up all their belongings and find somewhere to go.”

But, the Bottoms Up is more than a staging area during a potential crisis. It is also a gathering place for residents of the bottoms, as well as a popular spot for local residents and SIU students.

Kristi Thies says they have a lunch crowd of 15 to 20 local residents most days, but that can swell to more than 30. But they also get people from far away.

“During an election, we’ll get some of the candidates through on Wednesday nights,” Kristi Thies said, referring to the fact Bottoms Up serves cheap fried chicken and beer on Wednesday nights.

They host to an antique tractor parade each July 4. A group of graduates from Gorham High School meet the last Wednesday of each month. Bottoms Up has hosted numerous birthday parties, anniversaries and family reunions, not to mention the dances in the pavilion in warm weather.

If there is a need, they pitch in.

On May 14, the establishment will host its third Levee Fest. The event will include a 5K, half marathon and half marathon relay in the morning, with a fried chicken dinner in the afternoon followed by a band.

“Our big goal is to raise enough money for new electric pumps to replace the gas pumps. They are going to cost a lot. Our levee needs other repairs, too,” Thies said.

Thies knows what is at stake.

“The levee is all that is protecting our homes and farmland,” she said.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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