LEXINGTON, Mo. -- About 700 people showed up in Lexington on Monday afternoon to pay their respects to former Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton. The 17-term U.S. House democrat died last week from pneumonia at age 81. The funeral was held at Wentworth Military Academy, a most fitting place for Skelton.
The former congressman graduated from Wentworth in 1951 and his political legacy will always be defined by his support for the armed forces and military schools. One might be forgiven if they assumed Congressman Skelton served in the armed forces based on the military honors at his funeral.
He contracted polio at the age of 15 and it prevented him from military service. However, the disease did nothing to stop Skelton's service to his country.
“Ike was a warrior, he may not have been in a foxhole, or dropped a bomb from B-12 aircraft, but he made a way out of no way for a many soldiers," Rev. Everett Hannon Jr. said during his service.
As Reverend Hannon pointed out, few lawmakers had a more shinning reputation with the military. His own band of brothers, the Sigma Chi fraternity, performed a white rose ceremony, laying flowers on his casket. Another man who knew Skelton as a brother was fellow congressman Emanuel Cleaver II.
“Ike became my big brother,” Cleaver said.
Cleaver was especially close to Skelton. He officiated at Skelton's second wedding in 2009 and reminded the auditorium that it was Ike who convinced Reverend Cleaver to run for congress in 2004. He described Skelton as a regular guy, approachable by all, who lived a simple but titanic time here on Earth, dedicated to family and country.
“He inarguably became one of the most trusted civilians by the military in this country,” Cleaver said.
At a time of intense partisanship, Skelton was described as the essence of political civility, willing to work across the aisle...unwilling to demonize his opponents.
“I never heard him attack anyone personally, he was what one newspaper recently suggested as one of the last statesman of country,” Cleaver said.
Skelton first came to the Wentworth as a student in 1945. He leaves one final time, with full military honors as the gentleman from Lexington. Ike Skelton’s first wife died in 2005, but he is survived by his second wife, three adult sons and five grandchildren.