Nestled between the cities of Maryland Heights and Bridgeton is the tiny village of Champ, Missouri. Incorporated into St. Louis County in 1959, it is the smallest populated municipality with a total of 13 residents at the time of the 2010 census. Champ encompasses 0.81 square miles, all of it being land. Every bit of Champ’s history is revolved around a man named Bill Bangert, a former track and field star who established the village of Champ in 1959 and presided over it.
A decorated athlete throughout his entire life, Bangert was a champion strongman who won numerous awards well into his 70s. Growing up in Berkeley, he played football and baseball at Berkeley High School and even won the NCAA discus throw competition in 1944 and 1945. In 1947, he took cues from his family’s successful road-building company and started the Bill Bangert Construction Company, as a one-man hauling venture. Shortly thereafter, he ventured into politics and was elected Mayor of Berkeley in 1950.
Unfortunately, Bangert lost most of the sight in his eyes due to a rare disease that caused hemorrhaging in blood vessels surrounding his retina. At the young age of 28, he feared he’d never see again. Thankfully, a miraculous surgery in 1952 helped restore most of the vision in his right eye … just in time for him to see the birth of his daughter Sharon.
This gave Bangert a new perspective on his future and he hatched a plan for what he referred to as a “controlled municipality.” He purchased land near where the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater currently sits and incorporated it as a village in 1959. Serving as mayor, he claimed to be the “strongest mayor in the world” … to back up this claim, he even carried the famous 778 pound Dinnie Stones (popular weightlifting stones used in strongman competitions) across a 17-foot bridge and back again.
With a population made up of himself, his wife and his daughters … Bill had incredible plans for the village. He wanted to keep population low, but attract industry and use proceeds to build a domed stadium and massive shopping center. Although his plans would never come to fruition, Bangert managed to keep himself busy by moving to California and pitching Olympic competition ideas to Disney for special Disneyland attractions. He returned to Missouri in 1997 and competed in events across the county in seniors and masters game, regularly finishing in first or second place.
Of all his accomplishments, Bill felt that Champ was something he was proud of most, saying in a 2008 interview with Riverfront Times, “It will always be there.” Bill Bangert passed away at the age of 87 on July 12th, 2011.
Today, Champ remains a small village of Bangert family, friends and neighbors.