He is a local legend, and a fixture in one St. Louis city.
Now Webster Groves is working to bring Raynard Nebbitt and his family back home.
The 57-year-old's favorite spot is a bridge that crosses over I-44. The road is S. Rock Hill Road, but the spot where he has greeted drivers for decades bears his name: Raynard Nebbitt Crossing.
“Everybody knows me,” he said, shyly.
“Everybody loves you. They sure do,” his older sister, Kathy Nebbitt nudged gently, before Raynard continued, “They find me up there on my bridge.”
The siblings grew up and lived most of their lives in Webster Groves. When their father was alive, he cared for Raynard, who has a mental disability. Later other family members also looked after him, but in recent years, Kathy was Raynard’s primary caretaker.
Nearly every day, Raynard treks to the bridge, where he stands and greets drivers and encourages truckers to honk from the interstate. He carries around a scale model of the bridge that he made himself. It fits onto the bike he pedals everywhere he goes.
He is well known in Webster Groves and the St. Louis community. But many of Raynard’s fans didn’t realize his family no longer lives in the long-time family home off Gore Avenue.
Two years ago, Kathy became seriously ill after a dangerous reaction to a medicine. She spent a long time in the hospital and away from Raynard. She was unable to work, and without an income, unable to keep up with many expenses.
The siblings lost their family home. As she recovered and left the hospital, Kathy moved into a nursing home in University City. Family friends in south St. Louis took in Raynard.
“All this stuff had happened, even my life had [almost] been taken away from me. I lost my home, I lost my car, and even my family – but it seems like, it’s a time for restoration now,” Kathy said.
She remembers when Raynard visited her in the hospital, how it pushed her to find strength. Through it all, Raynard continued to pedal to his bridge.
“It gave me the fight and the will to – you’ve got to get better Kathy, you got to. Raynard needs you,” she said.
Now, with Kathy’s health improving, the family is ready to return home.
This summer, she wrote to the community newspaper asking readers to help her find an available rental property. Her needs have changed, she explained. Now she needs a wheelchair-accessible home.
Many in Webster Groves jumped at the chance to help.
“He’s such a stable part of this community, he’s somebody that we all watch out for,” explained long-time Webster Groves mayor, Gerry Welch. “For some reason, in thinking about Raynard, there’s an assurance – that life is ok when you see Raynard.”
Community leaders like Welch are helping the family search for a new home. One man, a complete stranger to the Nebbitts, started a Go Fund Me page that asked for $5,000 to get them started on a move.
The response was overwhelming, raising more than $20,000 the first month it was posted and still climbing.
“People here really care about each other,” Welch said. “We like our neighbors, we like our friends. And we really try to help people.”
The Nebbitts are humbled by their community’s willingness to help.
“The community of Webster [Groves has] been so great,” Kathy said. “Even some that don’t live in Webster have called or said – 'what can I do to help?' For me, it’s awesome. Words cannot explain it.”
“I’m grateful. We’re so grateful,” she added.
The Nebbitts are still looking for the perfect home to rent, but now they have a community helping them search.
And Raynard is still there, greeting friends and strangers, from “his” bridge.
“They need me back here, at Webster,” he said.
To learn more about the fundraising efforts to help Raynard and Kathy, visit the GoFundMe page.