Charlie Davis said he first began tuning in to Rush Limbaugh early in the broadcaster's career.
"I got out of the Navy in October 1989 and came here (Southwest Missouri) and started listening to him right away," Davis said.
It was a year after Limbaugh's program went national.
Four years later, Davis, who is now the Jasper County clerk, closed up his Joplin business for a few days for an event that ultimately drew thousands of others and became known as "Rushstock '93." It started out as a bake sale.
Davis said a man had called the broadcaster to complain that his wife wouldn't let him spend $29.95 for Limbaugh's newsletter. Limbaugh suggested the man — Dan Kay, of Fort Collins, Colorado — hold a bake sale to raise the money, and it escalated from there. Ultimately, 8,000 people — including Davis, his wife and a friend — showed up, as did Limbaugh himself in a helicopter.
Davis drove the night to get there and arrived to help raise money, selling mugs that read, "I Rushed to Dan's Bake Sale."
Nearly two decades later, Davis met Limbaugh again. Limbaugh came to Joplin for an event on July 4, 2011, soon after the EF5 tornado. Limbaugh brought with him two truckloads of tea and also made a $100,000 donation for relief efforts. At that event, Limbaugh spoke in Landreth Park and praised Joplin for its hard work rebuilding after the storm.
The following year, with Davis a state representative, the two met again when Limbaugh was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians, with a bronze bust installed in the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City.
"He was very, very pro-military and pro-veteran," Davis said of Limbaugh. Davis was for part of his eight years in the House chairman of the Veterans Committee.
"He did influence a lot of people. ... He did influence me as a conservative Republican, absolutely," Davis said.
Southwest Missouri readers weighed in Wednesday after learning of Limbaugh's death. Some found his style off-putting and his remarks at times offensive, even divisive; others considered him patriotic and a leader of the conservative movement.
Perry Davis, of Joplin, wrote that he first became aware of Rush Limbaugh in 1991. "This was at the beginning of the first Gulf War in which we ejected the Iraqi forces from Kuwait. From then, and for many years, I had a road sales job where I did a tremendous amount of windshield time traveling five states. I never missed Rush’s program if I could help it for the last 30 years.
"His upbringing in Cape Girardeau, his family, and his Missouri common sense approach rang familiar to me. He was best known for his grasp of politics, but could easily converse with a wide variety of people on many different topics. His irreverent humor was second to none. I learned a tremendous amount from him, and his voice confirmed what I (and a lot of other folks) were thinking. ... He is going to be greatly missed. A true conservative."
Patricia Murphy Marston, of Carthage, wrote: "I would never say I was happy that someone died like this. But I was never a fan of this man. He always played to the lowest common denominator and seemed very narrow-minded and mean-spirited."
Linda Davis, of Joplin, wrote: "Loved listening to him and learned so much from him. ... He was a great voice for the Republican Party and would call out those that weren’t doing the party any good. I pray for his family and those that are grieving his loss today. Cancer is a horrible thief of life."
But Michael Goolsby, of Carthage, saw it differently: "His disdain for those he disagreed with was toxic and contributed to the divisive atmosphere in our politics today. I’ll still pray for his soul, and for those who mourn his loss, but can’t share many of his views."
Tee Kimbrough, of Neosho, said: "He made hate acceptable in America and has done more harm to our nation than can ever be healed."
Clem Stephens, Webb City, said he listened to Limbaugh for 25 years, and added: "He was a great man who stood for truth and believed in this great country ... There will be big shoes to fill replacing him. I've listened to him for 25 years."
Donna Harlan, Joplin, said: "He was an entertainer and spread bigotry and hate for money. No tears here."
Like him or not, there's no doubting his influence.
Beefmasters, a restaurant for many years on Range Line, used to advertise a "Rush Room" where local residents gathered to listen to his three-hour radio program over the lunch hour.
Other restaurants did something similar, said Nick Myers, who lives just south of Joplin and who was recently named chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.
"I was a regular listener from very early on ... back in the '80s," Myers said. "I would listen to the radio when I drove, and I was happy when I could tune him in."
"He was a master communicator," Myers said of Limbaugh. "His presence in the media let millions know they were not alone in their commonsense conservatism."
He credits Limbaugh with contributing to the rise of the Republican Party in Missouri, "from the courthouse to the governor's office," and said Limbaugh is part of the reason there is a vetoproof majority in the General Assembly in Missouri today.
"He was sort of a unifying factor for the conservative era," he said.