Jefferson City is full of undiscovered gems. Visitors are automatically directed to the big, well-known treasures in town—state capitol building, Governor’s mansion, Central Dairy—but there are some historical wonders even locals aren’t aware of, such as the USS Jefferson City. There is a nuclear submarine still active and on undersea missions named after Jefferson City. While having a namesake submarine is nice, it’s the lives impacted and woven together by the USS Jefferson City that show the real heart of our community.
Commissioned in 1992, the USS Jefferson City (SSN 759) was the Navy’s newest class of nuclear powered attack submarines called the Los Angeles Class Attack Submarine. At 360 feet long, 33 feet wide and weighing 6,900 tons, it was equipped with torpedoes and missiles, as well as more than 130 crew members on board. The USS Jefferson City had a commissioning committee, which included city officials, state representatives and community members, with a goal of bringing together a city and a submarine.
Former Councilman Jim Haake and his wife, Catherine, helped in that endeavor by housing some of the visiting crew members when they would come to Jefferson City on a namesake tour. Jefferson City families would “adopt” the sailors to give them a touchstone to the community. The Haake’s daughter, Christa, became good friends with their adopted sailor, Eric Stein, when she was home on the weekends from college. Stein strongly encouraged her to attend the commissioning of the ship in February 1992 in Norfolk, Virginia, with her parents.
“I was in college at the time and was not going to go,” Christa says. “His way of convincing me to go was to say there would be 150 men in uniform there,” she says laughing.
Christa went to visit Stein at the commissioning and would also meet his roommate, John Vizner, for the first time. At the dance after the official commissioning ceremony of the USS Jefferson City, Vizner asked her to dance the two-step. It was a moment that changed her life. The couple got married less than two years later and now live in Waco, Texas, with their kids. Christa and her husband still have a strong connection with Jefferson City and visit family often.
“I remember the Commander saying relations couldn’t get any better than the Councilman’s daughter marrying a sailor on the sub,” Christa says. “It was a close relationship.”
Vizner wasn’t the only crew member affected positively by the Jefferson City community. Andy Lenart went straight into the Navy when he graduated high school in northeast Ohio in 1993. He was a crew member of the USS Jefferson City, who served as a storekeeper second class from 1994-97. Lenart also had the opportunity to come to Jefferson City on a namesake tour in 1995. Although not adopted by the Haake family, he found the experience of being embraced by the community just as rewarding.
“It reminded me of where I grew up,” Lenart says. “I always thought Jeff City had a small town feel. They were outrageously friendly. People were so nice.”
WHEN LENART COMPLETED HIS second tour of duty in the Navy in 2001, he knew he wouldn’t stay in San Diego but didn’t know where home would be next. He and his fiancé drove through Missouri and both commented how beautiful it was in the state. He instantly remembered his time in Jefferson City five years earlier. Both called it home a few months later. Lenart, who married his fiancé and now has two kids, is a sergeant with the Jefferson City Police Department. He has never forgotten the welcome he and his other crew members received from this community.
“It was humbling because we were treated like celebrities,” Lenart says. “We lived it every day, so it was nice to be appreciated. They embraced us, and it made you feel good about what you do and why you’re doing it.”
The USS Jefferson City, after more than 20 years in the water, is still answering the call of duty with a new group of sailors working hard to serve our country. This past September, some of those crew members got to tour Jefferson City on another namesake tour.
They visited with community members at Oktoberfest in Old Munichberg and even shared a meal at Memorial Park. While we can’t guarantee they fell in love during their brief time here, we hope the hidden gems of our city—our outrageously kind people—shined brightly and welcomed them home.
Current crew members of the USS Jefferson City, from left: Lt.j.g. Keven McKee, Commanding Officer Cmdr. John Croghan and Chief of the Boat Master Chief Petty Officer Joseph Bransfield.