The People's Tribune

Former Vandalia Resident Pens Book

By Staff Writer, Brice J. Chandler

One Audrain County native has a fun way to explore some unique locations in the St. Louis area for those eager to get back out into the world.

Dea Hoover’s debut book, STL Scavenger: The Ultimate Search for St. Louis’s Hidden Treasures, offers the perfect fit for those seeking adventure in the city.

Just as with any good hunt, there’s a chance to grab some prizes including $500 in cash.

According to the book’s description, “Dea takes you on a whirlwind trip using her knowledge and experience of creating and running tours in this fun for the whole family scavenger hunt.

“Her mantra of, “never come back the way you came.” Should encourage you to stumble onto treasures she has pointed you toward as well as other hidden gems in and around the Gateway City meaningful to you or your family or your friends.”

Dea joined forces with a St. Louis publishing company, Reedy Press, last year to utilize her extensive knowledge of the area after 20-years in the tour industry.

A 1989 graduate of Van-Far, Dea spent her days at the Vandalia Firestone which her mother and father owned and operated. In fact, her mother, Donna Hoover, still runs the popular Vandalia business.

“I’ve been reading since I was three or four,” Dea explained what led to her interest in writing the book. “Mom and Dad read to me all the time. We were a reading house.”

Along with her husband, Declan, she also dedicated the book to her parents. “To Mom, who started my love of reading and hence writing,” she wrote in the opening pages. “She taught me to finish what I start. To Dad, you live through me, giving me courage and the love of relentless pursuit. We miss you!”

Even after leaving to attend Washington University and remain in the area afterwards, her time in Vandalia and at Van-Far hasn’t been lost.

“I was lucky because Van-Far had so many committed teachers and personnel. Not every school has those kinds of people. I really felt lucky about that as much as I wanted to leave my small town. It made me who I am. It molds and shapes you.”

According to Dea, her father would have loved the book, and he wouldn’t have been alone. It’s reached the number one spot on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s top ten list and has remained on it for weeks.

“I was surprised,” she told the Tribune. “First of all, I didn’t know there was even a local bestseller list until I talked with one of the other authors at Reedy Press and they said, ‘I saw your book on the best seller list in the paper.’ So, I asked my neighbor if I could see his copy.”

The book was the culmination of months of work and rewrites. She first started working on it in August of last year during a time of personal struggle as her husband battled a life-threatening illness.

Dea owns two tour guide businesses which Declan helps her run. The companies provide tours throughout the nation and abroad.

According to Dea, the businesses went from their best year to an absolute standstill due to COVID-19.

Reedy Press approached her with the idea during that down period which coincided with her husband’s surgeries and recovery.

“I think I can do that,” she told them after they asked if she could create a scavenger hunt-based workbook. “I’m a tour guide, that’s what I do already.”

Even after being told the book publisher was looking for a turnaround of eight weeks, Dea accepted the proposal with enthusiasm and determination. “I was very naïve how this was going to go down. I’ve never done anything like it before.”

Yet writing a book was on her bucket list, and it aligned with her passion for reading.

“When I went to college, I wanted to be an English major, but it was 89’ and I needed a job when I got out,” she told the Tribune.

Instead, she minored in English and majored Business Management.

After college, she worked for a Saturn dealership until a chance opportunity appeared.

“Totally by accident,” she answered when asked how she got involved in the travel industry. She was at Saturn in 1998 when changes with the company’s ownership prompted her to look elsewhere. “One of the women who worked there owned a tour company and I said, ‘hey if anyone is hiring, let me know.’”

She got a call a month later.

“I took a huge pay cut,” she explained how she shifted to her third career. “It was all accidental.”

Those accidents led to her eventually becoming the owner and operator of two well-known St. Louis tour companies – Discover St. Louis and Are We There Yet?  

Her gained knowledge of St. Louis and acquaintances met through her time there paved the way for the book offer.

But it wasn’t easy.

The book includes 17 areas, and each has its own images and clues for readers to puzzle out.

“I tried to squeeze a ton of information into each clue, because I wanted the reader to learn something,” she said. “I felt like it should rhyme because I thought that would be more fun. So, I started out writing them in iambic pentameter.”

The idea of Shakespearian prose didn’t work out as planned. She wrote 9 sections of clues when her editor decided it wasn’t working.

After writing in more traditional journalistic style, the editor asked if she could rewrite the clues again in a riddle format.

“I was thinking, ‘oh my god,” Dea said and shared how her husband got a kick out of her revision process. “Declan was laughing and laughing and said, ‘that’s exactly what you did to me on the one of our tours.’” Despite the rewrites, she said the book and Reedy Press were great.”

Another great aspect of the scavenger hunt book is its accessibility.

“Even if you don’t live in or go to St. Louis, you could technically do this from your home with the internet,” Dea explained.

She warned the publisher that, “it’s got to be a feel-good thing, not a feel-bad thing. If you make it where the first people to finish or those with the fastest times are the winners, then everyone else is going to be mad. Everybody has to have a chance.”

Reedy listened to her suggestion. Hunters have until November 15 to submit their answers to Dea’s riddles. On December 1, the correct answers and winners will be revealed.

Dea laughed and said that she’s already had competitive readers try to prompt her for clues. “People get pretty competitive, but its great. That’s part of the excitement.”

But the book isn’t for the strictly competitive.

“You don’t have bookshelf guilt with this book since you don’t have to read it front and back,” Dea explained. The book is divided by sections such as the popular Hill, Soulard, and more making it easy for readers to explore and solve at random.

“It’s a light and fluffy thing when we haven’t had those in our lives this past year. It’s something fun to get people back out.”

Learning about small connections in each area and how their history has led to current projects was one of Dea’s favorite parts of the book creation process.

“Learning about each neighborhood intimately. Going down the rabbit hole,” Dea answered. “That was one of the things that slowed my speed, but I loved it.”

Best of all, the amount of research she put into the book clues will carry over into her tour guide companies.

“At least if they fire me, I will have learned something I can use for my job,” she joked.

Her advice for anyone wanting to start their own business or write their own books:

“Keep asking. Ask for help from people who are doing it. Ask for informational interviews and do your research. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who have went broke not realizing what they were getting into. Ask for information because there are people who want to teach you.”

Anyone looking to pick up a copy of the book or meet Dea will have the chance this week. She will be at the Vandalia Library on June 17 at 10:30 a.m.

To learn more about Dea’s book or purchase a signed copy, visit

STL Scavenger Hunt is also available through amazon and at St. Louis area bookstores.

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