They were brought together through the St. Clair School District nearly 60 years ago as first-grade pupils.
Today, the same R-XIII school district still unites them through the deep friendship garnered long ago as well as for a current care and concern to help others who now walk the hallways behind them.
Nancy Reed Redhage, Karen Bailey Queen, Carolyn Patterson Witcher and Jonell Stahlman Phillips, all part of the St. Clair High School Class of 1965, are members of the up-and-coming SCHS Alumni Association whose purpose is to raise funds to help graduating students continue their education. They serve in different capacities in that association, but share the common goal to provide the financial boost through scholarships to a few students every year who soon will be receiving their diplomas.
“Our goal is to help as many kids as we can for as long as we can,” said Redhage, 64, who serves on the association’s board of directors and lives in Washington. “As we continue to evolve and expand, we’re trying to get the word out.”
The alumni association was formed more than two years ago by the Class of 1963 for the primary purpose of providing scholarships to SCHS graduating seniors who are continuing their education beyond high school. Its first steps involved organizational issues. Officers and directors were named, articles of incorporation and bylaws were written, and the association was incorporated under the laws of the state of Missouri. It also was granted tax-exempt status through the Internal Revenue Service.
The group received its charter on Sept. 17, 2010.
Redhage said current board Treasurer Fred Becker, SCHS Class of 1963, always conducted a reunion at his house. When other members of that class started discussing how they could help current St. Clair students with their futures, the alumni association idea was formed.
Since then, Queen, Witcher and Phillips, all age 65, joined Redhage in getting involved, although none of those three fill spots on the board. Witcher and Phillips live in St. Clair while Queen lives just outside the city limits in Lake St. Clair.
“We’re just the Indians,” Queen said. “We’re not the chiefs. We’re the followers, not the leaders.
“We’re the worker bees. But we share the desire to help deserving students as best we can.”
Other members of the board of directors are board President Jamie Moore, Secretary Gloria Patterson and Glenn Owens. All are from the Class of 1963.
Witcher was quick to point out that the scholarships go to “kids who want to better themselves.”
“They aren’t always the ‘A’ students, but are the students who need financial assistance to continue their education past high school,” she said. “The scholarships are intended for those who need them financially.”
“The kids get the money to get what they need most,” Queen said. “It could be for gas, a computer or something else. But it’s to help with their continuing education in some way.”
The four women recently played a big part in the alumni association’s first fundraiser, a trivia night conducted in early October. The event raised more than $3,000, and all of the money will go toward the scholarship program.
“When we first started, all of our money was provided through donations,” Redhage said. “We tried to get the word out by participating in events like Truth and the Outdoors and the Main Street Festival.”
So far, seven scholarships in varying amounts have been awarded to SCHS seniors.
In order to be considered, students can complete a form at the high school through the counselors office. The form gets forwarded to the alumni association, and a selection committee goes through the documents and decides on the recipients. There is some selection criteria, but any student who wishes to continue his or her education past high school is eligible.
“Kids are our future,” said Witcher, who is on the scholarship committee. “And so many are deserving and just need some financial assistance. ... When we meet to decide (on the recipients), we try to look at everything. Each year it will be a unique process because of that.”
“There is such a need,” Phillips said. “I just want to be able to help.”
For more information on the alumni association or the scholarship program, visit www.schs-alumni.org.
St. Clair Ties
After high school, Queen worked at Farmers & Merchants Bank and raised four children, three of whom also graduated from SCHS. She also has 12 grandchildren ranging in age from 8 to 23. Half of them attend St. Clair schools.
“It was said to go forth and multiply, and I did just that,” she said with a smile.
Queen also is the St. Clair Elks Ladies Auxiliary president and is a member of the local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars women’s auxiliary.
“I loved high school,” Queen said. “It was one of the best things of my life. When I found out we were putting together this alumni association, I wanted to help. I had the time to do so, so I got involved.
Witcher worked at the old Belmont furniture and home sales business for 16 years after high school, moved to Florida, back to the area, to Kansas City and then back to the area again. She also was a bookkeeper and repaired computer boards for separate companies before she retired.
She, too, is involved with the V.F.W. and American Legion ladies auxiliaries, is the current Legion Auxiliary secretary and has been a former president of that group.
Currently, she said she stays busy by watercolor painting.
Witcher has three children who all started school in St. Clair but graduated from high school in Kansas City. She has two grandsons and two great-grandchildren.
“I loved school,” she said. “I’d still be there if they’d let me. And I just enjoy helping these kids however I can.”
Phillips, easily the quietest woman of the group, has lived here for 65 years.
“I never left St. Clair,” she said, adding that she worked at two different times for the International Shoe Factory as well as at a couple of other local businesses.
She married her high school sweetheart and was a stay-at-home mom. Both of her children were SCHS graduates. Two of her six grandchildren also are SCHS alums while three others currently are in the R-XIII system.
“I wasn’t a straight-A student,” Phillips said. “And my folks didn’t have the money to send me to college. So when this opportunity came up to be a part of the alumni association, I knew I wanted to help kids who are similar to me.”
Phillips also said four generations of her family are St. Clair graduates, starting with her father-in-law.
Redhage worked for Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. in St. Louis for 32 years after high school and after taking an early retirement there started volunteering for various organizations.
“I got involved that way,” she said. “And I was kind of recruited to get involved with the alumni association.”
Redhage currently assists with fundraising efforts as part of the Missouri Association of Hospital Auxiliaries. She also is on the Mercy Hospital board of directors and is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Both of her children started their education in St. Clair before graduating in Union. None of her seven grandchildren attend classes locally.
Even though they lived near each other a lot of the time, the four women lost track of each other.
“We hadn’t seen each other for years,” Queen said. “Now, we do.”
“We lost each other even though we were true friends from way back,” Witcher said. “Now, we’ve reconnected, and I’m so happy we did.”
The four ladies spend as much time together as time allows, and they meet for lunch about once a month with other SCHS alumns.
And when they are together, they have a good time.
“I enjoy these other three ladies,” said Redhage, who stood up for Witcher when she married shortly after high school.
“And we love Nancy,” Queen said despite Redhage announcing that she was the youngest woman of the four. “We love each other, care about each other and feed off of each other. ... We even finish each other’s sentences.”
“We care about each other so much,” Redhage said. “And we all care about school and the students so we’re here to help.”
“All of our parents didn’t have a whole lot of money,” she said. “We know what that’s like. We want to help if we can.”
“We didn’t have a lot,” Phillips said.
“But,” Redhage said, “we want others to have better opportunities than we did. That’s why we’re here.”