Kim Eberlein (Volunteer Leadership)
Everyone has their own strengths, and Kim Eberlein knows what hers is: “If there’s a group of people in the room, I’ll try to organize them,” she says. Since moving to St. Louis in 1999, she has been involved with numerous organizations, including the St. Louis Symphony, Opera Theatre, Safe Connections, the Women’s Society of Washington University, and St. Louis Women’s Group on Race Relations. One of the most rewarding experiences, she says, is inviting someone onto a board, who may never have done anything like that before, and seeing them flourish.
Eberlein recalls her experience with Safe Connections, a nonprofit serving victims of domestic violence, where she first became involved as a volunteer answering the crisis hotline. “I went through the training; and the other volunteers were such a nice cross-section of St. Louis, from different neighborhoods, different ages and life experiences. I thought it was a great way to get to know people.” When she became board chair, recruiting people from different backgrounds was one of her goals. “We had scientists, attorneys, HR professionals, and everybody brought a lot to their role on the board. We had a scientist who had never had to ask for money before, but she was really good at it. She was so passionate about the agency that she was very effective.”
Working with the Women’s Society of Washington University, Eberlein continued in her goal of bringing a variety of outlooks into the mix. For example, she spearheaded an event called Composing a Life, which brings women from the community to share their personal stories with students. “The women students realize that their entire life isn’t determined by their first position after college,” she says. “Their life is going to take different directions that they wouldn’t have known about, and that’s fine. Most of these women aren’t doing anything even remotely related to their major. It allows them to take a breath and say, I’m doing fine. I don’t have to have everything figured out by the time I graduate. Students are even more stressed now than they were when I went into the workforce decades ago. There’s more stress to achieve a particular grade, to get a particular internship, and to get this first job, or you won’t have a career. It’s reassuring for them to hear that’s not really how it goes.”
Eberlein also co-founded The St. Louis Women’s Group on Race Relations, which is entirely focused on bringing people of different backgrounds together. She heard Evelyn Rice-Peebles speak at public meetings, “saying she really felt women in St. Louis could be a force for change, particularly in regard to race relations, changing the status quo and making it more welcoming and inclusive.” She had met Rice-Peebles on the board at Washington University, and along with another friend, they reached out to others about forming the group. The group gets together at a variety of times in different settings, for lectures, social hours and more. “We’ve really gotten to know each other and created new friendships that might not have otherwise happened. We’re educating ourselves about the city and what each of us can do in our own lives to make other people aware of actions or words that might be racist,” she says. “It’s just deciding that we can be a positive force. It’s hard to step across those invisible boundaries and make new friends. This does that for you, because we get everybody together and share our stories. You don’t know somebody else’s experience until they tell you. We’ve had lots of surprises and learning come from that.”
Sheila Greenbaum (Social Justice)
As president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, Sheila Greenbaum hopes she brings both an institutional memory and a vision for the future of the organization. An attorney at Capes, Sokol, Goodman & Sarachan, she has been involved in the advocacy group since she first got out of law school. “Two things are happening with our affiliate: The executive director is retiring and we’re looking for a new executive director, which is a very important milestone; and the biggest thing we’re involved in is our reunification efforts. I’ll cross all my digits, but in April, we will probably become a statewide affiliate.”
The effort would bring together the ACLU affiliates from both sides of the state, and Greenbaum is expected to become president of the unified group. “I love both sides of the state and people thought I would be well positioned to do that,” she says. It’s not just the institutional challenges she is poised to push forward, but the organization’s mission, as well. She speaks with excitement about issues, such as immigration policy, privacy in the digital age, the implications of drone technology, and also more traditional privacy rights. “One of our challenges is to educate people in terms of what that means for them,” she says. “For instance, many people don’t get concerned about Fourth Amendment search and seizure because they think they would never be affected by it. People learn fast that it applies to them. Maybe they ran a stop sign or their blinker light is out; and if a policeman stops them, all of the sudden, search and seizure becomes a real possibility for them.”
Greenbaum also served a strategic role as past-president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, where she remains a board member. She has held leadership positions for more than 30 years, including spearheading a strategic plan that made involving the next generation a priority. She also helped create the Federation’s Lifeline Fund, which was sparked by the economic downturn. “We saw all kinds of layers of the economy were being affected, even including middle-managers and executives, and the Jewish population was equally impacted. People had to swallow their pride and go to the food pantry or get food stamps—whatever they needed to do.” The Lifeline Fund made money available for people who needed them on a short-term basis, serving as a bridge for things like a one-time mortgage payment or to help keep a family’s kids in day school for the remainder of the school year.
“It was very effective on a couple of counts because first of all, the people who needed it were helped and it was gratifying to know that we could respond so quickly,” Greenbaum says. “It also was appealing to people—people are very particular about where their funds go when they contribute and they have every right to be. People were responsive to this need who might not have been responsive to other calls for donations. This either tugged on a heart string or spoke to them in some way.”
Greenbaum also is on the board of Planned Parenthood, a cause that speaks to her civil liberties background. “It just continues to be so important in terms of women’s health,” she says. “Planned Parenthood tries to be at the forefront of protecting that.”
While she welcomes any support to her own causes, she believes the most important thing is that everyone give back in a way that makes sense to them. “To give of yourself in some way and make your community a better place, however you choose to do that, is probably the most important thing.”
Margaret Israel (Health Education)
It was a combination of luck and persistence that allowed Margaret Israel’s son to be diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome. “He was the first diagnosed in St. Louis, probably in the state,” she says. “It was in 1981, before anybody knew the word Fragile X.”
The syndrome is a genetically inherited autism spectrum disorder, with a range of symptoms that vary among individuals, including learning disabilities such as speech delays; behavior issues like eye-avoidance, difficulty with transitions and repetitive behaviors; attention-deficit disorder; and other conditions. It is a result of a missing protein on the X chromosome, which causes it to look fragile on one of its tips under a microscope.
Israel says she was convinced her son’s condition was genetic (her sister’s son was displaying many of the same symptoms). They were persistent in looking for a cause, because Israel’s brother-in-law was a pediatrician who thought the symptoms might be the result of a metabolic disorder. And it just so happened that in 1981, when they visited Children’s Hospital, a new test had just arrived that would help diagnose the syndrome. Though there is no cure, a diagnosis is important in getting children the care they need, such as speech, language and occupational therapy. “Parent should make sure the home is less chaotic and have a routine, including quiet time, music and things that have a calming effect. The most important thing is to have a mother and father who are calm, because these children are very aware. They see a little frown in your forehead and think something’s wrong. The main thing is that you love your kids and they feel that love, then they’ll be OK.”
In 1992, Israel founded the Fragile X Resource Center of Missouri, a nonprofit that provides educational and emotional support, as well as raises awareness for Fragile X Syndrome. She was president of the organization for 16 years and remains on the board. She is excited about current research that shows promise. “We have a mouse model now. If you remove the Fragile X protein from the mouse, he doesn’t know how to use his wheel or negotiate the maze. They’ve done experiments where they can re-inject the protein, and when they do, that little mouse learns how to do his maze. It’s still a long way, but we’re taking little steps. Eventually we’re hoping to find some kind of synthetic protein that can be absorbed into the body through pills or injections to give them better cognitive abilities.” This, however, raises a dilemma, she says. “I love my son the way he is. He’s funny, he’s musical, he works—he’s fairly high-functioning. Would I want to do something to change him?”
In her own life and for others with Fragile X Syndrome, Israel thinks the goal should be for everyone to achieve as much independence as possible. “You want each person to reach their own potential and not say, He can’t do that, poor child. Nobody wants sympathy; everybody wants opportunity. Empathy is nice, but you mainly want to make sure they are able to do as much as they can and feel good about who they are.”
In addition to her work with the Fragile X Resource Center, Israel served on the board of The Scholarship Foundation, the Woman’s Club of Washington University and has been a board member of the St. Louis Jewish Community Relations Council for more than 25 years, taking a leadership role in the St. Louis-Riga Sister Community Committee of the JCRC.
Riga, Latvia, was part of the former Soviet Union, and when it became free, the city’s hospital was given back to the Jewish Community. “It was in a dilapidated neighborhood in horrible condition, and they had no money or resources,” Israel says. She helped orchestrate three medical missions to Riga, bringing supplies and equipment for the hospital. Doctors from Riga also came to St. Louis to learn new techniques. “We learned from them how to listen to patients—they didn’t have diagnostic tools, but they’re smart and are able to listen and use their visual skills, along with simple medical techniques, to get information.”
Sally Katzif (Women’s Empowerment)
In more than 30 years of community volunteer work through the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Legal Advocates for Abused Women (LAAW), and College Bound, there is one day Sally Katzif says she will never forget.
She spearheaded a traveling exhibit called the Silent Witness Project, and it came to Jefferson City for display in the Capitol building, before legislation fighting domestic violence was to be introduced in the State Congress. Katzif also made the trip. “The purpose was to raise awareness, that domestic violence is a crime that escalates, and a woman could actually be murdered by the very person who claimed to love her,” she says. It featured red, life-size figures of women, and each had a badge that told the real-life story of a woman who was murdered in the state.
As it happened, a school group from St. Louis was touring the Capitol that day, and Katzif was talking to them about the exhibit. “One of the children came over and tugged on my sweater, and when I turned there was a group of children with tears in their eyes. One of our Silent Witnesses had been their teacher.” The teacher had gotten out of an abusive relationship and married, but she and her new husband were murdered by the abusive former boyfriend. The children had not known what happened to the teacher. “It brought home to people that those were true stories, not just people that were from neighborhoods they didn’t know. This is not a crime that only hits poor people or people who live in small towns. It happens across all socioeconomic lines and income levels.
“I felt very bad because they were so young, and we embraced and talked about it. I’m glad they heard it in a situation where we could talk about it, not alone somewhere where they would go cry in a corner and not know what to do with their grief. We talked about how her death was going to help others not have to face the same thing.”
Before creating the Silent Witness Project, Katzif became involved with the NCJW as a young mother who had just returned to St. Louis. As part of that work, she became involved in one of its projects, which eventually turned into the independent organization, LAAW. There, she was a volunteer legal advocate, answering hotline calls from women who were going through domestic violence. “I was particularly drawn to the work because I come from a home where there’s a lot of peace and we didn’t have any violence. I came to find out that wasn’t the case everywhere in our community or the nation as a whole.”
Katzif also is a board member at College Bound, which supports under-resourced high school students, with the goal of getting them through college. Many of them are the first person in their family or immediate group of friends to go to college, she notes. “The ability is there, but they don’t know what the steps are to getting into college. It’s a hard process, especially if you don’t have a counselor in your school to help you.” Last year, the nonprofit’s first class of students graduated from college. “It was such a celebration. People from the community got to meet these students, and found out how wonderful they are and about the hard work they had to do to get to where they are. It was an opportunity to connect with people in the community—some were even able to make contact with corporations and turn in applications.”
It takes all parts of the community to make a difference in society, Katzif says. “I’ve always said I was helping one person at a time, and that’s what I’m best at and what I love to do. Help one person and it’s like helping the world.”
Veronica McDonnell (Health & Arts)
A little bit of creativity can go a long way in fundraising, which is something Veronica McDonnell proved with the wild success of Choose Your Shoes in 2009.
The event, which raised funds to buy a breast mammography van for Missouri Baptist Healthcare Foundation, allowed guests to purchase raffle tickets for a room full of donated designer shoes. The winners received a coupon to go pick up the shoes in their size from the store. The event was successful, and the van was purchased. Then the foundation asked her to resurrect the event to raise funds for a badly needed breast biopsy bed. The old bed was “like lying on a table,” McDonnell says; but with funds from Choose Your Shoes 2, the hospital was able to buy a much more functional bed. “Imagine if you have a painful lump in your breast and don’t know if it’s cancer. The new bed is like the chairs they use for a facial with different apertures to fit women of all sizes, as well as men; and the technology is so advanced you need little, if any, anesthesia. So it’s taking the pain out of the test.” She adds that the event raised enough extra money to put several thousand dollars away for women and men who couldn’t otherwise afford a needed biopsy. “I’m happy to get it out there, because it could be you or me using that bed, and it’s much more comfortable. And if we couldn’t pay for it, then there would be some help there.”
As a registered dietitian, one of McDonnell’s first assignments frequently brought her to city neighborhoods where the need for basic necessities was great. It was a driving reason she became involved in the Missouri Baptist Healthcare Foundation, where she is a member of the executive committee. “If I’m able to help take financial burden off someone so they don’t have to make a choice of purchasing healthcare or their food—or their house payment or clothing—then I’ve done something that I’m meant to do.”
Another of McDonnell’s passions is character development and education of the wider community. For that reason, she serves on the Board of Trustees at the Saint Louis Art Museum, where she previously served on the Friends Board for eight years. Additionally, she is a trustee at the Missouri History Museum.
McDonnell also created Friends of CHARACTERplus, a separate nonprofit that raises awareness and funding for the CHARACTERplus program, which promotes character building for kids in schools throughout the region. “My father-in-law started the program 25 years ago this year; and in 2005, the executive director came to me because she was concerned it was in several school districts but the parents didn’t realize they were getting character education, because they didn’t use the program’s name.” The Friends group saw early success, and was able to support the program’s education on cheating, bullying, attendance, leadership, teamwork and honesty. “Studies have come out showing that schools with the program have higher scores and fewer disturbances in the schools. It’s a great, successful program and Friends has continued to increase awareness.” She adds that now the awareness is so high that the board is making plans to sit down and see how the mission might be tweaked.
As one might guess, family influence has played a role in McDonnell’s community involvement, but she says her belief in the reciprocal nature of giving back is what drives her. “I feel if a company or individual does well and thrives in a community, it’s important that they give back to that community. I feel fortunate to have lived in such a wonderful community, and I am in a position that I can volunteer and hopefully help others who may in turn do the same for someone else. This contributes to making a community strong and helps it continue to thrive, when we care enough about each other to become involved.”
Merry Mosbacher (Community Betterment)
Merry Mosbacher has worked at Edward Jones ever since she was an intern, and it was through the company’s strong support of the United Way that she first got involved in giving back. “Financially, we’ve been blessed through my involvement with Edward Jones, but the company also encourages us to get involved in the community to be a good corporate citizen, as well,” says Mosbacher, who is a principal responsible for the Insurance and Annuity Products area. “It’s not unique to Edward Jones, but it has not been missed by me that I would not be here without being part of this great company.
Along with her husband, Jim, Mosbacher leads the United Way’s engagement of new members of the de Tocqueville Society, a group of about 650 donors in the St. Louis region who give $10,000 or more each year. “People move to St. Louis and don’t know a whole lot about our United Way—maybe they were plugged in at their previous community, or maybe they are coming into a business that’s headquartered here, and they want to give to the community but they don’t know how.” The society gives donors a personal contact and also organizes service projects at United Way agencies.
“It’s very important to us,” Mosbacher says. “I’m a native of St. Louis and our United Way campaign is one of the most well-run organizations in the country, and the focus is on the agencies. When I talk about why we contribute to the United Way, it’s about helping all the organizations I don’t know about individually. There are more than a hundred agencies, and you’ll be amazed by how many United Way agencies you can’t even identify. But United Way has high standards for their agencies, and by channeling the dollars to United Way and letting them allocate it across the board to so many deserving agencies, we can donate in the most efficient way.”
Mosbacher also is the chair of Washington University’s Eliot Society Patron’s Committee, which coordinates with high-level donors to the university. An alum of the business school, her two sons also attended the school.
She and her husband also have been involved at St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf, a United Way agency, for more than 30 years. Additionally, she serves on the board at the YWCA. Originally, she became involved because she was honored by the nonprofit’s Academy of Leaders, and then she started to build up the group of honorees so that they could give back to the YWCA’s mission.
Mosbacher has yet another love, and that is the performing arts. “In high school, I ran the props for the plays; in college, I sewed costumes. Then my sister-in-law and a friend created a not-for-profit group in the ’80s that put on a show every year to benefit a local charity.” Today, her love for the theater has found a home in STAGES, where she is president of the Board of Trustees. “My focus is the sustainability of the organization,” she says. “It’s 26 years old as a company, and I want to make sure it’s really established. The nonprofit recently purchased property in Chesterfield that will open as the Kent Center for Theatre Arts this spring. “It will enable us to expand our programming to incubate newer works, and have space for rehearsals.” Student workshops will take place right next to where the professionals are rehearsing, and Mosbacher hopes the synergy will give students an even deeper look into professional theater.
While Mosbacher says she would not be where she is without Edward Jones, her ‘doer’ mentality is really behind her success. “I don’t want to get involved and not show up; I want to be a person who can contribute. You can’t inspire others to follow suit unless you practice what you preach.”
At the age of 23, Peggy Nelson was diagnosed with a malignant mass in her humerus, which led to her arm, collar bone and shoulder blade being removed. After several weeks in the hospital, she left with a rocker knife. “It looks very dangerous, but the blade is the shape of a rocker so you can cut your own meat,” she says. “It was funny to me; there were two things it seemed everybody was focused on: Did I have an electric can opener, and special equipment I might need having one hand?” She is proud to say that today, when cancer patients leave St. Louis hospitals, they leave with much more: They have the support of Cancer Support Community.
Though Nelson is quick to say that Cancer Support Community was not her idea, she was nonetheless one of its founding members and driving forces. Already a nurse when she was diagnosed, she recalls that while she was hospitalized, she took her wheelchair down to meet with the director of nursing about additional services that were needed for patients with diagnoses like hers. “I had wonderful care and fantastic family support, but I knew then that something else needed to happen.”
After recovering, Nelson became an oncology nurse. “There was only one other oncology nurse in town at the time,” she recalls. “I met with her and with the oncologist at Barnes-Jewish and Washington University, and somehow convinced him I could do it.” She also spoke publicly about her experience, and that was how she was approached by Peggy Michelson and Marsha Wolff, two of the founders of The Wellness Community (later Cancer Support Community). “I think the reason the Cancer Support Community resonates so much with me is that I truly believe in the ability of all people to heal on some level—I’m not talking about beating the cancer, but healing so they can live some kind of life, no matter what they can physically do. I wish every patient diagnosed knew about us so they had the opportunity to come. Nobody should have to do it alone.”
Nelson chaired the nonprofit for three years and also started its Cancer Survivorship Walk. “What the Cancer Support Community does is it empowers people with knowledge, strengthens them with action and sustains them with community. It’s completely free to everyone, because we don’t want to make the delineation between someone who has and one who has not. We hire licensed psychotherapists to do group and individual therapy, yoga, tai chi, Zumba and cooking classes. Once you are diagnosed with cancer, you can come in and almost have a smorgasbord of opportunities. And the empowering thing about it is that the staff does not prescribe what they think will help you; you have the opportunity to help yourself and make choices for yourself.”
For the last 20 years, Nelson also has worked as a counselor, treating patients who struggle with cancer, as well as many other challenges. She brings her personal experiences to bear and treats each patient in a very individualized way. “I first have to find a way to meet the person where they are, and we follow the road as it goes along. Some people come in really angry, some are devastated and don’t know how they’re going to put their life back together. Many have had repeated diagnoses. Every time you get hit with this, it’s harder to put your life back together.”
Nelson certainly has come a long way from her own diagnosis. “I was afraid I was going to die. I figured I would never have children, and I thought I would never be able to play the piano again. I went on to have three children, and I still play the piano. My kids are 37, 35 and 30. They’re all married and we’re expecting our third grandchild.”
As an entrepreneur, Brenda Newberry takes a broad view on what will make the U.S. successful going into the future. “We need to take a more strategic perspective as a country, and develop that next group of businesses that are going to be the big General Motors and General Electrics,” she notes. “We know that businesses reach maturity, and 80 percent of employees work for small businesses. It’s important that we develop that next generation of businesses that are going to grow the economy.”
Newberry earned her M.S. in Business Management from Webster University, and in 2010, became the first woman and the first African-American to be named chairman of the university’s board of trustees. She and her husband, Maurice, also co-chair the Charmaine Chapman Society, the United Way’s African-American Leadership giving group.
Originally, she became involved in the nonprofit while working at McDonnell Douglas, an interest that increased when the couple started their own business. “It does so much work for the region as a whole, from southern Illinois all the way to St. Charles. Secondly, we became more involved because of the way in which they manage the organization. Ninety-five percent of every dollar goes directly to the agencies, and those are dollars they don’t have to use for their own fundraising. The other reason is that the agencies themselves are given a report card; they’re assessed, so the United Way knows those agencies are well-run.”
As a board member for the RCGA, Newberry chaired the Business Services Committee, which developed the successful ‘Breakfast with the Gazelles’ program, as well as the Young Professionals Network (YPN). She recalls that the first YPN event was planned for 100 diverse young professionals, and more than 350 showed up. “They were very articulate, very well-dressed, professional young people. We’ve had trouble retaining those better-educated young professionals in the region, and those are the ones who are likely to start their own business.”
In 1996, Newberry and her husband founded The Newberry Group, an information technology firm, which they sold to employees in 2008, so that it is now 100 percent employee-owned. Her history in the field began with the U.S. Air Force, and today she sits on the board of directors of Laclede Group and Enterprise Financial Services Corporation. “I still do some public speaking on entrepreneurship and leadership, as well as family-work balance. I talk about balancing a corporate job or your entrepreneurship with your life. We try to encourage people to start businesses—but encourage with factual information, because it’s not an easy thing to do,” she says. “We want to make sure people go into it seeing some of the roadblocks they could face, prior to encountering them.”
In addition to developing the next generation of businesses to grow the economy, Newberry feels passionately about helping children develop into contributing members of society. “People who come from dysfunctional home environments and school communities face challenges that many people don’t,” she notes. “We have so many children that are not from two-parent homes, and they’re going to have challenges because there’s a piece of life that’s missing for them. As much as we’d like to say that there are all sorts of families—and there are, there are successful people that come from all sorts of families—children still need to have loving parents.”
Marian Nunn is deeply committed to a variety of nonprofits, and her involvement almost always starts the same way: “Typically I’m asked because of my professional skills, and then I really get pulled in and develop a passion for the mission.” As a commercial real estate and financial consultant, her skills are in high demand.
One such story was the seed of The Youth Center, which has provided after-school programs in a low-income neighborhood in St. Louis City since 2000, serving approximately 2,400 children. “Some friends approached me to help build a youth center to memorialize the work their friend was doing in St. Louis. They needed help on the real estate and development side.” She worked for two years to get the building off the ground, but “we never lost sight of what we were trying to do, which was to help boost academic enrichment for at-risk young people.”
And the results speak for themselves. A recent survey showed that students at the center are increasing their math scores by 20 percent after one year; and more than 80 percent of the students feel the center is helping them stay away from negative influences.
Nunn also brought her professional skills to bear when The Wilson School needed a new gym. “It was great fun for me to make that happen,” she says. “They just celebrated 100 years in St. Louis and are an integral part of the community. It’s an independent school, known for its academic performance and also has very high diversity. The focus is to build character, integrity and honor. These qualities have no social or economic boundaries; they’re something we’re all entitled to and some people need a little more help to get there.”
Life Skills is another organization Nunn initially became aware of through her work. “I was approached by an employee in 1989 to see if I would hire a Life Skills person. I’m from a big family with 30 first cousins, one of whom is handicapped. We hired Terry, who was a Life Skills client, and he brought such joy with him to work. He was as much of a gift to us as we were to him.” She began to work with Life Skills on its employment program, which she helped restructure to show employers what they would gain by hiring a Life Skills client.
Nunn also is board chair for St. Louis Cultural Festivals, which puts on St. Louis Art Fair each year. “Art really helps the brain reach its full potential,” she says. “It’s important for kids to get involved in art at an early age, because it improves the critical thinking skills and it’s enrichment for the soul. Art can be intimidating, but what has been really enjoyable about working with St. Louis Cultural Festivals is that you see it’s for everyone. You don’t have to be an expert to appreciate art and enjoy it.”
Nunn says she was almost moved to tears when she found out she’d been nominated for a Woman of Achievement award. “I just wake up doing what I know how to do and hope I don’t make too many mistakes,” she says. “Volunteerism is important for everyone to develop a purpose and meaning in life, to focus on something outside yourself, and also for personal growth and happiness.”
Vida Prince, known to many as ‘Sister Prince,’ came to her life’s work by chance, when she ran across a small article about the newly formed Holocaust Center in The Jewish Light in 1977. “All of the sudden, I’m on the phone with the rabbi, asking, What can I do?” she recalls. Her involvement started out small, with the director giving her articles and books to read about the Holocaust. Then one day, she drove two survivors to speak to a classroom of children about their experiences. “As soon as I heard them speak it was like, Pow!, this had to be documented. It was so overwhelming—it was one thing reading these things, and another to hear them talk about it themselves. It touches you somewhere, and you just know that it’s going to be something for you to do as long as you can.”
Prince immediately brought her idea to the next meeting of the commission leading the St. Louis Center for Holocaust Studies (now the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center) and shortly thereafter, the Oral History Project was born. Ever since, she has chaired the Project, which has collected 200 audio recordings, 200 videos and more than 2,500 photos from Holocaust survivors. The photos include many images of life before the Holocaust, a fact that Prince says is vital to showing the dignity of the people involved. “When people see pictures from the Holocaust, they’re always of people bent over, with terrible things happening to them. I thought it was very important to have as many as we could before the Holocaust so they would see that these were people who were educated, who had dignity, who had a life.”
The intensive training that she and the Project’s other interviewers underwent was vital both to that work and her other endeavors since, Prince says. She has also done oral history projects for the African-American community, as well as immigrants from several Asian nations. Earlier this year, her book, That’s the Way It Was: Stories of Struggle, Survival and Self-Respect in 20th Century Black St. Louis, was published by The History Press of Charleston, S.C., more than a decade after Prince began the work. It compiles the oral history of 13 African Americans and their experiences with segregation.
The book grew out of experiences Prince had while volunteering at the Missouri History Museum, along with an interview she had with Civil Rights activist Marian Oldham, who told her of the toll of segregation: “You have to understand that there was no restaurant where we could eat except a black-owned restaurant. There were no theaters, no movie houses where we could go…I think it was marvelous the way our parents went ahead with life and made something out of themselves and their children and had a reasonably healthy existence, despite the real outside world,” Oldham told her. Prince recalls, “That got me the same way the Holocaust survivors did, and I wanted to document them immediately. It was the same feeling of, I want to do this—I’ve got to do this.”
It took Prince a long time to learn the right questions to ask, she says. “I thought (children) would come home from school and they would take their complaints to the parents, but that didn’t happen. That’s not the way it was.” In the end, she hopes the book explains how these 13 people learned who they were; how they learned that others had skin a different color from theirs and that it made a difference; as well as where they lived, worked, spent their leisure time and were buried.
Through the years, Prince has both laughed and cried with the people who shared their stories. But even when the stories were difficult, it has always been rewarding, she says. “It’s been very exciting. I feel like I’ve traveled the world.”