Veiled Prophet maids and their dads volunteer at Food Outreach.

Since 1878, St. Louisans and visitors have lined up to watch the colorful majesty of the Veiled Prophet parade. And if you watched the St. Louis Cardinals World Series victory parade in October, you also were witnessing the work of the 133-year-old civic and philanthropic organization known as the Mysterious Order of the Veiled Prophet, or VP. “This year, we were lucky enough to be asked to help with that event,” says Tom Cooke, spokesman for the VP organization. “One of the truly unique things about us is that we can, in a very short amount of time, put hundreds of feet on the street as volunteers. Within three days of working closely with the Cardinals, the St. Louis Mardi Gras organization, and the special events office of the city, we were able to organize the parade celebrating the World Series win.” The VP organization also helped with the Rams’ parade after their Super Bowl win, and the parade marking the closing of the old Busch stadium, he adds. “Putting on parades is a core competency for us— we’ve been doing it for 133 years!”

In addition to supporting high-profile community events like parades, the VP also provides assistance to many St. Louis charities and nonprofits through its community service initiative. “We’ve worked with Beyond Housing and Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club, to name a couple, for many years,” Cooke says. “This year, we’ve added Rainbow Village and Food Outreach.” The work, organized by the Veiled Prophet Foundation, is done by the young women who are presented at the annual VP Ball. “They team up with their dads, and do lots of different things like paint, put in smoke detectors or clean up the grounds. They work throughout the summer for two years preceding their presentation at the ball.” In years past, the VP organization has worked on large-scale projects like Habitat for Humanity, he adds, but in recent years it has shifted the focus to smaller local agencies. “We try to identify projects the girls can complete during the summer, because seeing the effort all the way through is very meaningful. It’s educational for them to see not only the need, but how that need is met.”

The VP parade and ball originally were created to generate interest in the agricultural fair that promoted trade and commerce in the city. “People came from great distances for the festivities. It was all about a positive image for St. Louis, and that civic pride is in our very roots,” Cooke says. “It’s up to us to continue to define that role in the community.”

Cooke’s own daughter, Kathryn, was presented at the VP Ball a few years ago, and Cooke says it’s a great memory. “Part of what the ball celebrates is the special relationship between a father and his daughter. It’s a really special night not only for the girls who are being honored for their community service, but for the dads, as well.”

Fair St. Louis, the city’s annual Fourth of July celebration, and the summer concert series that follows also are presented by the VP, Cooke notes, and the organization plans to continue to expand its community service outreach. “I think that’s been true for the whole history of the Order, and going forward, that will continue to be our role. Every year, there’s a different set of challenges when you’re putting on an event for half a million people, but we figure it out and it really works out well.”