VP Volunteerism

Volunteers from the Veiled Prophet Community Service Initiative pitch in for an Operation Brightside project in downtown St. Louis. Photo courtesy of Operation Brightside

Since 1878, when spectators arrived by horse-drawn wagons and steamboats to watch the debut of the parade, Veiled Prophet festivities have delighted generations of St. Louis families. The civic organization sponsors Fair St. Louis, a Fourth of July extravaganza that has brought millions of visitors to the city over the past 30 years. And although most St. Louisans are familiar with the annual ball for the Veiled Prophet Maids of Honor, they might not be fully aware of the community service initiative that is an integral part of the event. Nowadays, you’re more likely to see a Maid of Honor in gloves of grubby canvas, rather than elbow-length white satin.

    Paul Schnoebelen’s daughter Paige, a sophomore at College of the Holy Cross, will curtsy at this year’s VP ball. “When the community service initiative began in 2003, that was our goal—to find projects that would involve members and their families, and do something that focuses resources on a more sustained basis.”

    This summer, the Schnoebelens teamed up with about 30 other fathers and daughters on behalf of the St. Louis public schools. “We stripped and painted the wrought-iron fence surrounding Oak Hill School in south St. Louis,” Schnoebelen says. “The paint was peeling badly and in some places it was gone. No one had any idea when it had been last been painted. We don’t exactly have any painting expertise, but we had the best of intentions. It was a hot day, and hard work, but we did have fun!”  He adds that Oak Hill’s principal was there to watch the project. “She was there with other faculty members and her children. She was so pleased and so appreciative!”

    Although community service is a prerequisite for all of the young women, it frequently becomes a family project, says Ken Mallin. He and his daughter Courtney, a sophomore at Rhodes College, teamed with Operation Brightside this summer, working at Lake Louie in downtown St. Louis. “Many of the girls were joined by their families, and some of the volunteers were as young as eight years old,” says Mallin. “Everybody got completely dirty—we had a blast!” 

    Mallin says local organizations help the VP staff determine the projects. “We just identify a need and take care of it. We don’t do it for a ‘thank you’ or for recognition. It’s just expected from all of the girls.”  One of the most gratifying projects, Mallin adds, was the work on a neglected baseball field in Pagedale. “Remember the Charlie Brown ball field, with grass up to the players’ knees? We got mowers and tillers, and cleaned out the rocks, and cut an arch into the outfield like the one at Busch Stadium. We used limestone to paint real stripes so the kids could see the foul lines. When they got there later in the day with their moms and dads, the expression on their faces was just priceless!”

    This year’s spectators at the VP parade had an opportunity to learn firsthand about the community service initiative, when the volunteers ventured into the crowd selling commemorative ceramic pins. “It was really interesting to see the reaction of the crowd,” says Ken Reynolds, whose daughter Kirby, a Vassar sophomore, will be presented at this year’s ball. “The girls were explaining that the money goes toward service projects, like the flowers and landscaping around City Hall, and fixing up city schools,” notes Reynolds. “The reaction was often Wow! We didn’t know you guys did that!”  We made a little bit of money for the initiative by selling the pins, but I think the message to the community was more important.”

    In one block-and-a-half stretch where the parade passed in front of City Hall, the girls could point out the profusion of blooms resulting from their efforts. In that stretch of  the parade route, Reynolds suspects that souvenir pin sales may have gone up ‘just a little bit.’  LN