HISTORY OF THE PRESS CLUB
By Verna Green Smith, Ph.D.
To give our members a glimpse of the Press Club's long history, Verna Smith, who served on our board for many years and as a Media Archives volunteer, began a series of articles in 2004 based on information from the Media Archives of the St. Louis Public Library. This series was originally published in our newsletter, Courier.
Chapter 1: The First Chapter in the History of the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis
Since 1882, when a certificate of corporate existence was issued on April 28 by the Missouri Secretary of State for the Saint Louis Press Club, there have been at least 10 different demises and resurrections of the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis (*1) officially recorded as The Catfish Club.
The Catfish Club?
Here's how it started.
The late Martin Quigley and his buddies, Al "Red Dog" Dopking, (Associated Press), Ernest Kirschten (author of Catfish and Crystal), Dickson Terry, Bill Mauldin and John Keasler, all Post-Dispatch staffers, met outside the P-D Building one Friday noon. After arguing where they would have lunch, Martin and Al's choice prevailed, and they went to the Bismarck Hotel where they feasted on catfish and dark beer, as usual. Wilma (Willie) Draper and Stella found them their usual table. (Willie was the first and longtime manager of the Press Club.)
One Friday, Bill Mauldin piped up, "We ought to call ourselves "The Catfish Club."
Martin said, "I'm Pres!"
Red Dog said, "I'm Treas!" (*2)
Soon other news people and catfish lovers began pulling up chairs, according to Quigley. Paul Morris, PR director of the Frisco Railroad, brought in Bill Dalton, Frisco's legal counsel, to charter the Catfish Club.
In 1956, the officers filed with the Secretary of State on September 26, and The Catfish Club was officially born. The officers were: Martin Quigley, President; Dickson Terry, First Vice-President; John Keasler, Second Vice-President; Ernest Kirschten, Archivist and Secretary; Al Dopking, Treasurer.
*1. W. A. Kelsoe, History of the Press Club, Missouri Historical Society
*2. From a speech given by Martin Quigley at the Press Club in January 1981.
Chapter 2: Peregrinations
The Catfish Club, better known as the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis, has had outstanding presidents and other officers---and we have moved around a lot. Again…and again…and again!
Our first move was to the Paul Brown Building in 1960. Dickson Terry, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was president, followed by Marsh Clark in 1961 and '62, and Spencer Allen in 1963.
We moved again to the McKinley Hotel, where George Killenberg, St. Louis Glob Democrat, took the helm followed by Max Roby (1965-66) and Martin Duggan (1967-68).
Again we called out the moving van. To the Gateway Hotel we went. Carl Baldwin was our president (1969-70) until Bob Hardy took over in 1971-72.
We were now at the Jefferson Hotel, and in we moved to the Silk Exchange Building, and Selwyn Pepper took over the presidency until Ray Noonan was elected by the membership in 1976.
Here we go again. To the Bismark Hotel. Mike Duffy (1977) and Mike Montgomery (1978) led the club until Bill Willenbring (1979-80) took over. We had quarters than at the Top of the Lennox and shortly after at Mansion House with Bruce Sankey leading us in 1981.
Now at the Radisson Hotel, Thomas Amberg (1982-83) and Ron Willnow (1984-85) became our distinguished leaders. We moved to the Shell Building in 1985 and stayed there until 1990 -- on of our l-o-n-g-e-s-t sojourns. In addition to Ron Willnow, our presidents were Bruce Sankey (again-1981), Rick Stoff (1987-88), Tim Hogan (1989), and George Stemmler (1990).
George Stemmler was again president as we packed our bags, and settled down at the Holiday Inn next to America's Center (it was under construction). We stayed there until 1993. Greg Freeman was elected three times as president (1992-3-4).
It was during Greg's leadership that we found quarters at Webster University Downtown, our present abode. Charles Poole headed the club in 1995-96, and Robert Cohn served four years as our leader (1997-2000). He is now chairman of the board.
Dorothy Weiner was elected in 2001 and served until our present president, Jeane Jae, took on this coveted responsibility in 2003.
What next? Watch this space.
Chapter 3: Welcome to the Press Club!
Welcome to the Press Club was the heading of Vol. 1, No.1 of "Notes and Comments by The Scribe" (author unknown) on February 19, 1960.
The Catfish Club, chartered September 26, 1956, was now doing business as the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis at the Paul Brown Building under the presidency of Dickson Terry.
During its stay at the Bismarck Hotel from 1956 to 1960, membership had increased with stunning success.* An organizing committee was formed and set the dues at $25 for "Active 1" and "Active 2" members and $50 for associate members. Other committees were formed to draw up a constitution and by-laws and formalize other areas for the club.
After finding the location and arranging the lease ($300 a month--"and try to find a better bargain," the Scribe wrote), members pitched in enthusiastically and helped. Janet Smith of S.G. Adams helped design the layout and color coordination and ordered furniture which didn't arrive in time for the grand opening, but members improvised, putting new covers on chair seats and hanging drapes.
Wilma "Willie" Draper was still hostess (also five years at the Bismarck)…Bob Julier was the acting restaurant and club manager…Ted Arenz the bartender.
Coffee was 15c -- all you could drink, and the food was excellent. But money troubles were looming, and change was about to take place.
*We have no documentation in the Media Archives during those years. If you have any records of this time lapse, please contact the Press Club.
Chapter 4: We're Doing Great at the Paul Brown Building
We have discovered that it was Dickson Terry (president 1960) who wrote our first newsletter under the pseudonym of "The Scribe." (Chapter 3) His letter was filled with information on the evolving Press Club and lots of humor.
Still at the Paul Brown Building , Press Club members elected Marsh Clark as president in 1962. He served through 1962.
At the suggestion of Al Toroian (Winston-Brandon Advertising Agency), the newsletter - Press Club News - was published in October 1961, printed courtesy of Wabash Railroad. After talking with building owners and restaurant operators about the possibility of moving, Clark wrote, "The most encouraging thing about these talks has been that these businessmen want the Press Club - that the club has terrific potential!"
A new membership brochure was produced by Mike Hammer, Southwestern Bell, and Ed Block. "It's a beauty!" said Clark.
A cocktail hour was a daily feature with "Tom and his magic mixing hands, " and all highballs cost 40 cents. The cocktail hours were a huge success. The newspapers, radio, TV public relations, advertising and a variety of firms and professions were represented as 70 Press Club members and their guests got together for an evening of "good-natured sociability."
In addition to Clark, officers for 1961-62 were Spencer Allen, 1st VP; Paul Morris 2nd VP; Sue Ann Wood, secretary, and Don Schomberg, treasurer. Other board members were Mike Hammer, Derby Howerton, George Killenberg, Stan Mockler, Martin Quigley, Don Scott Dickson Terry, Al Toroian and Thomas Duffy.
Some of the early members were Bob Suits, Drucy Devereaux, Dave Barber, Al Delugach, Pete Ferman, Ruth Jacobson, Ed Block, Marge Herron, Frances Benert and Jim Lubbock.
Willie, of course, was still manager/hostess.
More Next time…
Chapter 5: We Grow, We Shine…We Move
Our rapidly growing Press Club spent three years at the Paul Brown Building (1960-63) with Dickson Terry, Marsh Clark and Spencer Allen leading the way.
During Clark’s presidency, negotiations were under way to establish reciprocal membership agreements with the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. and other Press Clubs across the country. As of 2005, we have 28 such relationships, including the Overseas Press Club.
Spencer Allen presided at the “mortgage burning” when Board member Sue Allen Wood set fire to the paper that said we no longer owed the First National Bank $1,500 which they loaned us to finance our move. Members cheered!
The Press Club awarded its first scholarship in 1963. Spencer Allen, president, presented it to Nicholas J. Pasqual, a student at SIU, Carbondale, who spent the summer working on English newspapers; the arrangement was made by Howard A. Long, chairman of the SIU journalism department.
A new club insignia designed by Ralph Graczak had a catfish leaping through the Gateway Arch with the words “Press Club” in the background. Graczak also drew caricatures of Press Club officers and members. They were displayed on the walls of the club and are now housed and preserved in the Media Archives at the St. Louis Public Library.
Some of the new members that year included Dick Greer, William Abrams, Ben Magdovitz, Polly Bangert, Bob Burns, Jim Herron, Alvin Goldstein and Patrick Buchanan!
Luminaries visited the Press Club and gave talks…Benjamin Spock, pediatrician and author; Col. John (Shorty) Powers, commentator for American space flights; Debbie Drake, TV exercise guru and nationally known newspaper health columnist and author.
Arthur Bertelson, managing editor of the Post-Dispatch, joined the Board as second vice president, succeeding Mike Pulitzer.
A special Friday Night Family Dinner was featured—a full-course dinner for $1.45 for adults and $1 for children. In addition, a smorgasbord was offered at noon--$1.25—all you could eat.
In November 1963, the First Annual Press Club Award Dinner was held at the Sheraton-Jefferson Hotel. Spencer Allen, outgoing president, awarded plaques to Keith Gunther and Austin Bridgeman, KSD-TV; Allan Merritt and Ted Schafers, Globe-Democrat; Gene Wilkey and Steve Fentress, KMOX-TV, and Rex Davis, KMOX Radio. Gov. Nelson Rockefellar, New York, was the main speaker. Dr. Q. Walter Wagner gave the invocation, and Bob Holt, “the man of many voices”, was master of ceremonies. Other distinguished guests were Thomas B. Curtis, Charles Collingwood, Paul Niven, Marquis Childs and Lawrence K. Roose.
It was a golden era.
Then in 1964 we were on the move again…this time to the McKinley Hotel under the leadership of George Killenberg, St. Louis-Globe Democrat.
Chapter 6: Growing in the Sixties
It is 1964, and a drive begins to swell the membership of The Press Club at its location at 17th and Delmar. They were more than successful! Ted Schafers and Bob Hutchingson were co-chairmen of the membership committee.
To spark your memory, here are the new members-- representing all media--Sue Evans, Elizabeth Ferris, Olivia Skinner, Peter Mollman, Janice Thysen, Lawrence Kaufman, Donald Kiem, Lucius B. Morse, Charles, A. Thaxler, Eunice Farmer--active members.
Allied field--Gerald Pressner, Dan Bishop, Juanita Hunkins, Ronald Jacobs, Mary Kimbrough, William Porter, Robert Johnson, and Allen N. Whittemore.
Associate--A. Clifford Jones, John N. Dameron, State Representative James E. Parks, and George K. Neigel.
What a success!
A sell-out crowd of 400 Press Club members and guests helped launch the city’s Bicentennial celebration and gala party January 31 to February 1 at the Starlight roof of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel. The party, under the expert guidance of Charlotte Peters, Martin Quigley and Beulah Schact was billed “The Cofounding of St. Louis.” A special poem written by Quigley was read and a Bicentennial song written by Bea Adams and Helen Prange was sung by Charlotte.
The Board was studying the possibility of chartering a trip to Europe. (It failed!)
A family night featured “Films, Fun and Food.”
Press Club members took part in the annual High School Day at Southern Illinois University to acquaint high school students with career opportunities in journalism.
Celebrities visiting The Press Club included Stephanie Foster, Carole Castello, Ted Lewis, Jr., Mickey Rooney, Jr., and Hildegarde.
Nick Pasqual, Press Club scholarship winner, reported on his weeks in London to observe operation of the British press.
More next time.
Chapter 7: Moving Ahead
It’s March 1965, and Max Roby is the new president, succeeding George Killenberg.
Governor Warren Hearnes keynoted the annual banquet -- the second annual -- and 350 Club members attended.
A committee was formed to plan weekly news conferences headed by Arthur Bertelson, managing editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Members were Ted Schaefer, Bob Hardy, James Brady, C.E. Townsend, Nell Gross and Bob Broeg. Purpose of the news conferences will be to stimulate discussions between journalists and politicians, keeping members and the public better informed on the issues. Among the press conference speakers were Mayor Alfonso J. Cervantes, Senator Stuart Symington and Supervisor Lawrence Roos.
Visitors from show business, politics and the international scene were highlighted at the Press Club --- Henry Cabot Lodge, Mike Landon (a real hit with the children), and syndicated columnist Dorothy Rae, among others.
Press Club II! The outgrowth of a plan created by Mike Hammer and Martin Duggan to provide professional journalism instruction in high schools was established. Polly Nash was an advisor to the group. Chairman of the advisory group was Jim Walsh of CBC. It was the first program of its kind in the nation.
In June Press Club members took a cruise down the river on the Huck Finn. A $6 tab included passage, a steak dinner and music for dancing and singing. On the Clubs’ Sweepstakes Day on Derby Day May 1, almost everyone took home a prize in the big drawing. Among the major prizes was a week at Ranch Royale for Ted Schaefer’s family.
A goal of 500 members was set. Current membership was 430.
Tom McMahon, the Press Club bartender, said, “The cook is a lot better since he learned on which side of the sandwich to put the pickle.”
More next time, I hope.
Chapter 8: “Weekly Press Club Conferences and Press Club II Thrives”
Tom, our beloved bartender, was in his glory as he posed with stripper-gone-legit Ann Corio at the club in February, 1966, after her press conference. He had the biggest grin on his face. Why not? Max Roby was president and called on membership to look for new facilities for the club, which had outgrown the present one. Marsh Clark, former Press Club president, and deputy bureau chief for Time magazine in London, sent greetings by way of Bob Briggs of the Globe-Democrat, who recently returned from a week in England. Press Club members were in starring roles for the “Gala Night” program of the “Salute to Working Women Week” at the Sheraton-Jefferson Hotel. Wednesday press conferences were in full swing, with Ted Schafers as chairman. Speakers included Reed Benson, Ann Corio, and Dr. Arthur S. Fleming.
Press Club II was thriving under the guidance of Polly Nash. Among the board members was Patricia Corrigan, representing Webster Groves High School. Guest speaker at the Press Club gathering was Julian Miller II, publisher and editor of Prom Magazine. The entertainment committee, among them Ray Deffrey and Jim Lubbock, were planning family trips to the zoo, a tour through the Gateway Arch, a night at the Muny Opera, the new Busch Memorial Stadium among others.