St. Louis Press Club's Heritage Dates Back to 1867

By Rick Stoff
The Press Club heritage began earlier than we thought.

The current Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis began in 1956 when our founders filed registration papers with the Missouri Secretary of State. Our official history states that previously there were"at least 10 different demises and resurrections" of the club.

In 2004 a series of historical chapters were written for the club's Courier newsletter by a long-time member (and dear friend), the late Verna Green Smith. Her research showed that a St. Louis Press Club was incorporated in Missouri in 1882 but "dissolved a dozen years later."

But wait! There's more! An earlier predecessor was formed just after the Civil War.

While doing research for one of the many books I probably won't actually write, I acquired a copy of the "Stranger's Guide to St. Louis" printed in 1867 by "G.B. Wintle, Publisher, No. 610 Washington Avenue."

"The Press of St. Louis" are listed on page 51 of the pocket-sized (4-by-6-inch) hardbound publication. Following the names and addresses of 11 newspapers is this paragraph:
The "St. Louis Press Club" is a new organization, whose hall is 213 Chestnut street, where the press gang "most do congregate."

Our ancestral home, therefore, is memorialized as part of the Gateway Arch National Park lawn. The Hyatt Regency St. Louis, at 315 Chestnut Street, now marks the eastern end of the street, across the interstate highways from the Arch grounds.

The Stranger's Guide provides histories of St. Louis and its civic features -- after a page of "Advice to Strangers" on avoiding fleecing while in the city by confidence games, keno halls, gambling dens, pickpockets and unscrupulous operators of hackney carriages and baggage wagons.

Dozens of pages list hotels, amusements, libraries, schools, convents, hospitals, churches, asylums (eight for orphans and infants), passenger railways, banks, cemeteries and 386 sidewalk fire alarm locations.

Among the options available to the faithful of 1867 was a weekly service of The Society of Spiritualists. There were two pages of halls operated by social organizations including the Masons, Good Fellows, Odd Fellows, Good Templars and the Workingmen's Assembly. There was a Temperance Hall at 3rd Street and Washington and four halls welcoming Druids. Display advertisements were printed in the back pages for establishments such as De Bar's Opera House, D.C. Jaccard & Co. clocks and watches, Wesley Fallon Carriage Manufacturer, Dr. Storm's Celebrated Scotch Cough Candy and Prof. Wm. Henry's Fashionable Dancing Academy.

Would it be politically incorrect to say that a favorite haunt of the press gang may have been the Laclede Parlor Saloon?

"A fine saloon fitted up in a very beautiful style, where is kept constantly on hand the finest assortment of wines and liquors. This saloon is constantly open day and night."

Click Here to read the history of the press club by Verna Green Smith.

The Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis Began as The Catfish Club in 1955

It all began over fried catfish and dark beer. *Martin Quigley of Fleishman-Hillard and his buddies, Al "Red Dog" Dopking (Associated Press), Ernest Kirschten, Dickson Terry, Bill Mauldin and John Keasler, all Post-Dispatch staffers, were enjoying their usual Friday lunch at the Bismarck Hotel.

As Martin's story goes, they were happily feasting on catfish when Bill Mauldin piped up with, "We ought to call ourselves The Catfish Club." Martin said, "I'll be prez!" Red Dog said, "I'm treas!" And pretty soon other newspeople and catfish lovers began pulling up chairs. Among the club's early pledges were Jim Lubbock, Martin Duggan, Al Toroian and Sue Ann Wood. Paul Morris, PR director of the Frisco Railroad, brought in Bill Dalton, Frisco's legal counsel, to charter the Catfish Club.

Research shows our Press Club was not the first for St. Louis. A certificate of corporate existence was issued by the Missouri Secretary of State for a Saint Louis Press Club, which dissolved a dozen years later.

Our club was officially recorded as The Catfish Club in 1956 and became known as The Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis in the 60's.

The Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis in 2007 has evolvedinto a professional, social and charitable organization of people who make, cover and influence the news. Our members are reporters, editors, news directors, anchors, columnists, professionals in advertising and public relations, and others who may be sources of news. It is a true "umbrella" organization for those in the communications professions.

In 1988, the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis initiated the "Media Person of the Year" Award to recognize distinguished men and women from the St. Louis media whose exemplary performance established standards of professional conduct and accomplishment. The event has gained a reputation of being a great evening of entertainment, with the honorees graciously accepting their toasts (and often roasts) by prominent homegrown personalities.

A popular part of each year's event is the caricature of the honoree. This year's caricature was created by Steve Edwards, cover artist for the St. Louis Journalism Review. Past caricatures have been created by Post-Dispatch cartoonists and illustrators Dan Martin and Amadee Wohlschlaeger. Proceeds from the dinner benefit scholarships and internships for journalism and communication students, Press Club programs, and the media archives at the St. Louis Public Library. Tonight, as we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we proudly salute past and present recipients of the coveted "Media Person of the Year" Award, whose generosity and commitment to their profession sets a shining example and helps make our scholarships a reality.

* Click here to read about our founding member, Martin Quigley.

The Catfish Awards

Since 1988, the Press Club has honored one or more of its members with The Catfish Award and an invitation to the prestigious Catfish Club, based on their contributions to the field of communications and to the Press Club.

Past Recipients:

1988: Don Byrnes, Doug McDaniel, Barbara Lawton
1989: Frank Absher, Ralph Graczak, Al Toroian
1990: Verna Smith, Guin Stemmler
1991: Virginia Trent
1992: Suzanne Corbett
1993: David Lipman, Jim Lubbock
1994: Pamela Wade Grant
1995: Greg Freeman
1996: George Stemmler, Ron Wilnow
1997: Sue Killenberg McGinn
1998: Jeane Jae
1999: Gloria Ross
2000: Barbara Washington
2001: Bob Cohn
2002: Joan Quicksilver
2003: Dorothy Weiner
2004: Marge Polcyn
2005: Marci Rosenberg
2006: Bill Greenblatt
2007: Pam Niehaus
2008: Susan Fadem, Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein
2009: Alice S. Handelman, Joan Lee Berkman
2010: Aisha Sultan
2011: Benjamin A. Lipman, Richard Weiss
2012: Robert Hille
2013: Ellen Futterman and Carol Lundgren
2014: Rick Stoff and Glenda Partlow
2015: Bill McClellan and Bill Smith
2016: Trish Muyco-Tobin, Margaret Gillerman, and Barbara Shuman
2017: Tom Eschen
2018: Ellen Soule
2019: Michael Right
2020: Jessica Z. Brown

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.


The Press Club's 40th Anniversary           

            The Press Club, which evolved from the old Catfish Club, indeed does just keep going…from place to place, to place.
            The homes the club has had since those first bacchanalian meetings at the old Bismarck Café on Twelfth Street number at least a dozen, generally in hotels in financial trouble. But who's counting?
            The current home is at the downtown campus of Webster University (it is now located at the campus of Logan College in Chesterfield). Old times will remember the building as the one housing Lammert's Furniture. No booze, no card games, not even a meal being served. Some of our founders certainly would be aghast.
            The club still has plenty of activities. Monthly (well, that's the goal) forums certainly serve to lift journalistic knowledge. And the Media Person of the Year dinner has become one of the big social events in St. Louis. It raises big bucks for scholarships, fellowships and the media Archives at the Public Library.
            The club today is truly and legally a charitable institution. It merged a couple of years ago into the Press Club Foundation, giving it that coveted 501 C (3) status companies need to write off contributions.
            The current Press Club is not the first for St. Louis. The state issued a charter for a St. Louis Press Club in 1882. We know only that it put on a big carnival in 1897. Price of admission: five cents. A set of articles of incorporation were issued by the city of St. Louis for a Press Club in 1904. The club dissolved a dozen or so years later after a local newspaper called the Post-Dispatch questioned where the money for its big fundraiser was going.
            The present club traces its origins to a meeting in the mid-1950s at the Bismarck at which Martin Quigley of Fleishman-Hillard, Ernest Kirschten, Dickson Terry and John Keasler of the Post-Dispatch and Al Dopking of the AP vowed eternal vigilance in seeking better journalism and a perfect martini. Of these founding fathers, Quig survives. A state charter for the Catfish Club of St. Louis was issued on October 18, 1956.
            Unable to keep a good thing to themselves, they allowed others to join. Among early pledges were Al Torolan, Jim Lubbock, Sue Ann Wood and Martin Duggan. By the early '60s, the Catfish Club became the Press Club.           
            And the rest, as they say, is history-and keeping the moving vans nearby.



Past Media Persons of the Year Awardees:

Click Here for the list