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Hall+of+Fame

Hall of Fame

May 12, 2016

INTRODUCTION

According to the Clayton Alumni Association, a Hall of Fame candidate has each of the following qualities: “Excellence in service to a recognized profession such as law, education, medicine, science, journalism, etc., outstanding success in trade, business or industry, demonstration of high achievement in one or more recognized fields of cultural endeavor and significant contributions to the community at large through volunteering or charitable contributions.”

Each of these inductees embodies the characteristics that Clayton students strive to be. They have made their mark not only on the CHS community but also on their greater fields and the world. These inductees represent the best that Clayton High School has to offer. Their incredible achievements at and after CHS, however, could not have been obtained if not for the base of knowledge that helped them find their passion.

These inductees were once in our position. Not all of them were immediate successes but all had to overcome challenges. Meeting these people was an honor and enjoying their stories of success is something we all can appreciate.

Without further adieu, the inductees to the Clayton High school hall of Fame: Class of 2016.


VIRGINIA SCHARFF

Virginia Scharff
Virginia Scharff

Virginia Scharff attended Clayton High School from 1967-1971, a time when America saw the horrors of the Vietnam War and of the assassination of Martin Luther King, a time when controversial topics spread constantly. Similarly to students walking the CHS halls today, Scharff and her friends never shied away from such topics, even with their teachers.

“This was 1960s, early 1970s. All of us were long-haired freaks, anti-war freaks. Most of our teachers were fairly liberal,” Scharff said. “They all insisted that if we were going to come at them with the radical perspective on history that we were developing at that time that we better have the evidence to back our claim.”

Although she enjoyed this “intellectual training,” Scarff found her true passion in writing and in history, a harbinger of her tremendous success in both fields.

“My best classes were the history classes. I was just really interested in the people of the past and the strangeness of the past. I guess I was really gripped by the notion of cause and effect,” Scharff said. “The history department at Clayton High at that time was unbelievable.”

Scharff has had success in writing both fiction and nonfiction, many of which contained unique looks at both women’s history and history through the eyes of women. One of her more recent books was one in which Scharff describes the life of Thomas Jefferson through the women he loved including his wife, mistress, daughters and granddaughters. Scharff has always been fascinated by the man who facilitated the Louisiana Purchase, in fact, her strong interest stems from her time in Saint Louis.

“As it happens one the first biography I ever remember reading was a biography of Thomas Jefferson and it kind of stuck with me,” Scharff said. “I used to go with my mom to what was then called the Jefferson Memorial, but now is the Missouri History Museum and so I was fascinated with history and with Jefferson and the history of the American Southwest from a very early age.”

The history classes were not the only thing that influenced Scarff throughout her life as she looked back on her time at Clayton. What she remembered most were the transformative teachers as well as the fond memories of strong friendships.

“I can remember a lot of time sitting in the quadrangle and this was a point where people were learning how to play guitar. We kind of taught ourselves how to sing harmonies,” Scharff said. “What formed me more than anything else were these really deep friendships that happened in the quad, hanging out, singing with guitars.”

Scarff also had a positive outlook on the high academic load Clayton places upon its students especially the more high achieving ones.

“Clayton High is a place where everyone expects a lot from students. It was an exceedingly competitive environment I would say. We were people who were expected to go to college and to excel in everything we did,” Scarff said. “We just vied with each other to see who could be the smartest kid, who would get into the Ivy League schools. Clayton sets you up to expect a lot from yourself.”

Scarff, who was a part of one of the first co-ed graduating classes from Yale University, insisted that this elevated self expectation can assist in greater success down the road.

“I can remember when all of the letters came from colleges. Clayton launches you into the next place where you are going to have to expect a lot from yourself,” Scarff said. “It was exhilarating and inspiring to have that kind of high expectation.”

Although to the teenagers walking the halls of CHS the 1970s can seem like an eternity ago, the memories Scharff shared drew so many parallels to the CHS we know today, such as the balancing of extra-curricular activity as well as the myriad of school work. Scarff worked as the head editor on the CHS school newspaper, then the ClaMO, all four years of her time at CHS, often spending prolonged hours putting the paper together with her co-editors.

“I really looked up to the juniors and seniors who ran the paper and kind of worked my way up. Those friends, we had so much fun putting the paper together,” Scharff said. “We put the paper together in my basement on my ping-pong table. Our faculty advisors left us alone to do this paper. We pasted it up [ourselves].”

As one of Clayton’s most distinguished graduates, Scharff is the last one to deny how much her education that she gained from CHS has aided in her success. It has also made her a firm believer in the importance of an education.

“I think in this postmodern age that we live in where science is doubted, where history is doubted, if you lie about something long enough people begin to believe that it’s true,” Scarff said. “Belief becomes almost as important as reality. I still am engaged by the idea that I have something to contribute by demonstrating to people that they have to take facts seriously. I still believe, like Jefferson, that an educated citizenry is the safeguard of democracy.”


RICK BEARD

Rick Beard
Rick Beard

One thing Rick Beard possessed for his entire life was dedication.

His dedication to the Clayton community as well as to the country, serving as a commander in Germany for five years, to himself and his education was absolutely unmatched.

His wife, Sonia, helped describe Beard’s drive and dedication to his education as well as his constant affinity to the Clayton community.

“So he said, ‘Okay, I’m going to go back to school and I’m going to get a business degree. He wrote his application [essay] by flashlight in a tent on the east-west border. That kind of dedication. I remember asking him, you have an MBA from Harvard, you could go to work anywhere. He said, ‘I only want to interview with companies where I can go to work in Saint Louis.’ That’s the kind of draw that the Clayton community has on people who go away and want to come back,” Sonia said.

Sonia, who is originally from Georgia, remembers this affinity with great clarity. It even had its place on the night he proposed.

“When he proposed to me, I was actually living in Georgia. He said, ‘You have to come back to Clayton, because I want our children to be raised in the Clayton School District.’ That’s how strongly he felt about being here,” Sonia said.

Having spent his entire academic career, from kindergarten to senior year, in the District, Beard’s affinity to Clayton came, at least partially, from what the Clayton community and the CHS community brought to him.

“I think the challenge of having to juggle different things [helped him],” Sonia said. “There are so many things that were offered at the high school, just like there are now. I think that all the things that were offered there sets you up for success. That’s why he wanted his kids to go through it.”

Although this myriad of opportunities was one of the main things that set Beard up for his eventual enormous success, his friendships were the most treasured thing Beard took away from CHS and the entire district.

“Rick went to elementary school at the old Maryland School,” Sonia said, “[He had] a bunch of his friends, about five of them. As adults I went on double dates with these friends and the boys liked to go back to Maryland Elementary School and play on the playground. They were in their thirties, these are adults and it was so much fun to listen to them. There was just such a camaraderie between them. The friendships that Rick developed as early as Maryland Elementary School, those were his best friends when he died.”

One of Beard’s dearest friends throughout his childhood was Dr. Peter Kieffer who shared laughs with Beard from kindergarten all the way through adulthood.

Kieffer shared how CHS aided in Beard’s eventual successes.

“He was class president when we graduated, he was captain of the track team, started on the basketball team,” Kieffer said. “He was always a remarkable leader, whether it was hanging out after school or during the school week. He was able to corral us even before he went to West Point, Harvard and started Cardinal Investment Banking. That certainly gave him the wherewithal to succeed in life.”

Beard’s friendship with Kieffer and his other very close friends meant the world to him but did not hinder him from being a good friend to everyone he met.

“He had so many people that thought he was their best friend because he had the personality type that when you met him, he was only interested in you,” Sonia said. “He would concentrate on what you were saying and he was genuinely interested in people that he met. In my life, I’m going on sixty, I’ve met very few people who have the ability to meet other people and befriend them and work on friendships.”

These friendships and skills with people that he utilized from an early age in the School District of Clayton were much of what made Beard so successful. Sonia believes these skills are what he would want most to pass on to the next generation of Clayton High School students.

“He would be invited to a lot of conferences to speak. I can tell you what he said to the last conference group that he spoke to,” Sonia said, “He talked about really getting to know the people that you work with. He said, and I think this is what he would say to Clayton High School students, ‘Put down your cell phones and connect with each other.’ A big part of what made him successful was really listening to other people and nurturing and maintaining lifelong friendships.”


ALEX BERGER III

Alex Berger III
Alex Berger III

“The first day I was at Clayton High School, I walked through the smoking lounge, where all the juniors and seniors were, and that was a little intimidating, to say the least,” Alex Berger from the CHS Class of 1967 said. “I think what is the most important thing to me is the take away that my closest friends, today, went to Clayton High School during the time I went, particularly my classmates. It’s remarkable that my three closest friends were all from the Class of 1967.”

Berger stressed that high school was a predominantly positive time for him and his friends. Moreover, Berger recognizes the edge his Clayton education gave him over his classmates at college.

“We just had a very good time, really good time. None of us got in terrible trouble, and whether it was athletics or theater, all of my friends just had a great time,” Berger said. “They all went to school, and never did my friends have difficulty going to college. When you go to college and you see some people struggling early on, none of us from Clayton had that experience. We were ready. That’s pretty cool.”

Through reflecting on his high school experiences, Berger realizes the power of mentorship. For Berger, the one credited with pushing him the extra mile was a high school teacher of his, Frank Armstrong.

“I had an uneven career academically,” Berger said. “My junior year, Frank Armstrong, who was a teacher, now deceased, took me aside and said, ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ [He] made the initial effort to say something to me, and the difference in my grade points between my first two years and second two years, I attributed to a teacher saying, ‘What are you doing?’ and I think that’s a remarkable takeaway for me.”

Berger’s mark on Clayton was not left solely during his high school years. After graduating and pursuing his education, Berger returned to the city of St. Louis to work several jobs related to public service. After stints at several local corporations like BJC and Emerson Electric, Berger found his calling as an Alderman for the City of Clayton.

“I got involved as a Clayton Alderman in 2001. My first election was in 2002, and then I’ve been fortunate enough to win a number of elections to be Alderman, and it’s about this community,” Berger said. “For me, I’m driven by what can we do to continue to be a part of the triangle: commercial, residential and governmental. That model is what really drives this environment and it’s been absolutely terrific to be involved.”

Aside from the inherent complexities of political involvement, Berger boils his role as an Alderman down to listening and advocating for the citizens.

“[Being an Alderman] entails listening and being proactive. We have a community of engaged citizens and residents, and whether for or against, it’s important that we continue to engage. It’s just being engaged about, ‘Let’s do what we need to today and let’s prepare for tomorrow,’ and I love it and I can’t imagine not doing it,” Berger said.

Although he acknowledges that not all citizens share the same views, Berger believes that the focus of the city of Clayton is virtually universal.

“We’re not going to be a community where everybody agrees on everything, and we shouldn’t be, but we have produced a terrific environment for people to live and work, we really have, and everybody’s part of that and everybody should take credit for that,” Berger said. “For example, over 50 years ago, the citizens of Clayton voted, through a bond issue, to build the ice skating rink. I don’t skate, but all of my family skates, and we spent a great deal of time there during high school. It’s a great thing. The citizens of Clayton were the ones to say, ‘Yeah, we want to do that.’”

Sitting on the boards for the Wilson School, the Clayton Art Fair and the St. Louis Community College Foundation, Berger gains new perspectives through his volunteer experiences, while managing to keep himself busy.

“Those are really intriguing experiential volunteer activities. It gives me a broader range of perspective and respect for what people are trying to do, perhaps not solely around Clayton, but for the good of the whole community,” Berger said. “I enjoy all of that and I have three grandsons, so that takes up my day and week.”

Berger’s commitment and passion for the city in which he resides, works and went to school is obvious.

“I’m a Clayton guy,” Berger said. “Everybody who knows me, I promote Clayton, I’m an advocate for this community and the school system. I’m the only person you know who has multiple orange sweaters for some unknown reason. It’s because I’m a Clayton guy, so I’m really honored, I’m thrilled [to be in the Hall of Fame.]”


DOROTHY ROBYN

Dorothy Robyn
Dorothy Robyn

From 1993-2001 Dorothy Robyn was a part of the Clinton administration’s economic team. From 2009-2012 she served as the deputy under the Department of Defense for President Obama. However, from 1959-1960 she wore a Nixon button everywhere she went.

“In the 1960 campaign I had a Nixon button the size of a dinner plate and I would go door to door, collecting money for the Nixon campaign as a seventh grader,” Robyn said, “We would stuff envelopes. I was a goldwater girl, I had a bumper sticker on my notebook. I grew up with this love of politics and I think Clayton fed that. We had Model UN conventions. My friends were politically active. I was surrounded by it both at home and in the high school.  I think that, absolutely, my course was kind of set.”

Robyn felt an innate sense of what she would eventually do in her life, however CHS provided an avenue for her to pursue her passion through teaching her some of the most integral skills to her profession.

“When I think about my skill set, why I have been successful, I think it comes down to that I write extremely well and most people don’t,” Robyn said. “I trace that directly to Clayton. There was such an emphasis on [writing] and it was such a big part of the education we got. I trace my fundamental enjoyment of writing and ability to write to Maryland and Wydown and Clayton.”

Robyn also mentioned the incredible teaching she received throughout her career in the School District and specifically during her time at the Maryland School.

“For me, the years at Maryland [Elementary School] were probably the best of my Clayton career,” Robyn recalled. “I had six teachers. They were all women, they were all young and would probably now be running companies or who knows what. They presumably had limited career options and they were devoted to teaching and they were unbelievable.”

Robyn is reminiscent of the not only the educational environment of the Maryland School but also the physical space.

“I think back on Maryland School and those big windows, it was just so stimulating,” Robyn said. “It was what school should be. It was what every kid should have: a small group environment with other people who challenge you and stimulate your mind.”

Robyn also remembered the attention to helping each individual student at CHS, even at that time.

“The main reason we moved to Clayton was because of the caliber of the schools and [my parents] wanted us in these incredible schools,” Robyn said, “My dad was so proud of the fact that Clayton, at the time, was spending the most money per pupil in the country. Money doesn’t equate to quality, but it’s a good indicator.”

However, throughout all of her successes and positive memories throughout the District, the great friendships she formed are her greatest treasure.

“The close friendships [are my best memories]. I had a set of very, very close friends,” Robyn said. “We were very unsupervised. This is true of anybody that I talk to my age. We were completely unsupervised. I would call home and say, ‘On Friday, I’m spending the night at Sarah’s house,’ and then on Saturday I would call and say, ‘I’m going to spend the night at Terri’s house.’”

Even in those days, CHS had a large Jewish population, and many of Robyn’s CHS friends were Jewish. This early religious education, which included having Seder dinner at the houses of her friends, affected her greatly.

“A lot of my friends were Jewish and so I grew up as kind of a cultural Jew,” Robyn said. “That’s a very important part of who I am. That exposure to Judaism, even though my family wasn’t Jewish, I have wonderful memories of that.”

Although she has been successful throughout her life, Robyn believes it could not have been possible if she had not followed her passion — the same advice she gives to all CHS students.

“My advice to young women, usually it’s young women that seek me out, is always follow your heart, follow your passion,” Robyn said. “That’s what I’ve always done. I was never very practical about what I did or I probably would’ve done something else. Do what really gives you great pleasure because you will excel at that as opposed to something that you have to make yourself do.”


WILLIAM ARTHUR PENN

William Arthur Penn
William Arthur Penn

“I was kind of a nerdy guy and I stuck to my engineering studies,” William Arthur Penn, graduate of the Class of 1947, said. “I got interested in science and mathematics in high school, no question. I wasn’t a social bug. You have to have some nerds in the world to make things run. I guess I’m one of them.”

Although much of Penn’s intellectual prowess came from an innate talent for the fields of mathematics and science, he gives credit to CHS teachers for aiding him in the transition to engineering in college.

“Typically in a university, the mathematics department might be in arts and sciences, and the engineering is a separate school, but they’re so tightly coupled,” Penn said. “So I was lucky that those topics were taught very expertly in the high school.”

Penn, an adjunct professor at Syracuse University himself, saw in the teachers at CHS qualities that he views as distinct to teachers in successful districts.

“Any good school district has got a lot of teachers that really love to do it,” Penn said. “They aren’t doing it just to earn the money and look forward to retirement. No, they’re very different than that, most of them. They really like teaching kids and they feel like they’re really doing something very important for society, and I agree 100 percent, they are. That attitude comes right out when you have a teacher like that.”

Although Penn has taught and taken many classes throughout his life, he sees an education as never truly complete.

“You spend one fifth of your life in school, or more, maybe in some cases,” Penn said. “I went to school when I was five years old, and I am 86 now and I’m still going to school. I keep learning. If you ever stop learning, you’re done for.”
Although Penn was able to get a jumpstart on the adult world with fantastic educations from both CHS and Washington University, he believes that hard work is truly what made him such a success and advises students according to that belief.

“I would tell students, in just two words, hard work,” Penn said. “Get those grades up. School is really important. It’s the way our society prepares people for their lifetime. A lot of kids, surprising to me, go to college and they’re more interested in partying than really studying hard. It sounds kind of nerdy and cliché, but that’s my answer. You have to buckle down and do the work properly, and get something out of it.”


GREGORY WAGNER

Gregory Wagner
Gregory Wagner

Some things never change. Gregory Wagner, a 1965 graduate of CHS and 2016 Hall of Fame inductee, stressed that his high school experience consisted of indulging in numerous extracurricular activities. CHS, to this day, offers students a plethora of opportunities that extend and go beyond the classroom doors.

Wagner and many of his classmates got the most out of their education by involving themselves in a wide range of extracurricular activities.

“I participated in Experiment in International Living, we had American Field Service students, who were in the school, one or two a year. People engaged in social justice activities, there were county and city-wide organizations that people participated in outside of the boundaries of the school,” Wagner said.

Participating in the school newspaper was something that, to this day, Wagner places great value on.

“One of the things I enjoyed most was being editor of the school newspaper,” Wagner said. “We had a great team of people who would work together to get the paper out. There was a lot of spending time together and a lot of reliance on the students getting it done.”
Wagner’s participation in extracurricular activities allowed him to recognize and appreciate how the school empowered its students.

“I think that the school itself really supported the creativity and the exploration of students, supported our curiosity and also experimentation. There was a respect for having a flexibility in the approach toward students,” Wagner said.

The school’s excellence, Wagner believes, started with its teachers and administrators.

“In a lot of ways, I think that Clayton had great teachers. It was a community that was willing to support having outstanding schools through providing the resources necessary. The principal who was there when I attended was fabulous. He was a great leader and a wonderful principal,” Wagner said.

Currently, Wagner’s work revolves around the juncture between scientific research and public health policy. The CHS alum wears many hats, serving as the Senior Advisor to the Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as well as being an adjunct professor at Harvard School of Public Health.

Despite the success he has personally enjoyed, Wagner does not overlook his high school experiences and would encourage current students to make the most out of their high school experience, too. Wagner believes that Clayton students are privileged and should take advantage of the unique opportunities they are offered.

“I’d tell them to take risks, that they should be willing to fail and to just feed their curiosity,” Wagner said.


CONCLUSION

CHS has always been a place where teaching has thrived. It is seen throughout the thoughts of the inductees. Virginia Scharff called a few teachers “life-changing.” Dorothy Robyn called them “unbelievable and superb.” Teachers of the past such as Dr. Nick Adzick, who is being recognized as one of the 2016 Distinguished Educators, had a place in conversations with many of the inductees.

As we close in on teacher appreciation week as well as the end of the school year, the sentiments of the inductees ring true. As they looked back on their time at CHS and reminisced about all of the people who made CHS, in their time, great, I did the same. Clayton High School is truly a product of those who work the hardest CHS. Those people are the people that help make it great.

It’s Gabriel De La Paz, who I never beat into his class even though I came early nearly every single day. It’s people like Barbara Dobbert and Paul Hoelscher who truly love what they do and make it known to every student. It’s people like Sam Harned whose class I never left without a smile on my face and confidence in my abilities.

The emphasis that each of the inductees placed on these incredible teachers as dominant influences in their lives force us to consider the people that have made our time at CHS great. As we all move on to another year in our educational careers, whether in be another year at CHS or leaving for college, always utilize the skills they instilled in you, use them as role models and most importantly, never forget.

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About the Contributor
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Brian Gatter, Reporter

Brian is in his first year on the Globe Staff and he could not be more excited. He is a clayton sports enthusiast and loves going to games. He is a big Cardinals and Blues fan,...

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