Doug Albrecht, Valerie Bell and Richard Gaines

Three St. Louis education, business and civic leaders are chairing the St. Louis American Foundation’s 30th Annual Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship and Awards Gala.

They are Doug Albrecht, chair of the Bodley Group; Valerie D. Bell, board chair for the Saint Louis Public Schools Foundation; and Richard K. Gaines, a member of the Special Administrative Board for Saint Louis Public Schools.

They are at the helm of an event that grew throughout the years into the premier recognition and scholarship gala in St. Louis to honor the work of dedicated, primarily African-American educators, while supporting the education goals of outstanding college students. The foundation has facilitated $4.5 million in in scholarships and education grants since its inception in 1994, with the assistance of educational, corporate and individual supporters, while facilitating over $705,000 in scholarships and education grants last year alone.

“Raising over $700,000 last year – that’s a lot of money,” said Doug Albrecht, who is chair of the family-owned Bodley Group, which owns Betallic Balloon Company and decorative box company, BoxCo. On the investment side, the Bodley Group provides seed funding for private startup companies across the United States. Albrecht retired several years ago as chair, president and chief executive of Centric Group, a $750 million holding company. A Minnesota native, he was an All-Big 8 baseball player at the University of Missouri-Columbia. As a college scholarship recipient himself, Albrecht appreciates the impact of scholarship programs.

“I was fortunate enough that I went to school on a scholarship,” he said. “I’m not sure I would have gone to a major university without one. I know what it means to get a scholarship and that feeling of excitement and opportunity, so I’m glad that this is going to present a lot of young people with that same feeling and excitement.”

Valerie D. Bell appreciates the impact that Salute has on the educators it recognizes and awards, saying it helps to, “enable leaders like those we are honoring at the 30th Salute to continue to do the tremendous work they do in educating and inspiring the next generation.”

Bell is an attorney and civic volunteer specializing in not-for-profit administration and management. She is the chair of the board and former interim CEO for the Saint Louis Public Schools Foundation. She is past board chair of John Burroughs School and FOCUS St. Louis, and past secretary of the Board for Parents as Teachers (international), among many other community commitments. Bell also was legal counsel to the settlement coordinator for the historic St. Louis school segregation case.

“Everything that I have really dedicated myself to falls into three categories: race and race relations, economic parity, but the most important one is educational opportunity,” Bell said. “It is of absolute importance for people to have educational opportunity because this is their ticket to the future.”

Richard K. Gaines, a member of the Special Appointed Board (SAB) for Saint Louis Public Schools and insurance executive, is himself a product of SLPS. Gaines has devoted more than 34 years to city public schools, 10 years with the SAB, and was a former president and member of SLPS Board of Education. Gaines also was involved with a number of SLPS desegregation settlements over the years.

He first co-chaired a Salute gala in 1990s when Mae Jemison, the first African-American female astronaut was the guest speaker.

“Every year, the affair takes the position of identifying people who are basically providing substantial leadership and inspiration to this community,” Gaines said.

He sees the need for scholarships for higher education has only grown.

“With the reduction in support for higher education on almost a national basis, with the tremendous increase in the cost of a college education, this scholarship program is substantial, in any manner that you look at it,” Gaines said.

“I have seen kids who had every opportunity – academically, and intellectually – to pursue college education, but who have not been able to do it purely from a standpoint of money. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of the scholarships, which are substantial in nature – that are given by the St. Louis American Foundation. It gives real money; it’s not a token gift. These kids get real money to help them further their education.”

The 30th annual Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship and Awards Gala will be held Saturday, September 23 at America’s Center. Individual tickets are $85 for general admission and $150 for V.I.P.  For more information, call 314-533-8000 or visit

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