When Ladue School District retiree Dr. Chuck McKenna was promoted from Administrative Assistant to Superintendent in 1971 after eight years at the district, he had big shoes to fill. His predecessor, Dr. Ivan Nicolas, was in that role for 29 years, which was an unusually long tenure for a superintendent in any school district. But in 2000, when McKenna retired, it was 29 years later, completing for him a 37-year career at Ladue. “I didn’t set out to stay that particular length of time,” he says, “but being there was such a wonderful opportunity, I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. Ladue was unbeatable. I participated in many superintendent groups across the country, and in my opinion, there was no place better to be.”

McKenna says he feels fortunate to have been affiliated with Ladue, a district he calls a wonderful place to work. “It was really ideal,” he says. “I feel forever grateful to have had that opportunity. I was fortunate to be in a school district with not only talented teachers, but also talented students.” While he is especially proud of the 90% college-bound graduation rates that Ladue School District boasted during his tenure, he is also pleased about the non-academic programs the school offers, which he feels affords students a well-rounded education. “I attended hundreds of musicals and debates and thousands of athletic events,” he says, which he considers some of the highlights of his career. According to McKenna, the programs, as well as the academic offerings, gave students opportunities they might not otherwise have had if they had gone a non-public route. “Ladue loses students to non-public schools, and while people may see the smaller class sizes as a benefit, the programs Ladue has been able to offer often encompass a broader scope. We have high-level courses in math and science as well as many more extracurricular options, like the pep band or the student musicals, which I looked forward to seeing every year.”

McKenna is proud of the level of excellence the district was able to maintain during his time there, and notes that that distinction has not changed since his departure. What has changed, however, is the high school campus, which he is looking forward to seeing when he comes back on Sept. 29 as the Ladue Education Foundation & Alumni Association Breakfast’s honorary guest. “To quote Harry Carey, it is a magnificent edifice! The success of the new high school is so wonderful for our district," he believes. McKenna’s legacy is being played out in even more ways than the bar he set for the district in his role as Superintendent—his youngest grandson is a freshman this year at Ladue Horton Watkins High School, keeping the McKenna tradition at the Ladue School District going strong!

For Annual Breakfast information, registration and sponsorship opportunities, visit our website.



Joy Millner, LHWHS class of 1980 (pictured above, right), was on track to pursue a successful career in marketing at a Fortune 500 company in Dallas when she pivoted toward the passion that has sustained her ever since: fitness and nutrition. When she and her husband, Rob Millner (class of 1979 and an LEF Honorary Board member), moved back to St. Louis in 1995, Joy continued to teach fitness classes and raise her three children, enrolling them all in the Ladue School District. "I loved my experience at Ladue. But I started from scratch, doing the research to make sure we were choosing the best schools, and it turned out we were." All three of her children have now graduated from Ladue Horton Watkins High School.

As the kids grew older, Joy became more and more determined to help nearby communities have access to similar advantages. "I’m the biggest fan and supporter of our district, but there’s a whole world that doesn’t have what we have." She decided to combine her passions of wellness and health with giving back. "I knocked on a door in North St. Louis and asked if I could hold a group fitness class, and I started mentoring and encouraging people."

She eventually co-founded the nonprofit, the Fit and Food Connection (FAFC), with her partner, Gabrielle Cole. "She was feeding people in North St. Louis, where she's from, and we joined forces. We soon realized there was nothing like it being done, and it was so needed." They now have run five programs: a community garden, a food assistance program (which delivers healthy food to 20-30 families each week), group fitness classes, group nutrition classes, and one-on-one programs with physical trainers, nutritionists and instructors. "Everything we do is free, as long as they meet the goals they've set for themselves," explains Joy, "and we always include an education component." 

Joy is full of enthusiasm for the work she feels privileged to do, helping address the impact of poverty on health. "We're an all-volunteer run organization, with volunteers from several countries and states that wake up every day to make St. Louis a better place," Joy says. I am lucky to be doing this work." Although her focus might appear at first to be directed toward the health of the body, Joy actually feels the key is the support, encouragement and stress relief their programs provide from a holistic standpoint. "If you love people from the inside out, their whole lives get transformed."

To learn more about Joy's work with FAFC and support their work with donations, please visit their website.



In September, the Ladue Education Foundation & Alumni Association (LEF) took its commitment to enriching the minds of Ladue Horton Watkins High School (LHWHS) students to a whole new level with an entirely different kind of brain—sheep brains. Thanks to a grant from the LEF, LHWHS social studies teachers Meg Kaupp and Bob Westerholt were able to give advanced placement psychology students the hands-on experience of dissecting sheep brains at the Adventures in Medicine and Science (AIMS) lab at St. Louis University (SLU).

At the AIMS lab, a SLU professor walked the students through the dissection of a human brain, describing its structures and functions, and then turned them loose on their own sheep specimens. The students were broken into groups and worked in pairs, making incisions and locating the interior structures the professor had highlighted on the human brain.

“Our hope is that by getting to engage in a hands-on brain dissection, students will gain a deeper understanding of brain structures and how there is an intersection of biology and psychology,” Kaupp explained. The teachers’ goals were realized, as the students not only enjoyed the experience, but came away saying that it helped put everything into place, building on all their prior studies.




Pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade students across the district will be more assured of finding books in classroom libraries that both appeal to them and reflect their cultures and ethnicity thanks to the LEF Eye See Me Grant. The $12,000 grant was made in response to a survey that, among other questions, asked students what schools could do additionally to tailor the curriculum to their personal interests and backgrounds. 

“Students have been excited to see all the new books we have added to our reading choices.  It's great to hear them talking about which books they want to read next and knowing that every student will find a book they truly want to read,” says Greg Schmitz, English Language Arts teacher at Ladue Middle School.

“In my role teaching English as a Second Language," says Jennifer Reisenmy, "it is fundamental for me to use books that represent a wide variety of cultures and communities.  I strive to utilize books that provide both windows and mirrors for my students, meaning books where students can see themselves reflected and books that help them learn more about others.  The books I received through the Eye See Me LEF grant help me show students that their cultural legacy deserves to be valued and protected.”

Many of the new books were purchased at Eye See Me, a locally owned store in University City that carries products, programs and services that help excite children—especially African-American children—about reading. In collaboration with LEF and a team of teachers from across the district, Jeffrey and Pamela Blair, co-owners of Eye See Me, conducted book fairs in the pre-k to eighth-grade buildings so teachers could peruse a wide selection of books and then add those they liked best to a “wish list.” The “wish list” then became the shopping list used to purchase the new books. 

This LEF grant supports ongoing district-initiated efforts to continually review programs, activities and curricula to ensure that they consider and are responsive to the wide diversity of our school community.


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Building on the momentum of the initial phase of the Ladue Education Foundation’s (LEF) capital campaign, which we secured nearly $2 million in pledges toward the renovation of Ladue Horton Watkins High School (LHWHS), the LEF is now moving to phase two, offering naming rights and opportunities to our supporters, alumni and district families. We invite the community to be a part of this important event in our district's history. Naming rights are still available for classrooms, a "green" roof, outdoor seating, and other enrichment areas and athletic facilities.

Commemorative Bricks are also a terrific way to support the campaign, while leaving a legacy as part of the new high school campus. Bricks are available until January, 2018. 

The LEF is extremely grateful to those who donated or pledged in the early phase of the capital campaign to support renovations at LHWHS. The generosity of these donors demonstrated both community support and the willingness of many to take a leadership role.

For more information, see our Capital Campaign page



At 90 years old, most people would be ready to spend their days with their feet up. However, Phil Brusca is not like most people. After 40 years of coaching track—32 of those years as a coach at Ladue Horton Watkins High School—Phil still hasn't hung up his track shoes!  Not only does he start every day with exercise, he is a regular at local and regional athletic competitions and has a huge collection of medals, plaques, and other awards recognizing his wins. Phil finished 2016 with a U.S. Masters Athlete top-10 national ranking in shot put, discus, hammer throw, javelin throw and weight throw and was inducted into the U.S. Track and Field Masters Hall of Fame. This year, he has already competed in four Masters events, placing first in several categories. “Being 90 means there is very little competition,” he says modestly, but the nonagenarian who looks decades younger has a lot to be proud of. 
Phil’s love of sports and his road to coaching started when he returned to Missouri after serving in the military during World War II.  His service earned him 3 ½ years of free college tuition, which he spent at the University of Missouri-Columbia, majoring in physical education. With one semester needed to graduate, his track coach helped him obtain a scholarship, and he completed his degree. After graduating, he stayed in the Columbia area for eight years, coaching at two of the local high schools. During his time in Columbia, he coached an Olympic Medal winner, and then, “Ladue came knocking, and I came home to St. Louis and stayed at Ladue High School for 32 years,” he says. “I could have retired 10 years earlier, but I loved what I was doing!”
Phil’s success at Ladue did not go unnoticed by other schools in the area. “I was offered jobs elsewhere, including at junior colleges, but I didn’t go,” he says.  He felt LHWHS was home. “At Ladue you get top kids who excel. They become professionals like doctors and lawyers and even professional athletes,” he explains. That educational environment made for better teams to coach, he says. The physical environment at the high school also set the school apart. “When I started, the track was made of cinder,” he says. “Dr. Nicholas, the superintendent, set out to build a new track with eight lanes.” However, during that time, there was a flood that caused damage to the school and the budget was cut. “So the track went from eight lanes to six, but six was better than zero!” Phil remembers.
When he’s not attending LHWHS class reunions to catch up with his former students or watching the citywide track invitational event that is his namesake, you can find Phil on that same Ladue track, practicing for his Masters events.  “Life has been wonderful for me,” he says. “Having the knowledge that I taught students well enough that their experiences with me could help shape their future in a positive way is the best and most satisfying reward I could ask for.”

The LEF is thrilled to honor Coach Phil at the Annual Community Breakfast on October 6. If you’d like to include a quote about Phil in a book that will be presented to him, please email lef@ladueschools.net. Photos for a slideshow and/or collage are also being collected and can be sent to lef@ladueschools.net.


Whether it’s through traveling the world, serving on numerous leadership boards, his membership in the St. Louis Curling Club (yes, St. Louis has a club for the ice sport played with stones and brooms) or the fact that he came to Ladue Schools as a high schooler, Vin Ko brings a unique perspective to his position on the LEF Board. “The Ladue School District is a special place for me,” says Vin. Even though he grew up in the district, his parents opted to enroll him in the desegregation program, where he attended a public school outside of the district from kindergarten through tenth grade. His junior year, he transferred back to Ladue Horton Watkins High School, which he says had a profound impact on him. “The opportunity provided me with a lot of perspective. Though my time at Ladue was short relative to my classmates, it had a profound impact on my career path and instilled a passion in me for community development.”

Vin has taken that passion and made a career of it. After graduating in 2005, he attended college at the University of California Santa Barbara, where he earned a political science degree. He came back to St. Louis in 2010 and is currently a Senior Program Manager at the St. Louis Mosaic project, a regional initiative that is part of the World Trade Center—St. Louis and the St. Louis Economic Development Project, focused on growing the region’s foreign-born population and economy. “As Senior Program Manager, I ensure the success of Mosaic's targeted programs by managing and supporting many groups that fall under its umbrella, including over 700 Mosaic Ambassadors, high-tech and neighborhood entrepreneurs, newcomer job seekers, and international student retention initiatives in St. Louis.”

Vin’s job is not the only thing that keeps him busy and involved in the community. “I started a local pick-up soccer organization known as St. Louis Pick Up Soccer, which grew from 40 people to over 4,000 members playing all over the region,” Vin says. He has been a member of the St. Louis Emerging Leaders Program and served on numerous boards, including the TEDxGatewayArch Leadership Board, the St. Louis Civic Pride Foundation Executive Board and the Downtown STL Inc. Board of Directors. He credits his inspiration for being involved with such a diverse swath of causes to his experience at Ladue Schools. “The Ladue School District is surprisingly diverse and houses some of the most passionate and dedicated teachers I have ever seen,” he says. “There are so many of my fellow graduates working to make the St. Louis region better. It is exciting to see how the district continues its commitment to providing resources and opportunities for students to excel not only in college but for their future careers.” The LEF Board feels fortunate to be a beneficiary of that commitment through members and alumni like Vin.

Jim McKelvey on Ladue Schools

"Ladue taught me how to learn," says Jim McKelvey, LHWHS class of 1983 and an inventor, serial entrepreneur, pilot, artist and author.  "It was at Ladue that I got the skills to acquire the knowledge I needed."

While best known for co-founding the mobile payments company Square, Jim is also a master glass artist and author, having written the world’s most widely read text on the subject, The Art Of Fire. He is the founder of Third Degree Glass Factory, one of the nation’s main centers of glass blowing arts, and several other companies. His designs have been featured in both the Smithsonian and the Museum of Modern Art.

Jim's combination of entrepreneurship and creativity makes him an ideal fit for the Ladue Education Foundation's spring fundraiser on April 28, "Innovation Celebration." In a conversation with Ladue Horton Watkins High School teacher Hannah Behr, Jim will discuss his experience at Ladue Schools and the work he is doing to help bring innovation to St. Louis.

"Twelve years in the district, and it was--and still is--the formative part of my education," says Jim. "I was so far ahead of the average Wash U student entering, I was tutoring subjects that I learned in high school to my fellow college classmates." Jim is a 1987 graduate of Washington University with degrees in Economics and Computer Science and is a recipient of the school's Alumni Achievement Award.

In 2013, Jim founded the nonprofit LaunchCode Foundation to address the worldwide shortage of programmers. Last year, President Obama held LaunchCode up as a model for the nation.

Jim McKelvey holds the belief that nothing is impossible and that problems are beautiful things. He tackles the world’s biggest challenges with breakthrough ideas, all driven by his personal motto: “If not you, then who; if not now, then when.”

For tickets to Innovation Celebration and a chance to hear Jim McKelvey, see this link.


Get to Know Gabriela Burian

Gabriela Burian, Business and Community Partnerships Chair for the LEF, has lived in Ladue since she and her family moved here from Brazil five years ago. Gabriela and her husband, Eric, chose Ladue on the advice of friends because of the great public schools. Gabriela credits the Ladue School District community as being her first “family” in the USA.

“We arrived from Brazil with a seven-year-old son (Artur) and an eleven-year-old daughter (Alice). My son at this time did not speak English,” Gabriela says. “They both received the best support available from the teachers, including English as a Second Language.” With this impressive support, both kids are excelling, feeling at home with friends, have joined many clubs and have been invited to become honor society members.

Gabriela was inspired to join the LEF as a way to give back. “From teachers and parents, we learned about the importance of the Ladue Education Foundation in supporting the district.”

The transition to Missouri wasn’t completely smooth, however. As Gabriela explains, “We moved from Brazil to St. Louis in a sunny August, and our first decision, as a family, was to always bike from home to work and/or school, since it's more sustainable and better for health, too. But that first winter taught us the hard way that we were not prepared to face biking in the snow,” Gabriela laughs.

Gabriela is the global director for Sustainable Agriculture at Monsanto, responsible for key global partnerships helping farmers to ensure food for all, while conserving more. “As a mother I know how important this vision and our work are for my children,” Gabriela says.

She feels she has found a great fit in Ladue, which she describes as “an inclusive and diverse community, with the same vision: Together we can have better performance, happier children and a more sustainable journey.”





Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

As a partner of the Ladue School District, the Ladue Education Foundation continues to focus on inclusion and tolerance in our ongoing mission. In addition to character education initiatives that address diversity issues, the district has engaged several community organizations to provide additional assistance. The LEF is proud to contribute to these efforts by funding key grants prioritizing educational equity and diversity. 

Most recently, the LEF secured a grant from Wells Fargo to provide funding for instruments for grades four through twelve for students who wish to participate in music programs, but whose families are unable to afford the instrument rental fees.

Cycle of Success at Ladue Horton Watkins High School, partially funded by the LEF, coordinates extracurricular interventions that promote the achievement of all students at LHWHS (with a primary focus on the African American student population).  

In addition, a Moving and Learning Lab at Old Bonhomme Elementary serves therapeutic and movement purposes for children with a range of special needs.

Past years’ grants have included literacy programs that provide books to create home libraries for low-income families at LECC, programs that match struggling readers with limited access to reading materials with appropriate books and partners to help engage them over the summer, programs that provide select students with no home computers with access to iPads, and a program that matches underperforming elementary students with middle school students who serve as mentors.

The LEF remains committed to diverse initiatives that meet the needs of all students across all schools in the district, and we thank our generous and supportive community for empowering us to do so.