‘The young folks have to get involved’
By MARY ANN HOLLEY
Hazelwood, MO – For 29 years, Dick Kellett has served as a leader, a grunt, a cheerleader and an organizer. While heading of the North County Labor Legislative Club he sent a perennial message: Get involved in issues that mirror the face of labor.
Last month, Kellett stepped down as president of the longest-running, most effective labor club in the state. Former Club Vice President Tom Sansevere of IBEW Local 1 now fills his shoes as president.
“We’re the granddaddy of all Labor Clubs,” Kellett said. “We had seven Republican state reps back then. Now we have Democrats in all of those positions.”
Under Kellett’s leadership, the North County Labor Club has been the go-to organization for politicians hoping to be elected or re-elected in North St. Louis County voting districts.
BRINGING HOME THE VOTES
At the 11th hour of the November election, when St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s numbers stalled and it looked like opponent Rick Stream would win the race, late-reporting North County precincts in Ferguson and Spanish Lake came in near midnight and boosted Stenger over the top by 1,768 votes.
Kellett’s drive and determination to get out the vote and bring positive change for working men and women brought in more than $1.2 million from fundraisers, raffles and donations.
Hundreds of elected officials owe their seats to the support of North County union members who beat the pavement going door-to-door campaigning, put signs on their lawns and talking to their friends and neighbors about the importance of voting and the reasons to vote for a particular candidate.
They got all the information they needed from Kellett and the North County Labor Club.
“I’m 80 years old, and it’s time to let the young guys take it,” Kellett said. “I constantly say the young folks have to get involved or working men and women are going to lose in the end.”
He added, “You can’t imagine how much union work our Labor Club has brought into North County.”
It was back in 1980s Florissant when Dick Kellett and a handful of union guys got the idea to start the club. Back then, Kellett said, it was a natural part of Florissant, the new suburbia where blue collar, card-carrying neighbors were the rule.
“We were always getting together because we had common interests,” Kellett said. “There were a lot of union members and there were local politicians – all who lived within a stone’s throw, so the idea of the Labor Club seemed natural.”
Kellett learned early that to win support and elect candidates that will make laws to help working men and women, you need to start early, raise money and have a seat at the table when legislators are making decisions.
“There are 13 Labor Clubs in the region and there is no place else that has the kind of support we have,” Kellett said. “The rest are shocked at what we’ve accomplished, and it all started here.”
HOW IT STARTED
Kellett’s son, Dick, was just a kid when he attended his first North County Labor Club meeting, but he remembers it well.
“I was lucky enough to come to the first meeting,” he said. It was at Mattingly’s Bar in Florissant; mostly the trades that attended. Dave ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald, Butch Hepburn, Mike Walsh and Dick Sullivan were all there. They worked out the by-laws and started up a storefront donated by Handyman Hardware.”
Hepburn is the last charter member still active in the club, serving as Sergeant at Arms.
‘HATE TO SEE HIM GO’
New Vice President Frank Schuette, a 35-year member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562 and long-time member of the North County Labor Board, said he is proud of the confidence put in him with his appointment to the executive board.
“Dick deserves a rest,” said Schuette. “But I hate to see him go.”
Florissant Mayor Tom Schneider said the work Kellett has done – all on his own time – is outstanding, but what most don’t see is Kellett behind the scenes.
“He worked hard to get the Florissant Police Station done as a 100 percent union job,” Schneider said. “He’s done so much for labor and politics, and he’s done a lot of community work. He’s an all around good citizen.”
Other officers of the North County Labor Legislative Club are: Treasurer Brad Birk of Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 and Tim Rone of Insulators and Allied Workers Local 1.
North County Labor Club is having a Membership Drive. If you would like to join, simply attend the next meeting to be held at 7 p.m., Monday, March 2 at the Aerospace Lodge Hall, 212 Utz Lane, Hazelwood.