Gives back – again – to $5 for the Fight
North County – A Who’s Who of labor and politic leaders and bluebloods of the St. Louis community that had been helped, advised, supported or taught, in some way, by Dick Kellett, co-founder of the North County Labor Club, turned out for an event in his honor at Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562 hall.
Representatives from most unions – including those long retired – mayors and representatives from the State House were on hand to say “thank you” as Kellett relinquished the reins of the Labor Club he helped build from the ground up 28 years ago.
Kellett is one of the six founding members of the club. Those who received backing from the club were told “be fair, support the issues of working men and women and we’ll support you.” It was that simple. And it was non-partisan.
UNION MEMBER FOR 64 YEARS
Kellett, a 64-year member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, had his “first” retirement in 2000 when he retired as a Local 562 business representative after serving for seven years (1993-2000). He has worked as a shop steward, foreman, general foreman and unofficial “consultant” to young and older workers and labor leaders needing advice on issues and problems.
“We want to thank Dick for his many incredible years of service,” said Pat White, Labor Council president. “And even in his second retirement, he’s still serving by making sure that night’s funds goes to workers in need of help. One would expect nothing less of Dick Kellett.”
More than 500 guests purchased tickets at $35 per person with proceeds going to $5 for the Fight, a fund that supports out-of-work and other union families facing financial crisis during these hard times.
An Irish bagpiper lead the way as Kellett and his family of 10 entered the hall. The planned three-hour event went overtime because of the large number of people who wanted to speak and wish him well.
‘I WAS IN AWE’
White, former president of the Gas Workers Union, said he was a young gas worker in North County when he joined North County Labor Club.
“I was in awe at the time,” White said. “Labor Clubs are the most important groups in the political arena, and North County Labor always had great participation.”
White said the most rewarding thing since he’s been in office as president of the Labor Council has been $5 for the Fight.
“I get to sign checks sent to union members. Thousands of people are helped by this money held by the United Way in a separate fund for union members,” he said. “We take all the donations, and it gets siphoned through the United Way and goes to good, hard-working men and women.”
County Executive Steve Stenger recalled the early days when he ran for office when he was told that to win in North County, he had to “kiss the ring.”
“Dick Kellett is a giant, a legend and led a movement that brought us here today,” Stenger said. “We are in better shape because of Kellett. I have seen his dedication and know he wakes up with everyone in organized labor on his mind and in his heart.”
Florissant Mayor Tom Schneider cited those in the crowd who held prominent offices: the Missouri attorney general, the county executive and mayors from numerous towns and cities in North County.
‘TOUCHED BY LEADERSHIP’
“All of these people attained office with the help of Dick Kellett,” Schneider said. “He has helped with tax and bond issues and was a driving force behind Florissant’s new law enforcement center. He has been devoted to bringing union jobs to North County.”
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill had a previous engagement but sent a video reminiscing about her first days running for office and how she was told that to win an election in North County, one had to go talk to the “two Dicks,” club founders Kellett and Dick Sullivan
“Every Democrat in office was touched by Kellett’s leadership. Eight children…wow, that’s what you’re most proud of,” McCaskill said. “Kellett loves politics, but he also loves golf and kids and soccer games. I wish you well in this second retirement.”
McCaskill said that because of the impetus of the North County Labor Club, there are now 13 clubs in the state.
“Because of labor clubs, we have a voice in every community, and certainly in Jefferson City,” she said.
‘LED BY EXAMPLE’
Kellett’s son, Pat Kellett, director of Business Development for the United Association of Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry (UA) and former business manager of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562, said it was difficult to thank everyone in the room, and he admitted he was choked up over the occasion.
“You taught us a lot, Pop,” Pat Kellett said, noting that the lump in his throat was returning. “You led by example and always told us we have to give back. Mom allowed you the ability to get things done.”
The “Thank you, Dick” gathering was co-sponsored by the North County Labor Club and the Greater St. Louis Labor Council.
Elected to head the club was IBEW Local 1’s Tom Sansevere, another long-time member of the club.
Since the North County Labor Club’s founding – and demonstrated success – labor clubs have sprouted up all over the state. And every time, they’ve come to Kellett for advice and every time, the North County Club has donated $250 to help the newly formed clubs get started. The clubs are grassroots activism at its best.
The original idea of an independent club came from former Local 562 Business Representative Jim O’Mara and Ed Kiely after they attended a United Association meeting in Washington, D.C.
O’Mara asked Kellett to get it started and the rest, as they say, is history.