Service Club for the Blind History
Adeline Ann Ruenzi was born August 16, 1877 in St. Charles, Missouri. She was educated in the public schools and Sacred Heart Academy of St. Charles; attended normal school at Nerinx, Kentucky. She studied to become a nun but shortly before time to take her vows she opted out, she knew she was losing her sight and did not want to become a burden to the sisters of the convent . She taught school in St. Louis for five years, then she worked as a secretary in railroad and legal offices, making ten years of employment as a sighted woman.
Progressive Myopia developed at the age of ten, at the age of thirty after being struck by a child’s ball, Retinal separation developed. It was then she decided to prepare herself to devote the rest of her life helping the sightless. At that time there were no channels available in Missouri for training the adult blind so she began her own rehabilitation at home. She found her previous training and experience in the teaching field of great assistance. She secured a Braille alphabet and a few books from the Missouri School for the Blind and taught herself to read and write. Also, she learned all handicrafts available at that time. After this preparation, in 1924 as a volunteer instructor, she taught the blind in St. Charles, Missouri, in their homes.
Following these eight years of personal rehabilitation, study and preparation, preceded by valuable teaching and business experience as a sighted person, in 1915 Miss Ruenzi obtained a position as Home Teacher for the State of Missouri, and was employed by the Missouri Commission for the Blind. This appointment made her the pioneer home teacher for the state and one of the pioneers of the Commission, which organization had just been created.
Home teaching of the adult blind in Missouri actually began in September 1915. Due to limited means of transportation and funds for traveling expense Miss Ruenzi had to devise ways and means to carry on home teaching over the entire state. Consequently she worked out a method of instruction through correspondence. As well as making personal contacts, several thousand persons were given instruction of one kind or another by Miss Ruenzi from 1915 to 1921. The first blind Home Teacher for the State of Louisiana was trained by Miss Ruenzi.
The employment of another home Teacher reduced her territory to one-half of the State. During the next few years six more teachers were appointed to share the growing responsibilities.
In 1924, Miss Ruenzi was appointed Director of Braille Transcribing of the American Red Cross, St. Louis Chapter and trained over 200 volunteer Brailler’s who hand-transcribed printed books into braille for the St. Louis Public Library.
In 1927 Miss Ruenzi was appointed Assistant Secretary and Head Home Teacher and her territory was reduced to the city of St. Louis, and St Louis and St. Charles Counties. As Assistant Secretary she organized large groups of volunteer workers as well as a sales department to enable the Commission to sell blind-made products. From 1927 to 1930 four more Home Teachers were added to the staff relieving Miss Ruenzi of actual teaching duties, allowing her to accept the job of Supervisor of Home Teaching department of the Commission for the Blind. In her teachings, she originated the idea of comparing the six of dominoes to the Braille cell, which proved to be of great assistance to the adult pupil who was newly blind; this method was eventually used nationally. Also, as a further aid when teaching the newly blind pupil, She introduced the method of having pupils use their fingers instead of crochet hooks for knitting needles to familiarize them with the methods of the operation of crocheting or knitting. Anxious for the blind to learn the use of penmanship, she devised an aluminum script alphabet plate which became in use both in the United States and foreign countries.
Miss Ruenzi was co-founder of the Industrial Aid for the Blind now known as the Lighthouse for the Blind. In March 1934, she founded and organized the Cultural and Service Club for the Blind, the purpose: To serve the blind wherever and whenever possible. She was elected President and Director of the Service Club for the Blind which position she held until the last time she became ill in 1971 and at which time Lillian Dunn continued in her place. The Club, as it was called, started with a treasury amount of $4. The Club later became known as an outstanding philanthropic and charitable organization for the blind owning their own building and having increased their services to the blind. The Club’s first home was in the building occupied by the Henry L. Wolfner Memorial Library for the Blind, but because the ground floor was not available the blind could not display articles for sale that were made in the home to passersby. The Club then moved to 4312 Olive Street which had a display window which could be seen from the sidewalk. In 1929, Miss Ruenzi helped organize a radio fund for the blind. As a tribute her friends named it the “Adeline Ruenzi Radio Fund for the Blind” of which she served as its advisor.
Miss Ruenzi had received numerous recognitions and honors in her lifetime. Her name was included in Who’s Who. She was recipient of an orchid on the “Good Neighbor” radio program, and again on Tom Brenneman Radio Program “Breakfast at Sardis”. In May 1947, she was selected as one of the “Women of Achievement” in St. Louis for her outstanding work for the Blind, and as such ,was one of the Honerees at a reception and banquet attended by 1,200 guests at the Hotel Jefferson in St. Louis. She received the greatest ovation of any of the 48 “Women of Achievements” as “a blind women who had dedicated her life to service to the blind”
In October 1947, Miss Ruenzi organized the Carver League for the Negro Blind for the purpose of giving the Negro blind entertainment and recreation. This organization was housed in the Wolfner Library Building in St. Louis. In 1958 the St. Louis Argus presented Miss Ruenzi with the “Distinguished Public Service Award” for her outstanding work with the Carver League.
In 1957 after extensive renovating on the Club building, and two weeks before they were to hold an open house a tornado came through St. Louis and tore the roof off. The contractors were able to repair the damage and open house was held a few months later. One year later the building became victim of an electrical fire which was related to the tornado damage the previous year. Undaunted by the devastation, Miss Rue, as her friends called her, held meetings in the basement of the burnout building until the building again was restored. Miss Rue remained President of The Service Club for the Blind until she took seriously ill in 1971. Even with failing health she never ceased to give of herself. In 1971 she passed away at age 95 but not without giving the blind community 70 years of dedication and extraordinary service.
Mrs. Lillian Dunn continued on as President for about ten more years. Fred Keller then became President of the Service Club.
Because the neighborhood on Olive was deteriorating and crime was on the rise, the Club was looking for a new home that would be safe for its members. It was in 1994 Fred Keller by accident found the old Mardel Hardware Store on Watson Road for sale. Soon, with the move behind them and a little renovating in the building, a new chapter began for the Club on Watson Road.
Kathleen Demsky was the President for 12 1/2 years and under her supervision has given the Service Club a much needed facelift making the Club a more inviting and spacious place to meet. Years after Miss Rue’s death, her vision of helping the blind was still ongoing. Kathleen retired at the end of September 2016.
As of October 1st 2016 Jack Lenk was elected by the Board as President. Jack served as president until 2018; when he resigned, leaving Jesuita Tabor to step in as interim President.
Jesuita Tabor was elected President in 2020 and is the current president to date.