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Obituary of Audrey E. Claus: Spelling textbook author and educator

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 27, 2010 - Services for Audrey Eileen Claus, an educator who co-authored a spelling textbook that sold more than 225 million copies, will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Village Lutheran Church, 9237 Clayton Road, Ladue. Miss Claus died Sunday at her home in Ferguson following complications from two recent strokes. She was 89.

Miss Claus was working full-time for the St. Louis Public School System when she was recruited by William A. Kottmeyer, a fellow St. Louis Public School educator and a prolific author of textbooks, to co-author what became Kottmeyer's most popular series, "Basic Goals in Spelling." Five editions of the textbook were published by the Webster Division of McGraw-Hill Book company.

"She was very proud of the speller and she loved working with Dr. Kottmeyer on it," said Anita Wegener, a fellow educator and close friend. "She was teaching or supervising during the day and working until one or two in the morning on the speller. But she loved it."

Miss Claus began her career in the classroom at the old Bates School in St. Louis and later became an administrator, specializing in developing curriculum for primary grades. Wegener said she was equally skilled at both. In the mid-1980s, Miss Claus hired Wegener, who was teaching at Lowell Elementary School in St. Louis, to work with her on Career II, a federally funded program that helped professional women from various disciplines prepare to get their teaching certificates. Miss Claus started the program.

"She was a wonderful leader," Wegener said. "She was the boss, but she was never bossy. She was genuine, sincere and kind."

A patron of the arts

Her kindness extended beyond her career with words. She was a philanthropist, who friends said, chose to live a very, very simple life.

Miss Claus was a devoted life-long supporter of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. She endowed the Herbert C. and Estelle Claus Principal Flute Chair in honor of her parents. And she helped to fill the seats. She attended concerts at Powell Hall every other week and brought many of her friends as her guests, successfully converting many she invited into regular subscribers and donors.

Miss Claus told one member of the Symphony that she started attending the concerts when she was a young woman and would sit in "peanut heaven" when the Symphony's home was Kiel Auditorium. At that time, Miss Claus said, she had only "2 nickels to rub together," but she made the Symphony a budget priority.

Miss Claus was also a member and lecturer at the Missouri Botanical Garden and active in numerous other civic organizations, including the St. Louis Herb Society. In fact, she penned a cookbook, the St. Louis Herb Society Cookbook, for which Sheila Hoffmeister provided editing and coordination and Barbara Ottolini did layout and photography. The cookbook was published in 1994.

The Gift of Contentment

Miss Claus, the daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Lutheran ministers, took her faith seriously. She was baptized on Feb. 7, 1921, and confirmed by her father, Rev. Herbert C. Claus, at Zion Lutheran Church in Ferguson on March 24, 1935, where she remained a member for decades. She later joined Village Lutheran Church in Ladue.

"She always said that she was an adopted, contented child of God," said her longtime friend and attorney, Robert Claus. "She'd say 'I have the Apostle Paul's gift of contentment'."

The two, who are not related, became acquainted at church when they noted they shared surnames. They even explored the topic a bit but not too much. "She thought her name may originally have been Greek, but she would say, 'I don't have to know where I came from, because I know who I am and why I am.' "

Claus said that Miss Claus, who built her career around words and knew many obscure words, recently noted, "People don't use my spelling books anymore and they can't spell very well either!" But, Claus said, simple words that her friends often used to describe her will be spoken in her eulogy: Dear, sweet, nice, contented -- and teacher.

The future teacher and author was born Jan. 21, 1921 in Ferguson and lived her entire life there, graduating from Ferguson High School in 1938. In 1942, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harris Teachers College (now Harris-Stowe State University) with a bachelor of arts in education. In 1952, she received a master's degree in English literature and subsequently earned a master's degree in education administration in 1962, both from Washington University.

Forever a Teacher

"My sister was very successful," said Gwendolyn Schopp, "But she wouldn't toot her own horn. After she retired, when anyone would ask what she did, she would simply say, 'I was a teacher'. That's what she was most proud of."

Miss Claus began teaching during a time when women teachers in St. Louis could not be married; even after they could, she never did.

She was preceded in death by her parents. In addition to her sister Gwendolyn R. Schopp (Dr. Robert C. Schopp) of Buffalo, N.Y., she is survived by her sister Eunice A. Kelly (the late Jack Kelly) of Corvallis, Montana, and nieces Delia Kelly, Laurel Kelly and Mary Salomon, and one nephew, David Schopp.

The family will receive friends from 4-8 p.m., Wed. at Lupton Chapel, 7233 Delmar Blvd., University City. The funeral service will be at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday at Village Lutheran Church, 9237 Clayton Road, in Ladue. A reception will follow the service at the church. The interment at Bethlehem Cemetery will be private.

In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate memorials to Village Lutheran Church, 9237 Clayton Road, Ladue, Mo. 63124.

Gloria Ross is the head of Okara Communications and the storywriter for AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service.

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.