Ellen Alper believes her job as executive director of the National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis Section is “a perfect fit.” She says, “I get to work for an organization that has a set of values I strongly believe in, including community service, advocacy and education.”
Early on, Alper was interested in public service and community activism. The St. Louis native attended Newcomb College of Tulane University in New Orleans, where she studied government and politics and earned a bachelor’s degree in public policy. During college she served as a White House intern in the Carter administration, which led to a full-time job. “I stayed until Ronald Reagan got elected and we all got fired,” she says.
Alper returned to St. Louis and was selected for the CORO Fellows Program in Public Affairs. “That was my entree to the St. Louis community,” she says. She worked briefly at the JCC, then became the director of government affairs for the St. Louis Association of Realtors. “In other words I became a lobbyist,” she says. In 10 years she held various positions at the organization, ultimately becoming executive director. For the following 13 years Alper was executive director of the national office of Delta Phi Epsilon International Sorority, based in Maryland Heights.
She took over the leadership of the NCJW’s local office in 2005. “I brought my own perspective to it,” she says. “We’ve built a team that makes a big difference in our community. Plus I work with great volunteers, which always helps.”
The job frequently takes her to Jefferson City to meet with legislators. “It’s important that we sit and talk, even if we’re not on same side. Who knows, we may need each other at some point in the future,” Alper says.
On a recent trip to the state Capitol, Alper brought along her daughters, Emily, 19, a sophomore at the University of Missouri at Columbia; Melissa, 17; and Andi, 15. “They wondered how we could elect some of the folks we elected,” Alper says. “But they learned some things and how to get involved. One of them may even become an activist as a result!”
Having three busy daughters has been made easier for Alper by her husband of 22 years, Steve, owner of Marte’s Shoes downtown. “I had been a customer at the shoe store, and Steve’s mother would tell me about her son who lived in Chicago. Then one day I went in there and realized the guy waiting on me was this son,” Alper says. “I made it a point to pay by check so he’d have my name and phone number.” That was a Wednesday. They went out on Friday, got engaged four weeks later and were married five months later.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a great support system with my parents and Steve’s parents here,” Alper says. “Without that it’s hard to work full time.” She adds her children always have been independent. “I never had to tell them to do their homework,” she says.
The Alpers belong to United Hebrew Congregation. She’s an active volunteer at the Jewish Federation, having served on the board and as president of the Business and Professional Women’s division. Alper also devotes a lot of time to Parkway Central High School, where she’s the hockey cheerleading sponsor (both daughters are cheerleaders) and a member of the Music Parents Board. Next year Alper will be the lead representative for the school’s Pizzazz show choir, which travels to competitions throughout the United States. “Imagine spending six hours on a bus with 40 high school kids,” she says. “Actually it’s a lot of fun.” She also attends her daughters’ softball games; each plays a 100-game season. In between it all Alper likes to cook and read, and “dabble in politics,” she says.
A woman who loves to be busy, Alper says, “I’m fortunate to work for a women’s organization where everyone understands it’s important to accommodate home and work. That makes it possible for me to be a role model for my daughters,” she adds, “to prove that you can work and volunteer and be a mom and have a good time — and be successful.”