Handelman elected head of Press Club

BY MIKE SHERWIN, STAFF WRITER

Telling other people’s stories has become a natural part of Alice Handelman’s life.

But now, as the newest president of the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis, Handelman’s story is the one that’s in the spotlight.

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As an award-winning journalist and public relations professional, Handelman, who is a member of Temple Israel, has sought out fascinating, and often offbeat, stories to share with a wider audience, a pursuit which has provided her own cache of feature-worthy anecdotes.

On one of her first big interviews for for the Mizzou student paper, The Maneater, during her freshman year of journalism school, Handelman was sent out to interview singer Johnny Mathis, who was performing in Columbia. However, Mathis’s security proved to be an unexpected obstacle.

“They kicked me out,” Handelman said. “But I snuck in and found his dressing room, and I closed my eyes and walked in, and he was in there. And I got a great interview.”

That tenacity paid off, particularly when Handelman was in pursuit of a story about a fraternity at the school. She interviewed the president of the fraternity, Howard Handelman. That would prove to be a fortuitous moment, as a few years down the road, Howard and Alice reconnected and eventually got married.

Although Handelman turned down a job at the Post-Dispatch after college, she continued as a writer, working as a volunteer with Jewish Hospital, crafting human-interest pieces for 216, the hospital’s newsletter.

And after the St. Louis Blues hockey team came to town in 1967, Handelman and her husband became fans, attending games where they would buy the team’s magazine-style programs. Handelman thought she might add a different touch to the magazine, which was primarily written by sports writers.

“I called the St. Louis Blues out of the blue, and I introduced myself,” she said. “I said ‘I’m a really fine feature writer and I would love to write for your magazine.'”

Wayne Cooper, the director of public relations told Handelman he’d give her a chance. “He said, ‘Why don’t you just do a story for me, about whatever you’d like to do,” she recalled.

Handelman went out to the Blues’ training facility and did a story on the Blues’ uniform: the pads, protective gear, and clothing worn by players.

“I’d never been on ice skates before, and haven’t since, but the players said, “If you want to do this story you have to suit up.’ So they put skates on me and a full uniform,” Handelman said.

Apparently the story made a good impression, because she continued to work as a freelancer for the Blues (and later the National Hockey League) for 10 years, turning in quirky features, including one piece about how the rink’s ice was created and maintained — told from the perspective of the ice.

That offbeat sensibility remained with Handelman as she began to work with the Jewish Center for the Aged. While the community relations department had previously limited itself to pitching stories for the Jewish Light, Handelman broadened the focus and reached out to all local media, increasing the profile of the JCA.

One part of her job was to write a regular feature for the in-house newsletter, profiling the employee of the month. Employees would often come in for an interview, feeling that their lives offered little of interest for a feature story. But one of Handelman’s core beliefs as a journalist is that through the right questions, “You can find a great story in anybody.”

Although Handelman left the Jewish Center for the Aged in 2000, she has continued to work in public relations as a consultant for non-profit organizations.

Handelman began her term as president of the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis in January, after serving four years as vice president of the organization.

She hopes to focus on fundraising, to increase the scholarship programs the Press Club runs. Handelman said that she has a personal stake in improving scholarships for journalism and communication students, because she said she would not have been able to complete her senior year of college without the scholarship she was awarded.

Bob Cohn, editor emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light, immediate past president and current board chairman of Press Club, said Handelman is “already off and running” in her leadership of the organization, recruiting new members and developing programs for the club’s members.

“She’s really the perfect choice for president of Press Club,” Cohn said. “She possesses the organizational skills and experience and has countless contacts in the journalism and communication fields, having worked on both sides of the divide.”

Outside of the Press Club, Handelman has been an active volunteer. She is founder, past president and honorary chairman of the board of Gateway Elder Services. She is a member of the board of the Women’s Division of the Jewish Federation for six years, and she co-chaired the St. Louis contingent to the Lion of Judah International Conference last September in Washington D.C. Handelman serves on two committees of the Jewish Community Center.

For her volunteer work, Handelman has received the Quest Award from the National Federation of Press Women; in 2002, she was named a Woman of Achievement and in 2006 she was named a Woman of Worth.