Audrey Montague, 88; founding director of Shaare Emeth preschool

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Hundreds of graduates of the preschool at Congregation Shaare Emeth filled the sanctuary of the temple Monday to say goodbye to their beloved and admired “Miss Audrey.” Audrey Montague was the founding director of the preschool at Shaare Emeth and had served some 50 years as a teacher there when she retired in 1995. She directed the preschool for 31 years.

Mrs. Montague died Dec. 28 at the age of 88. She was a lifetime resident of greater St. Louis. She had recently been in hospice care. At the funeral service Monday, where Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman and Rabbi James Bennett officiated, Mrs. Montague was warmly praised for her dedication, willingness to innovate and her half-century of loyal service to Shaare Emeth and its preschool, now known as the Shirlee Green Preschool.

Audrey Montague was born in St. Louis on July 27, 1929, the daughter of Dr. Eli Klausner, a dentist, and Bertha Schultz Klausner, who sold insurance after Audrey’s father died at age 50. 

In an interview with the Jewish Light in 1995, Mrs. Montague credited her mother for nurturing her interest in art and music, and her father’s side of the family for her interest in intellectual pursuits.

Audrey Montague had a lifetime affiliation with Shaare Emeth, where she was confirmed in 1944. At age 16, Mrs. Montague became a teacher at the Shaare Emeth Religious School. 

She was a 1947 graduate of University City High School, and she earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education, science and education from Fontbonne College (now University) in 1951. 

Mrs. Montague married the late Joseph Montague when she was 21. They were married for 49 years and had a son, Eli Montague. 

When Eli entered the first grade, Mrs. Montague went to work for Ruth Paris at the Gan Yelidim (Garden of Children) preschool, which was the first Jewish preschool in St. Louis. When Paris went to Iran for an extended visit, Mrs. Montague was left in charge of the school for 18 months. Later she worked at the Jewish Community Center preschool under Evelyn Kiefer.

Ruth Siteman, a member of Shaare Emeth, proposed that the congregation open a preschool, which at that time would be the first under the sponsorship of a Reform synagogue. Congregation B’nai Amoona, a Conservative synagogue had opened its preschool a year earlier.

Marvin Walts, then Shaare Emeth’s religious school director, named Mrs. Montague as the preschool’s first director, and the school opened in the fall of 1964.

In a 1995 interview with the Jewish Light, Mrs. Montague recalled, “When we opened our doors in the fall of 1964, we had 24 children enrolled, half of whom were members. Rae Parnas and I were the only teachers in the very beginning.  We accepted only 3 and 4-year-olds for the first several years.”

In his remarks at Mrs. Montague’s funeral, Rabbi Bennett said, “Audrey’s gifts of mind and spirit were gifts to all of us. From the very first moment I came to Shaare Emeth, Audrey was the very core of our congregation and its values.”

In his eulogy, Rabbi Stiffman recalled that when he became an assistant rabbi in 1965, he was told, “Don’t worry. Audrey will show you the ropes.”

Stiffman said she knew the names of all of her students through the years and created a wonderful Children’s Hagaddah. She shared her artistic skills even during her final days. 

“She taught our children how to be Jews,” he said. 

Mrs. Montague is survived by her son, Eli Montague, (Sheryl Breadman), and two grandchildren.

Memorial contributions mary be made to the Audrey Montague Preschool Fund at Congregation Shaare Emeth, or to the charity of the donor’s choice. 

Burial was private.