Couple give back to servicemen through the USO

2016 Unsung Heroes Pamela & Stuart Katz.

BY DAVID BAUGHER, SPECIAL TO THE LIGHT

During his time as a reservist, Stuart Katz didn’t see any combat.

Well, almost.

“I did fight a battle on H Street at a place called the Iron Butterfly where a bunch of the guys had a weekend pass,” he recalled with a laugh, remembering a Washington D.C. area saloon fight where he and his friends were attacked by anti-military patrons. “Nobody there liked people in green.” 

But Stuart, 69, and his wife, Pamela, 68, love folks in green – or any other color of uniform denoting members of the U.S. armed forces. That’s why the couple enjoys volunteering regularly with the USO at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. He’s logged about 5,700 hours of volunteer time. She’s racked up 650.

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“They are awesome,” said Lori Flett, director of volunteer services for USO Missouri. “I can’t say enough about them, to be honest with you.”

Sheri Sherman, a high school friend of the couple, agrees, saying these Unsung Heroes deserve the honor. 

“I see the kinds of people that accept this award, the quality of the people who accept this award from across the community,” Sherman said. “They are very committed, unselfish personalities. That’s why they are unsung. They don’t seek recognition. They do these things because it gives them joy and they see value in it. They fit the profile.”

Pamela Katz puts it more simply.

“We pretty much do whatever jobs need to be done,” she said.

That can involve anything from cooking for two golf tournaments a year to handling logistics for USO’s day at the St. Louis Zoo.

“We invite all the military, primarily from (Fort) Leonard Wood and Scott (Air Force Base) and various reserve centers to bring their entire family,” Stuart said. “We register them, give them breakfast and give them an armband that’s good for all the paid attractions.”

Other times, Stuart may find himself on a 5 a.m. bagel run to Einstein Bros. He’ll pick up as many as 40-dozen bagels in a week, which are frozen so they can be served to soldiers as they pass through Lambert. Unsold Girl Scout cookies often find their way to the organization as well.

The Shaare Emeth congregants also volunteer to run the snack booth for Santa Express at Union Station.

“It is just for military families. Each child gets a gift,” Pam said. “They have Santa Claus that they can go visit. They have face painting. They have arts and crafts and food.”

Stuart began volunteering for USO duty the year before Pam did, although Pam’s family had been involved previously in the service organization.

“My parents actually volunteered there for a short time right after the USO opened in the 1980s,” she said. “My cousin, who is into genealogy, discovered that my grandmother had volunteered for the USO during World War II at Union Station. He found a certificate where she had given a thousand hours to the USO. I had no idea.”

For Stuart, it all started when he was in the Army Reserves during the late 1960s and 1970s. Stuart, who achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant, said that he had negative experiences with some of his fellow soldiers, a portion of whom had enlisted as reservists to avoid service in Vietnam and others as an alternative to prison.

“My bunkmate was going to serve three years [in jail] in Pennsylvania,” he said. “The first week we were there [in Fort Bragg, N.C. during Basic Training], he stole my dirty laundry.” 

But years later, while helping to give entrance exams to recruits, he found a very different feel to the military.

“I noticed something right away,” Stuart said. “The people going into an all-volunteer military were dedicated, motivated, polite and incredibly desirous of making the military a career or of getting the money to go to college. It was the difference between day and night. I liked that. I was coming through Lambert one day and I noticed the USO. I walked in and said, ‘Hey, I’d like to volunteer here. Do you have any opportunities?’ That’s how it started.”

The reason it continues is because of how impressed Stuart was with the soldiers.

“I am in awe of them,” he said. “They are dedicated. They put their life on the line for the country. They do their best job, and they are just so polite and so much fun to talk to.”

There’s plenty of opportunity to talk. The USO is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, offering food and shelter along with entertainment equipment like TVs and video game systems for transiting personnel.

“That’s part of the beauty of being a volunteer there,” said Stuart, who was recently named volunteer of the month by Town & Style St. Louis magazine. “Whenever we’re not busy, we can sit down at a table with a soda or a hot dog and just talk. What we’ve found is that for a lot of these kids, their trip to basic training is the first time they’ve been out of their hometown and on an airplane.”

One of the Katz’s sons, Randy, served in the U.S. Army as a Captain. A tank commander, Randy was deployed to Korea and Kuwait at various times for training exercises but was never sent into combat. 

Stuart said volunteering does as much for the volunteer as it does for the recipient.

“I put in a dime, and I get back a dollar,” he said. “The time I spend is nothing compared to the joy I get from interacting with the soldiers.”

The USO isn’t the Katzes’ only involvement in community affairs. The native St. Louisans both served on the educational committee of the Susan B. Komen Foundation in San Antonio during a stint in Texas. Stuart was also a docent at the zoo there and later held a similar position at the zoo here.

Meanwhile, Pam was active in Women’s American ORT and volunteered at her children’s school. She looks forward to doing even more volunteer work once she retires from her career in computer programming. In the meantime, she enjoys doing work for the USO.

“[I want] to give back to the soldiers who are defending our country,” she said.


PAMELA & STUART KATZ

Age: 68 and 69

Family: Two children, Randy and Joshua

Home: Chesterfield

Occupation: Stuart, branch manager for Southwestern Bell (retired); Pam,        computer programmer

Fun fact:  Stuart has a “Stan Musial Man Cave” in his basement, with dozens of autographed items related to the Cardinals legend.