Stevens – The Institute of Business & Arts is proud to be celebrating 75 years of serving the St. Louis Metropolitan Area this year. We got our start in 1947 as Patricia Stevens College – a modeling and finishing school for women. Over the years, we’ve evolved; adding degree programs, transitioning to a co-educational student body, and updating our course catalog to remain competitive with the needs of employers in the region.
To commemorate this milestone, we’re looking back and sharing the stories of alumni who have made us who we are today. In our next installment, we talked to Linda Dahlheimer, who studied business at Patricia Stevens from 1964-1966.
What prompted you to attend Patricia Stevens/Siba?
When John and Patricia Klute pulled into my parents’ driveway in Altamont, IL that evening in early 1964, I didn’t think a thing about a couple of college recruiters, in this case, proprietors, making a nearly 200-mile round trip to interview a potential student. Only much later would I realize the tradition at Patricia Stevens Career College and Finishing School was, in the world of college recruiting, pretty much a phenomenon. During their visit, my parents expressed safety concerns in attending school in Downtown St. Louis. “With ongoing renovation on the Riverfront, and the Arch under construction and expected to attract favorable attention worldwide,” I remember Mrs. Klute saying, while reassuring my parents, “positive things are happening.” But my dad was not convinced. “I still don’t like the idea of my daughter living in a big dorm downtown.” The Klutes then described the “Live-in Nanny” alternative to dorm living. A couple of hours later, after taking a written exam, I was in. My parents had been impressed with the decorum of this husband-and-wife team and their reassuring thoughtfulness.
Did you end up living in the dorms?
Eventually, but not right away. In the beginning, I chose to participate in the “Live-In Nanny” program, so I lived in the home of a local family in Ladue. After Orientation Day, I was introduced to my new hosts/employers. As a new kid in town, the Ladue address meant nothing to me, other than enchantment with this beautiful home, and my studio apartment on the first floor. They were a lovely family to be with and my duties were largely confined to preparing the four children for bed each evening and babysitting when the parents occasionally went out for the evening.
I also knew nothing about the Veiled Profit Ball. “I’d feel more comfortable if you invited one of your classmates to spend the night, she told me, as she was preparing to be one of the maids that year. “Robberies can happen, with everyone away at the Ball.” My experiences there complemented the “finishing school” aspect of Patricia Stevens. But I missed the after-hours with the school friends I was making and after several months, persuaded my parents to let me move to the dorm downtown.
What do you remember about the classes you took?
Class days were a whirlwind of shorthand, business law, and English, interlaced with lessons about social graces, dressing appropriately, deportment, etiquette, and even fencing. Skirts or dresses and high heels were part of the required dress code. Since we did a lot of walking between our downtown campus and the dorm, we kept the local shoe repair places busy by routinely getting our heels recapped. Slacks and shorts were taboo at both school and out in public. “If I run into any of my students not in dresses,” our Fashions director warned, “I’ll pretend not to recognize you.” A classmate and I were both donned in shorts during a shopping excursion one Saturday and ducked quickly into a nearby store so as to avoid embarrassment when we saw Miss Valerie coming our way!
Shorts and worn heel caps notwithstanding, school days were magical. Imagine, after just having completed an especially arduous hour of math, getting whisked away in the school’s hair salon for a new hairdo creation. Or a do-over in the cosmetics lab between a history class.
What are some favorite memories/experiences?
We had a lot of fun outside the classroom, too. There were excursions to the Klute home in Kirkwood for swimming parties, field trips to the Planetarium, and sitting in Channel 5’s studio audience when the school was tipped off that a celebrity was going to be on a show. I especially remember the time we got to see Michael Landon. Then there was the time I got to model a mink coat on the Charlotte Peters Show. She had contacted the school, looking for tall, medium-sized recruits to be featured on her upcoming show.
I also met someone who would become my lifelong (and best) friend, Joan Geisler Ray. We were in each other’s weddings, took trips together, and still communicate regularly.
After you graduated from the business program in 1966, what came next?
Following the graduation ceremony that was held at the Sheraton-Jefferson Hotel, the school placed me with an insurance company on Lindell Blvd in Midtown. Six years later, I accepted a position at the Ralston Purina Company Downtown, where I worked until 1980 as the department supervisor. By then, I had decided to retire to become a stay-at-home mom for our infant son. “You’re making just enough money,” my husband had quipped, “to put us into the next tax bracket.” Whether to stay or leave turned out to be a moot point because he was soon tasked with overseeing the relocation of the company, where he was employed, to the Washington DC area. Five years later, we returned to St. Louis and immediately started our own consulting business that had me running the national real estate network we had just acquired, all the while renovating our 100-year-old home in an historic city neighborhood. Our son and his wife and two children live there today. We mostly retired from our business when we moved to the Loft District 12 years ago and became grandparents (although I am about to begin proofreading my husband’s latest book). Except for a few stints over the years of living in the county and out of state, we’ve mostly been city dwellers—by choice.
Ironically, our loft is located a few blocks north of the dorm I resided at as a student nearly 60 years ago and within sight of Siba’s now-permanent campus on Washington Avenue.
What are the best takeaways from the time you spent at Patricia Stevens?
Looking back at the grand scheme of things, I think my greatest benefit from attending the school was being given the tools toward achieving self-confidence. That toolbox is never very far away because I sometimes still need to use it. I have remained best friends with one of my classmates, and we often rehash all the great memories made while attending our alma mater, and the people we met there. After all, my parents’ instincts had been spot-on regarding the decorum of that husband-and-wife team who had come to visit, and the reassuring thoughtfulness they had exuded.