Citizens of Character to be honored in Belleville

When Mary Kloess began teaching in 1974 at Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville, Althoff and other high school in the area did not offer sports programs for girls.

But that all changed when Kloess was hired to coach the first girls tennis, volleyball, basketball, track and softball teams at Althoff.

For her pioneering efforts in coaching and over 42 years of teaching at Althoff, Kloess will be honored on Tuesday during the 9th Annual Mary McHugh Citizens of Character dinner hosted by the Belleville Achieves Strength in Character, or BASIC, Initiative. Along with Kloess, 11 others will receive Citizens of Character awards at the dinner at Fischer’s Restaurant in Belleville.

Kloess, 64, graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 1974 and then headed to Althoff, where she still works.

“It was definitely a challenge but it was very exciting because the girls had wanted something for them for so long,” Kloess said of getting the Althoff girls sports program established. “It was very exciting to be in on the ground floor of that and give them an opportunity to compete.

“I always wanted to coach. I played sports when I was younger. That was always my dream. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Kloess is retired from coaching at Althoff but teaches business and drivers education classes on a part-time basis.

Kloess and her husband, Tom, have a son and daughter who followed in Kloess’ footsteps.

Dan Kloess teaches at Belleville East High School and is an assistant coach for the girls volleyball team at Freeburg High School while Katie Kramkowski teaches at Douglas School in Belleville but has stopped coaching. They both teach special education classes and their spouses are teachers.

The BASIC Initiative released the following information about why the group selected the 11 other recipients:

Richard Bass

Bass is the associate principal at Belleville West High School. He is credited with helping to create a culture of mutual respect and personal responsibility with his students. He started a mentoring program to support freshmen students in the transition to high school. He instills in his students a sense of service to the community through participation in the Sickle Cell Walk each September.

Barb Ducey

Ducey serves as president of the Signal Hill Neighborhood Association. Under her leadership for more than two decades, the association has raised over $25,000 for landscaping in Signal Hill Park. The group sponsors Holiday on the Boulevard and the Scarecrow Jamboree. In September, the group was out in force for the inaugural Belleville Main Street Marathon. Ducey also serves on the Signal Hill School District board and the board of the Illinois Conservation Foundation.

Barb Hohlt

Hohlt is executive director of the St. Clair County Health Department. She has given hundreds of hours of volunteer service to the community and demonstrates compassion and empathy for all of our residents, especially children, those with special needs and those with physical disabilities. Hohlt embodies honesty, integrity and caring in all aspects of her life, the committee said.

Doug Jones

Jones was a Belleville police officer for 27 years and continues to serve as an attendance officer for Belleville schools. He helps parents get their children to and from school when they lack transportation, helps sick students get home from school, and offers encouragement and advice to students on the way to in-school suspension. He is a volunteer basketball coach at Notre Dame Academy and a volunteer at Tour de Belleville.

Drew Kramer

As a recently retired pastor, the group said, Kramer spent countless hours showing kindness to those he served. It didn’t matter if a family was experiencing the sorrow associated with death or the joy associated with a blessed event, Kramer made the occasion meaningful. He lives his life with great conviction and does not waiver from an idea or standard that he feels is right or just.

Adrianne Neville

After her daughter, Eden Elizabeth, died less than a month after she was born, Neville and her husband, Jared, formed Eden’s Army, which has raised over $100,000 to help families at the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. She spearheads blood drives at Whiteside Middle School, where she also teaches. The Nevilles do all this while raising Rhett, Mackin, Maryn and Anna.

Laura Sauerwein

Sauerwein works in the Bellevile East High School class office. She has the unique ability to make every student feel like a star, the committee said. Students stop by just to get a “Good Morning, Sweetie!” from Sauerwein. She also is a photographer and donates her time and resources to ensure that students who wouldn’t otherwise be pictured are able to have senior pictures.

Sharon Strasbaugh

Strasbaugh has worked for the city of Belleville for more than a decade. Sharon works tirelessly on any job that she is tasked with, the group said. This was especially evident in her work with the September 11 Memorial Walkway. Almost six years ago, Sharon began working with a group of dedicated volunteers to make this memorial a reality. Work was completed this fall on the first phase of the memorial at the intersection of South Illinois Street and Illinois 15.

Jenni Swartz

Swartz has worked and served children in Belleville for 10 years as the volunteer district coordinator for the Kids for Christ ministry which offers after school programs for children. She coordinates the after school programs offered at Union, Franklin, Henry Raab, and Whiteside schools. She also coordinates the program at Hoyleton Ministries. Swartz is a mentor to many and shows abundant love and kindness to all, the BASIC organization said.

Tom Wade

Wade is described as a motivator, peacemaker and workhorse. Be it his church, motivating college students, the Shriners, taking children to the hospital in St. Louis, feeding the hungry, organizing and leading the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, raising money for charitable groups, or assisting the disadvantaged with housing, Wade is there as both a leader and a follower, BASIC said. He also leads the Men’s Group at his church, Union United Methodist Church.

Charlie Woodford

Woodford is a friend of Belleville East High School, the greater community and the United States of America, the group said. Woodford is a World War II veteran who is active in the academic and athletic lives of the Belleville East Lancers. He founded the Belleville East Athletic Booster Club in 1973 and continues to be an active member. He is a charter member of the Belleville East High School Wall of Fame. He educates students by sharing his World War II experiences with students learning U.S. History.

Want to go?

  • What: 9th Annual Mary McHugh Citizens of Character dinner
  • When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
  • Where: Fischer’s Restaurant, 2100 W. Main St., Belleville
  • Cost: $40 per person, $320 for table of eight
  • Details: 618-222-8273 or
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