Most folks around Ladue know the affable guy with the white beard and a constant smile as Ray Potter. Truth be told, his name is Horatio “Ray” Potter, and he's been a resident of Ladue longer than the city has been incorporated.
Potter was born in 1933, four years before Ladue was incorporated, on winding Litzsinger Road. A constant community volunteer and watchdog, he served on from 1971 to 1979.
He had a lengthy career in mechanical engineering sales. Along the way he and his wife Regina "Jeannie" Potter and raised a family: two children and two grandchildren. They’ve lived at the same Midpark Lane address for 47 years.
No stopping him
At age 78, Potter shows no signs of slowing his community volunteerism.
For the past 13 years, he’s been a reading mentor to elementary school children in three nearby communities.
His “clients” are in the Ladue, Clayton and Pattonville school districts. Each week, he has a very specific schedule, reading to 14 children--mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds--bringing a little joy, attention and reading knowledge and skills to their lives.
His kids go to school in Ladue at Reed, Conway, Spoede and Old Bonhomme elementary schools. The Clayton readers are at Meramec, Glenridge and Captain elementaries, and he makes a weekly stop at Drummond Elementary in the Pattonville School District.
“What I do is really worthwhile. After all, there’s nothing more important than our kids. They are the future of our country,” Potter said.
He sees being a highly skilled reading volunteer as an upside.
“They cannot cut my pay,” he joked.
What's in it for him?
About the only thing Potter gets in return for his volunteerism is an invitation to the annual luncheon for volunteers in the Older Adults (OASIS) reading program and the smiles that come across the students' faces.
The rewards are more than enough.
“My own children told me often I should have been a teacher. I know just how hard teachers work and how difficult their jobs can be. They have the most important jobs of all,” Potter said.
Some of his kids surprise him as they learn.
“I had a little girl tell me just the other day, ’Mr. Potter, you know there’s a silent “e” on the end of that word.’”
Both Potters stay engaged with their reading buddies.
“Sometimes we have the children and their parents over for dinner. Sometimes we go to their houses. Many of these children come from very underprivileged backgrounds,” Potter said.
Potter enjoys taking the students to movies and relishes all the perks that come with working with eager young learners.
He follows their progress, sometimes attending their sports events, school plays or choral concerts as they grow older. He’s even see a few of his students cross the stage to get their high school diplomas.
Potter has a serious side, too. He attends virtually every Ladue School Board and city council meeting. When he thinks officials are talking about public business behind closed doors, he calls them out. He’s put government officials on notice more than one time.
Back to nature
Though he loves his OASIS work, his work for the Litzsinger Road Ecology Center is just as rewarding for Potter. He and fellow volunteers explore nature with children on 60 acres of wilderness within the Ladue city limits.
Potter is an outdoors sort of guy. If a door needs fixing at the center or brush needs clearing, he’s there; tools in hand to get the job done.
Looking back, Potter said he is proud of his community volunteer work.
“This is all very rewarding and satisfying. It’s very nice just to see these kids advance in their lives.”
He doesn’t ask for anything more.