Harry Rediger wins Southeast Missourian's Spirit of America Award

Friday, July 3, 2009
Harry Rediger is the recipient of this year's Spirit of America Award. (Elizabeth Dodd)

When Harry Rediger was a boy growing up in a small Nebraska town, he spent a lot of time in his father's hardware shop. There's no doubt he learned all about tools and how to build things.

When Rediger became a young man, he decided against going into the hardware business. He instead followed a path led by James Cash Penney. Along the way, Rediger developed tools of a different kind. By the time he moved to Cape Girardeau in 1977 as manager for the J.C. Penney store here, he was ready to help build and shape the town he would call home for the rest of his life.

Rediger, 71, was voted this year's Southeast Missourian Spirit of America Award winner. Rediger was nominated by Wayne Smith at Saint Francis Medical Center, which will receive the $1,000 prize for the nominating party.

Rediger and his wife, Fran, have been married for 51 years. He has four grown children, Cindy Propst, Kathy Selacek, Dr. Doug Rediger and Michelle Burris. He has six grandchildren.

He has touched the education of thousands, serving on the public school board as well as serving in several capacities for Southeast Missouri State University. He has worked on improving health care in the region, helping Saint Francis grow over the past 16 years, both as past chairman of the board and member of the board of directors. He worked with children, being active with the Girl Scouts as his daughters grew up in Cape Girardeau. He also worked with social agencies, including the Red Cross and the United Way. He helped shape the city's landscape by serving many years on the city's planning and zoning board.

And he didn't just serve in those areas. He often served in leadership roles.

"Harry demonstrates daily what heart, vision and purpose is all about through his tireless efforts and involvements," wrote Smith in his Spirit of America nomination. "... Harry Rediger's passion is contagious to others around him, and he will continue to leave footprints on our community. Cape Girardeau is incredibly fortunate to have Harry as a devoted leader and advocate for improving and enhancing the quality of life for many years to come."

After he graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan University, Rediger and his young family bounced around to several towns and J.C. Penney stores. He was on the road a lot for several years and endured moves every two or three years until he was offered the store manager position in Cape Girardeau. He had lived in larger cities such as Dallas and Kansas City, and some closer to the size of Cape Girardeau. Originally, he had assumed the City of Roses, as Cape Girardeau was known then, would be another short stay. But he grew to love the place and the people.

'Best of both worlds'

He remembers a job offer that would have been another step up the corporate ladder, another move. He remembers a conversation he had with his wife.

"'Fran, what are we trying to do, inflate our egos?'" he said at the time. "We've got the best of both worlds here."

Rediger's children were growing up, and he didn't think he could find a better place to raise them.

With four children to raise and a long list of social roles -- including an active membership with Centenary United Methodist Church -- Rediger has been a busy man over the years.

"It probably didn't take as much time as it looks," he said, when the list of his activities was read back to him. He said he enjoys volunteer work and being active in the community. "This city has done so much for myself and my family. Cape Girardeau just means so much to us."

According to Dennis Marchi, the Schnucks store manager who has worked closely with Rediger on several boards, Rediger is a mentor to many people in this town, including himself.

"The city wouldn't be what it is today without Harry Rediger," Marchi said. "He works through difficult problems and brings out the facts."

Marchi said Rediger has a certain charisma that brings a confident, calming presence to the room. He said Rediger rarely gets upset. Marchi said Rediger is one who will listen to ideas and offer solutions or better ways of doing things, and give reasons why.

Pastor Jeff Long agreed.

At Centenary, Rediger is the treasurer and highly regarded for his financial acumen.

When financial matters come up, "we look at Harry and say 'Harry, what do you think?' And if Harry thinks it's OK, it's OK. He's level-headed, experienced and knowledgeable."

Long said Rediger keeps an open mind, even when he doesn't think an idea is a good one. He'll let the process play out and facts be presented before openly opposing a project.

Rediger said the nomination for the award was a surprise to him. He got word of the award while preparing to tee off on the first hole of a round of golf. He jokingly blamed the news of the award for his bad tee shot.

Rediger continues to serve and volunteer. But he and his wife make time to do a lot of traveling these days. He said he enjoys retirement but that he always likes to return to his home in Cape Girardeau.

"Communities could not thrive without individuals who volunteer to serve on its civic and nonprofit boards and committees," said Jon K. Rust, publisher of the Southeast Missourian. "But merely showing up is one thing; Harry invests time and thought into his responsibilities, with only one goal: making the community a better place for everyone. And he gets results."

Rust will present the award to Rediger at 6:30 p.m. today at the Arena grandstand as part of a weekend Independence Day celebration hosted by the Joint Veterans' Council.

bmiller@semissourian.com

388-3625

About Harry Rediger

Over the years, Rediger has been involved in the following organizations:

Chairman, board of directors at Saint Francis Medical Center

Chairman of the finance committee and church council at Centenary Methodist Church

Missouri East Conference of the Methodist Church

Cape Girardeau School Board

Area industrial recruitment association

Chamber of commerce, past chairman of the board, university relations, retail steering committee, economic development committee Rush H. Limbaugh award

Greater Cape Development Corporation

Cape County mental health tax board

Cape West Rotary Club

City planning and zoning commission

Cape County chapter of the American Red Cross

Girl Scouts

Project Partnership

Southeast Missouri State University foundation, booster club, Copper Dome Society, president's council member

United Way past president of the board, emergency and shelter fund, campaign chairman, Lorimier Society

WANT TO GO?The Southeast Missourian Spirit of America award will be presented tonight as part of the Independence Day Celebration weekend sponsored by the Joint Veterans' Council.

When: 6:30 p.m. today

Where: Arena grandstand, Arena Park

ABOUT THE SPIRIT OF AMERICA AWARD:

The award, established in 2003, goes to the person who exemplifies the character and community service that helps shape America. Last year's winner was Jane Randol Jackson, who was instrumental in developing the Red House Interpretive Center in downtown Cape Girardeau.

PAST WINNERS:

2003 John "Doc" Yallaly

2004 Dr. Dan Cotner

2005 Melvin Gateley

2006 Neal Edwards

2007 James Harnes Sr.

2008 Jane Randol Jackson

Pertinent address:

410 Kiwanis Drive, Cape Girardeau

Map of pertinent addresses

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