Sunday, August 12, 2001

Boys' school has big believer

Volunteer treasurer key to getting Over-the-Rhine institution off to strong start

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        One word you hear over and over again from Bob Ketterer . . .


        “Our goal at this school is to get kids early and present a rigorous academic program that will keep them too busy to get in trouble.”

        He's talking about St. Peter Claver Latin School for Boys, a kindergarten through second grade program opening Aug. 27 in Old St. Mary's Church, 123 E. 13th St., the heart of Over-the-Rhine and the last place you'd expect to find a school charging $3,200 a year tuition.

[photo] Bob Ketterer is heling to start St. Peter Claver Latin School.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        “It is a lot, isn't it?” says Mr. Ketterer, a 49-year-old unmarried real estate executive. He took on the job as head of development when “I saw something about the school organizing and thought they were crazy. But I investigated anyway and, being Catholic and single with time on my hands, I was looking for something to do. So I jumped in.”

        As if a full-time job with Eden Park Realtors, a house in Clifton and an 8-year-old German shepherd-husky mix named Rusty aren't enough.

Daily quest for funds

        His development post is a volunteer position, as are many jobs at the school. So why is he working day and night scrounging up bucks?

        “I believe in it. What this place will offer is a rigorous program in the Catholic school tradition.”

        That word again. Rigorous.

        “But the constituency here, it's not a group that plans in advance, and it's not a group with a lot of money, so I'm out every day asking for dollars.”

        That means letters to Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce members. Knocking on corporate doors. Looking into every dime that can be gathered from state and city sources without crossing the church-state line. Spending his own money when he decided he needed T-shirts to give donors. Even hitting up friends. He believes that strongly.

        “My first donation was my mom. She said she'd give $10, but I managed to get $15. Then my aunt, an 82-year-old nun who worked in the Kentucky mountains till last year, had some discretionary funds. She sent $200. An elderly lady in Walnut Hills sent $8,040 to fund three scholarships. I was worried sick that she sent her last dime.”

        There have also been larger donations: The Greater Cincinnati Foundation kicked in $10,000. Mr. Ketterer is pretty sure Fifth-Third Bank is good for $25,000.

        “We're two-thirds of the way there in funding the first year,” he says. “I've been shaking them down rigorously for months now.”

        Rigorous again.

        “I love this church. I'm not a parishioner, but I'm thinking of joining. Did you know my great-grandmother died in this church in 1927? She went to confession, then died.

        “And here's another coincidence: St. Peter Claver will open on the 149th anniversary of the opening of the first St. Mary's School.

        “It's the spirit I love here. They only have something like 200 parishioners, but so many of them volunteer,” he said, pointing out that the volunteer who just tidied up the conference room is an 82-year-old neighbor “who's utterly tireless.”

18 enrolled to date

        The people who are going to need to be utterly tireless are the students — there are 18 signed up so far, mostly from the neighborhood, though the school is open to students city-wide. This first year will be kindergarten through second grade with a 30-student capacity. Plans are to add a grade a year through 12th grade, eventually building to a 200-student capacity.

        And yeah, the kids are young, but it doesn't mean the staff will go easy:

        “They'll take Latin, Spanish and English from the beginning, in the true Latin school tradition. The goal is to challenge them, and the past has shown that it works — give them enough to do and they'll succeed. Our intent is that rigorous sort of program that forces success.”

        There goes that rigor again.

        It pops up again seconds later. Discipline? You guessed it: “It's in the Catholic school tradition. Rigorous. We'll have uniforms, too. Traditional Catholic school uniforms.

        “But the people signing up want that. We had an open house not long ago and I helped interview parents. One lady in particular stood out. She said, "I know my son can grow up to be special, but he's going to need help'.”

        Things like that amaze Mr. Ketterer. So does this: St. Peter Claver is a Catholic school in a non-catholic neighborhood that will require religion class and daily Mass, but most students are non-Catholic.

        “It speaks to what people are looking for in their children's education and the reason I raise funds so enthusiastically. People want, need that kind of education. They're committed.”

        That makes his commitment all the stronger: “My official title is treasurer. I'm even learning to keep books. I promised I'd be here a year, but I'll stay more. As long as I'm needed.”

        Into his 50s? “I'm going to be that age, but I can't bring myself to say it. Maybe I'll start counting backwards.”

Parents must volunteer

        Creative math is fine for him, but not for St. Peter students: “This school is going to be tough, there's no question. It's even going to be tough on parents because we require four hours a week volunteer time. Think about that when you're a working single parent.

        “We have one, an LPN (licensed practical nurse) who's going to come in before work to be a hall monitor. Another is going to give up lunch hours to come in and be a cafeteria monitor. We'll work around parents' schedules, but we insist on their involvement.

        “One of the ideas behind this school is that there are too many broken homes, too many fatherless boys, and it always seems to be the boys who get in trouble. That's why we're not co-ed. Our idea is to get the boys early and give them focus and direction through rigorous academic training.”

        Rigorous, again.

       To donate or for information on St. Peter Claver Latin School for Boys, call 929-9164.


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