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10610 Manchester Road
Kirkwood, MO 63122-1308
Phone: 314-965-7680
Claudine Vignery
In Memory of
Vignery (Decker)
Memorial Candle Tribute From
Bopp Chapel
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Obituary for Claudine Vignery (Decker)

Claudine  Vignery (Decker)
Claudine Vignery passed away April 5, 2019, in St. Louis.

Born Mildred Claudine Decker in Galva, Kansas, Claudine’s performing talents emerged early. After her first stage appearance at age 2, her mother baked pies and took in laundry to pay for tap and ballet lessons. In junior high school, Claudine and a few friends choreographed song-and-dance routines, which they performed on the small-town school, church, and special events circuit.

Claudine’s dance and theatrical ambitions were fired by her passion for the movies—this in the heady days of the Silver Screen, when stars seemed larger than life. She saw every film that came to local theaters, scoured issues of Photoplay, and wrote away for autographed photos. In her teenage diary she confided, “I’ve been reading movie magazines lately and they just inspire you to exercise and diet and dress cute and work hard etc. to keep your figure & your personality.”

Pursuing her interests in drama and literature, Claudine majored in Speech and English at Kansas State Teachers College in Emporia, Kansas. Later she earned a Master’s Degree in Oral Interpretation of Literature from Northwestern University. She landed a plum job teaching Speech and Drama at Chanute Junior College in southeast Kansas, where Gene Vignery had recently taken a reporter’s job with the Chanute Tribune. After hearing from army veterans at the local bar about “the hot young speech teacher,” Gene finagled an interview. Thus began, he later said, “my unbelievable good fortune in meeting, courting, and marrying Claudine.”

After Gene hired on with Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, he and Claudine moved several times before settling in St. Louis. Their three children, Craig, Katie, and Scott, arrived in the 1950s. Claudine read voraciously during these years, from Kafka to the existentialists, and began presenting poetry readings around the St. Louis area. She presented programs to the American Association of University Women as well as to clubs, church groups, and schools. Drawing from poetry of Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Keats, and William Shakespeare, Claudine carefully developed programs specific to each audience.

In 1968, almost on a whim, Claudine applied for a substitute teaching position at Kirkwood High School. She was hired as a fulltime English teacher the following fall. For the next 27 years, she mesmerized and inspired students with her passion for literature. Her instructional tools were content mastery, glamour, charisma, and a deep commitment to students. Scott Bakula, KHS Class of ’73, said “She was the English teacher everyone dreams of having. Young and beautiful, she walked into class quoting Shakespeare—not reading—quoting.” Scott was one of scores of students who took her famously challenging Advanced Placement classes. As Wendy Weyen (Class of ’81) put it, “Mrs. V. is one of those rare teachers who lures you into working harder than you ever imagined, but with tremendous reward. . . . Her pink pens, keen mind, and warm heart inspired us.”

After retiring from the KHS stage in 1996, Claudine taught a series of courses at Kirkwood United Methodist Church that probed spiritual themes in literary works. She assigned readings from favorite authors—John Cheever, Alice Munro, John Updike, Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor—and taught in her signature “Mrs. V” style, giving an introductory lecture and then skillfully leading class discussions.

Gene—Claudine’s best friend, helpmeet, and adored husband—died in 2007, after 57 years of marriage.

In her final years Claudine was lovingly cared for by her son Craig and her daughter-in-law, Debby. They survive her, as do her brother, Arthur Decker; daughter Katie and her husband John Lawyer; grandson Todd Mitchell and his wife Kelly; granddaughter Traci Smith; great-grandchildren Zoe Smith and Easton Mitchell; niece Denise Barker; and nephew Buzzy Decker. She was preceded in death by her son Scott and her granddaughter Jill Nicole.

A memorial will be held on Saturday, May 4, 10 a.m., at Kirkwood United Methodist Church.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association or the American Cancer Society Visit
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