Meet the Honorees

Introducing the 2020 Lift Up St. Louis Honorees:

This month, in an effort dubbed “Lift Up St. Louis”, The Great Forest Park Balloon Race along with its presenting sponsor, PNC Bank, flew hot air balloons across the St. Louis skies in tribute to essential workers, educators, healthcare heroes and those standing up for change.  As part of this effort The Race collaborated with sponsors and partners to identify honorees who exemplify these tribute groups. Through their work to uplift our communities, these leaders represent all of the incredible St. Louisans who have stepped up during trying times – working tirelessly every day to help keep our lives as normal as possible.

Liz Buck. Ph.D., RN.

Maryville University

#LiftUpSTL Honoree
Representing Educators and Healthcare Heroes

For 13 years, Elizabeth Buck, Ph.D., RN., served as the assistant dean for nursing at Maryville University’s Catherine McAuley School of Nursing where she educated thousands of today’s St. Louis Healthcare Heroes. Dr. Buck, an academic administrator since 1998, brings a student-first approach to doctoral specializations in nursing administration, helping nursing professionals advance their careers.


Dr. Buck’s leadership was crucial to one of the most transformational changes that has ever occurred at Maryville University, bringing nursing programs into the online environment. The student response to the quality and timeliness of online graduate Nursing was tremendous. Liz stewarded a comprehensive accreditation effort that earned a 10-year CCNE approval for all Maryville University nursing programs.

Maryville University celebrates Dr. Buck & all Healthcare Heroes for their tremendous work lifting up St. Louis.

Dr. Gwendolyn Diggs

Head Start/Early Head Start, The Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis

#LiftUpSTL Honoree Representing Educators

As Vice President of Head Start & Early Head Start for the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, Dr. Gwendolyn Diggs touches the lives of nearly 1,000 children and their families every day.


A nationally recognized expert and leader in education,
Dr. Diggs enjoyed a distinguished 25-year career in public education before retiring from the Jennings School District and joining the Urban League to lead the organization’s early childhood education initiatives. 
Dr. Diggs’ professional achievements, affiliations and commendations are extensive, but perhaps what stands out most to her admirers is the strong yet compassionate leadership she has demonstrated during times of crisis.

Dr. Diggs has helped St. Louis’ youth endure some of the most difficult events in our region’s history, including the current pandemic. Her decision to trade a retirement of leisure for a role that is helping prepare children for success in school and life illustrates just how much she cares for our region’s children and families.

From Michael Scully, PNC regional president for St. Louis:


“Early childhood educators play an impactful role in children’s lives ― and have gone above and beyond to help children learn and thrive amidst this time of change and disruption. That’s why the PNC Bank balloon flies in tribute to these remarkable individuals. Exemplifying the selflessness, care and compassion of our region’s early childhood educators is Dr. Gwendolyn Diggs. Her leadership of the Urban League’s early childhood education programs is helping prepare children for kindergarten and providing life-changing assistance to their families.”

PNC Bank is proud to honor Dr. Diggs and celebrates all of the educators throughout our area. By lifting up the children of St. Louis, these educators are lifting up our future.

FOCUS St. Louis

#LiftUpSTL Honoree Representing
Those Standing Up for Change

FOCUS St. Louis® is the region’s premier civic leadership organization. FOCUS prepares a diverse base of leaders to work cooperatively for a thriving St. Louis region through their experience-based leadership training, civic issue education and public engagement initiatives.


As a national leader in civic leadership education, FOCUS helps people understand our region and build their capacity to lead in their organizations and communities.


Purina is proud to recognize FOCUS St. Louis as a Lift Up St. Louis – Standing Up for Change nominee. As a long-time supporter of FOCUS St. Louis, we’ve seen first-hand the critical role their leadership training plays in helping make St. Louis a better, and more equitable, place to live, work and play.

- Kim Beardslee, Strategist, Community Affairs, Nestlé Purina PetCare Company


Robert Gardner

St. Louis Children's Hospital

#LiftUpSTL Honoree Representing Essential Workers

Children’s Hospital president Trish Lollo nominated Gardner to represent the hospital as someone who lifts up St. Louis because, through his dedication to his job and compassion for others, he embodies the mission of Children’s, “doing what is right for kids.”

Gardner joined the Children’s public safety department in July of 2019 and underwent extensive training aimed at ensuring a safe and secure environment for hospital staff, patients, and their families. But he goes above and beyond his daily duties as a security officer, lifting up the spirits of those he meets at the hospital through his compassion and empathy.


“As a representative of the hospital, I try to show each child and family member that I really care about them, understand what they’re going through, and assure them that we won’t let them down,” he says.


Gardner draws upon his own experience as a parent to provide compassion and understanding. For the past 20 years he has been coming to Children’s for the treatment and cure of his son’s sickle cell disease. He understands the anguish, frustration, and uncertainty that parents often feel over their child’s illness, and tries to comfort them.


“I put myself in their shoes,” he says. “I wake up each day thankful for the opportunity to represent Children’s and make a difference in their lives.”

Kim Haegele

Commissioner of Parks,
City of St. Louis Parks Department

#LiftUpSTL Honoree Representing Essential Workers

Forest Park and all of our city parks serve and anchor all our city neighborhoods and can be a quiet oasis in the heart of the city.

As Commissioner of Parks, Kim Haegele continues to do outstanding work in managing her park maintenance operations City-wide with an emphasis on safety especially since the pandemic struck in mid-March. She has been adept at overseeing all aspects related to City parks and making a concerted effort with her staff to work safely and accomplish the associated high volume of daily work. Under her leadership, in excess of $25M was spent on completed capital projects in City parks.


Kim serves as representative of all of the invaluable essential workers throughout the St. Louis area that help keep our parks beautiful and fun for all!

“The City of St. Louis is very proud of its 110 parks. Our dedicated staff members in the Parks Division work as an excellent team and they strive to keep our parks well-maintained to ensure all are enjoyable destinations for our park visitors. Kim is a proven and respected leader in the City of St. Louis. She is also a true example of a dedicated individual who puts our citizens first with the services her division provides on a daily basis. It is an honor to work directly with Kim and she is certainly deserving of this distinguished honor and recognition.”

- Greg Hayes, Director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry

Danielle Kain

Youth of the Year,
Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis

#LiftUpSTL Honoree Representing
Those Standing Up for Change

Danielle Kain is a leader who inspires her peers & helps to Lift Up St. Louis through her work with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis. She is being honored as a representation of all of the inspiring youth across our area who stand up for change and help us all look toward the future with hope!


Danielle is a 17-year-old senior at MICDS and eight-year member of the Ferguson Middle School Club. Danielle plans to become an Aerospace Engineer. Most days at the Club you can find Danielle engaged in the Music Studio, or immersed in robotics or other STEM programming.


Danielle was recognized as the 2020 Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis Youth of the Year - the highest honor a Boys & Girls Club member can receive, and is the signature national youth recognition program that celebrates the recipient’s contributions to their family, school, community, and their Boys & Girls Club.


Danielle says the Club has been a constant source of support throughout her journey.


During her time at the Club she has won the BGCA Hank Aaron Scholarship Award, which she chose to use to purchase STEM materials and equipment to provide sessions for elementary, middle, and high school Club members. She participated as a teen panelist at Harris Stowe State University’s Spark the Mind Advancing the Agenda for African Americans in STEM event, which led to her unforgettable personal meeting of Aprille Ericsson, current aerospace engineer for NASA; competed for the nationwide 2019 STEP Ahead Awards and won 1st Place in the high school division and also received the Joan Ellyn Silber Award for Volunteerism and Leadership. Danielle has shared her Boys & Girls Club experiences on television and at events throughout the region.

Heather Spindler

Eldercare Specialist,
St. Andrews Charitable Foundation

#LiftUpSTL Honoree Representing 

Essential Workers and HealthCare Heroes

For more than 20 years, Heather Spindler has worked with older adults and their families to help them feel safe, comfortable and cared for. Heather brings positivity and compassion to low-income seniors who are often forgotten, vulnerable and underserved.


Since the start of the pandemic, she has made hundreds of health and wellness calls , making sure these seniors have their needs met and as high-risk induvial, taking the time to explain what precautions to take to stay healthy and safe, putting their minds at ease.


In addition to her direct support of our seniors, Heather went above and beyond, overseeing St. Andrew’s free grocery order and delivery program, which has been critical in helping these seniors find the basic items they desperately need. These are individuals who daily share with Heather that they are afraid to go outside because of potential coronavirus exposure, and worried about the rising cost of groceries. For many, Heather may be the only human contact they have for days. We’ve heard from several of these seniors about how grateful they are that she cares for them—providing resources, comfort and support.


By lifting up the seniors of St. Louis, Heather is ensuring they’re not forgotten.

© 2020 By The Great Forest Park Balloon Race.                           Questions? Contact or (314) 518-4283