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Central West End Association to honor The Royal Vagabonds Foundation

Royal Vagabonds Foundation Inc. members (from left) Bob Rogers, Claude Brown and Willis Young. |photo by Max Bouvatte (click for larger version)

November 01, 2017
The Royal Vagabonds are St. Louis' best kept secret, yet this African-American fraternal organization has made its impact in the community for nearly 90 years.

The Vagabonds' accomplishments will be recognized with the Renaissance Award presented by the Central West End Association (CWEA) at its annual gala on Friday, Dec. 1, at The McPherson.

"When (CWEA President) Kelly Waters told me we were winning the award, I was quite taken aback," said Claude Brown, grand pharaoh of the Royal Vagabonds. "We really never sought out the limelight."

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson recently recognized the group's accomplishments as well.

"During one of our receptions, she told us we've been in the Central West End longer than any other people who resided in our area," Brown said. "Any time we're told that we are the most important organization in this area it means a lot."

Claude Brown, grand pharaoh of the Royal Vagabonds. |photo by Max Bouvatte (click for larger version)
The Royal Vagabonds, which has around 90 professional members, has been housed at a three-story house located at 4315 Westminster Place in the Central West End since 1950. Prior to this location, the businessmen met at 64 Vandeventer Place in the 1930s after traveling to members' homes to convene due to racially-segregated accommodations. Hence the name "Vagabonds." The founders' wives were the inspiration for adding "Royal" for a sense of racial pride.

The social group works steadily with the Central West End Association and exemplifies the latter's mission of "protecting and improving quality of life for residents, enhancing the experience of visitors, and supporting corporations that call the Central West End home."

"We try to be good neighbors and have someone (from the CWEA) sit in (on our meetings) so we'll know what's going on in the community and act accordingly," said Vice Grand Pharaoh Bob Rogers. "We've also been able to maintain our building. It blends very well in this community. It hasn't been easy, but we were able to accomplish that."

The Royal Vagabonds, with 90 professional members, have operated out of this three-story house at 4315 Westminster Place in the Central West End since 1950. | photo by Max Bouvatte (click for larger version)

The organization's charitable works include hosting annual golf tournaments in the St. Louis area since the 1950s. Through its foundation, created in 2003, the group added benefit concerts at The Sheldon and leadership award luncheons at The Renaissance Hotel.

Additionally, the Royal Vagabonds have built several playgrounds in the city, including a state-of-the-art playground at Zion Child Development Center in Ferguson with the Veiled Prophet Foundation. They've given more than $100,000 in scholarships to high school students.

"We've established ourselves as a force in the community, making St. Louis and surrounding areas a better place to be," said Willis Young, a former grand pharaoh. "And, we stand on those principles."

Brown is humbled to receive the Renaissance Award on behalf of the group's legacy.

"Since we first moved here in the 1950s, we've accomplished what our founders wanted to accomplish and that's to gain recognition with a group of black men who live in this town and who really care about this town," he said. "We also brought about diversity, inclusion and change. So, we owe a great deal of gratitude to those who founded this club and we are happy about that."

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