Archetypes: Jean Cavender

 In Culture, Interviews


A conversation with Jean Cavender, executive director of the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in St. Louis. Under her direction, the center has embraced state-of-the-art technology in an exhibit called “Change Begins With Me: Confronting Hate, Discrimination and Ethnic Conflict,” which turns its lens beyond the Holocaust to examine other genocides and contemporary hate crimes. Ultimately, it challenges audiences, including school children, to avoid indifference and take action when social injustice occurs. During her day-to-day, Cavender oversees exhibition development and the center’s operations, as well as coordinates appearances and presentations with Holocaust survivors who come to St. Louis to share their stories. On April 19, the center will host “Liberation and Survival: Where Do I Go Now?,” featuring testimonies from St. Louis Holocaust survivors, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of liberation.

What is your current frame of mind? I’m very relaxed right now.

When and where are you happiest? When I’m training for a competition. Currently, it’s for the American Lung Association’s “Fight for Air Climb.”

What is your favorite smell? My favorite smell is when I’m cooking a hotdog.

What is one word that describes you? “Affable.”

What did you eat for breakfast today? Hummus and pita. I’ve gotten on the whole Israeli breakfast thing.

Which words do you most overuse? “Actually.”

What is your greatest weakness? Food Network.

What trait do you most admire in others? People who can speak extemporaneously. That’s not one of my gifts and I just always admire that.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Sometimes when I’m really busy, I can get very intense.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Given last year—when I was fighting cancer—that I’m alive and well.

Which living person do you most admire? I have a sister, Connie, who has lupus, and she faces it every day with a lot of grace and good humor.

With which historical figure do you most identify? Eleanor Roosevelt.

If you were to die and come back as a person, who would it be? Meryl Streep.

What is your most treasured possession? I’m not hugely materialistic—perhaps my laptop.

What is your greatest extravagance? I have three leather jackets.

What is your greatest fear? Not being respected.

On what occasion do you lie? When [telling the truth is] not really going to help a situation.

Who are your favorite writers? I have done a lot of work and study in leadership, so Simon Sinek, Robert K. Greenleaf and Stephen Covey.

Which artists do you admire most? I love this local artist, though she’s not local anymore: Her name is Jill Downen and she has shown at Bruno David Gallery.

Where would you like to live? I always thought I’d leave, and I love to visit places, but I love living in St. Louis.

Who are your heroes in real life? Our Holocaust survivors.

If you could have dinner with one person, who would it be? Audrey Hepburn.

What’s something interesting that you just learned? I’m learning to help people find solutions to their problems.

What are you most looking forward to? My birthday.

What is something you still want to learn? I would love to learn to play an instrument. I always find people who are musical very interesting. They just think differently.

What is one thing you want to do before you die? I’d like to visit the Grand Canyon. It’s been on my list of things to do, and I just have never gotten around to it.

If you could say something to your younger self, what would it be? The difficult times give way to the good ones.




Photo credit: Wesley Law

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