Nick Ragone, EVP and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Ascension, shares his family’s story of how they fell in love with St. Louis and how he’s become an unofficial ambassador for the city.
All it took was one immersive weekend at places like Grant’s Farm, the Saint Louis Zoo, the Gateway Arch, and restaurants on The Hill for us to fall hard for St. Louis. And after we moved here, the more we discovered, the more we found to love. Our kids’ school. The sports. The food. I’m Italian and my wife is Chinese, and we are just in awe of the restaurants here that speak to our hearts through our stomachs.
We’re big believers that you can’t just live in a community and take from it; you need to give back. So my wife and I joined boards and volunteered. I started a chess nonprofit in North St. Louis County in collaboration with the St. Louis Chess Club and inaugurated the Ascension Charity Classic PGA golf tournament at Norwood Hills Country Club.
On the East Coast, St. Louisans have a reputation for working hard and being valuable employees, but they tend not to stick around out there. Now I understand why. I’m humbled to be able to contribute to all the things that are wonderful about this region through my energy and optimism.
I tell people all the time that when you choose to live somewhere, you love it even more. Because I’m not from here, I have a different lens for viewing all the things that make St. Louis special. I’ve become an unofficial brand ambassador for the region—it’s the best-kept secret in the United States. Through my vocation as a marketing professional, I have a great platform to share that message.
When I’m not working, my avocation is writing books about big-stakes decision-making. I’m especially passionate about the study of leadership at the presidential level. I look at how and why presidents made big, bold decisions—like Theodore Roosevelt and the Panama Canal or Lyndon Johnson and civil rights. I study the things that motivate and inspire people to take on big challenges.
I apply what I’ve learned authoring those books to day-to-day life by thinking about how to motivate and inspire stakeholders to achieve big things locally. In St. Louis, we need bold, forward-looking leadership that doesn’t turn a blind eye to challenges but tackles them with hope, optimism, and solutions.
I’m a big believer that as a region, we’re only as strong as all the communities within it. It’s incumbent upon all of us to make each community strong for all its residents, because we’re competing with other strong metro areas—and it’s an intense competition—for jobs, young people, investment, and tourism.
The key is public-private partnerships between local government, businesses, and nonprofit. We need to come together and work toward the same goals without getting distracted. We all have the right intentions. We just need to get aligned on a couple of critical things to flourish.
First, we need to have an equitable and inclusive growth that fosters economic opportunity for everyone. Toward this goal, I’ve championed things like the Ascension Charity Classic, which raised more than $2.5 million in 2.5 years for the Urban League and other nonprofits.
While the money is important, I’m even more excited about how the tournament has played out as a love letter to the St. Louis region that’s live on the Golf Channel for three days, eight hours a day. It reintroduces St. Louis to the rest of the country—because we don’t always put our best foot forward in the news.
All three of these goals are interlinked and reinforce each other—and that’s key. We have to keep trying to create things in a very focused way, not trying to boil the ocean. If we can’t focus, we’re going to lose ground to other cities. I want to make sure St. Louis doesn’t just survive but flourishes.
My children were both very enthusiastic about moving to St. Louis a decade ago. Now my son is a freshman at the University of Chicago, but he’s already talking about his life after graduation and his plans to move back to St. Louis. I love that his roots here go deep, and I hope every other newcomer also finds their connection to this wonderful region I’m proud to call home.
Nick Ragone, EVP and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Ascension