MY WASHINGTON • Spring 2001

On Behalf of Students


A tireless volunteer and benefactor, alumnus Jerome F. Brasch extends his support to Washington University to provide outstanding opportunities for generations of students.

By Susan Wooleyhan Caine

Never mind the streetcar—Jerry Brasch lived just three doors from the Washington University campus when he enrolled as a 16-year-old freshman in 1941. "Tuition in those days was $250 a year, and I received a half scholarship," he says. "My mother attended the University for a year in 1908, my brother graduated from the School of Business in 1932, and I never even considered going anywhere else."

That small scholarship led to a lifelong commitment. For almost 30 years, Brasch has worked tirelessly on behalf of students at Washington University, supporting scholarships and becoming a Life Eliot Fellow. He endowed the Norvell C. Brasch Memorial Scholarship in 1974 and the David E. Gers Memorial Scholarship in 1980. As chair of the Alumni Board of Governors in 1991-1992, he encouraged all schools at the University to establish annual scholarships like those pioneered by the School of Engineering & Applied Science.

Brasch gives all the credit to his friend William Tao, M.S.M.E. '50 and an emeritus trustee. "In 1974, Bill asked me to join the Century Club. The following year, he asked me to chair the engineering school's scholarship committee. Bill's leadership at the University has been outstanding, and it's hard to say no to a friend whom you respect."

It is characteristic of Brasch that he is more interested in giving credit to the contributions of others. He says, "There are many people who have done a lot more than I have. I am extremely proud to be associated with Washington University and all it has accomplished. The achievements under Dr. Danforth were tremendous, and Chancellor Wrighton has continued that progress with exceptional ability."

Brasch has had quite a bit to do with it, too. One of the University's most dedicated volunteers, he is a longtime member and former chair of the Alumni Board of Governors and has served on the Executive Committee in several positions over the years. As a member and later chair of the Planned Giving Committee, Brasch was involved with establishing the Robert S. Brookings Partners, which honors friends who support the University through trusts, bequests, annuities, or other planned gifts. He was appointed to the Buildings and Grounds Committee of the Board of Trustees in 1994 and was elected a trustee in 1995. Now an emeritus trustee, he serves on the Real Estate and the Buildings and Grounds committees.

Brasch has been a volunteer leader in both the Alliance for Washington University campaign and in the ongoing Campaign for Washington University. He is a member of the Engineering National Council, where he chairs the External Advisory Committee for Electrical Engineering, and has been named to the External Advisory Committee for Biomedical Engineering.

Engineer and Businessman

Brasch originally intended to study business. At the suggestion of his late brother Norvell, B.S.B.A. '32, he decided to study engineering instead, because he loved mathematics. "The curriculum was very different in 1941," Brasch recalls. "There were only five areas of specialization: chemical, civil, industrial, mechanical, and electrical engineering." Brasch credits James McKelvey, a graduate school classmate who later served as dean of the engineering school from 1964-1991, with the School's expansion. "Jim was the smart one," he says with a smile. Years later, Brasch served on the search committee that led to the appointment of Christopher I. Byrnes as dean.

Brasch entered with a class of 235; only 19 graduated four years later as men were called up for military service. In 1944, at age 19 with his degree in hand, Brasch obtained one of the last wartime direct commissions offered by the U.S. Navy and served for two years before returning to Washington University on the G.I. Bill. He earned a master's degree in chemical engineering in 1947.

While he was a graduate student, Brasch began teaching mathematics two nights a week for University College, a job he continued for the next 20 years. He enjoyed working with students, but he says, "It could be a challenge. Once, in 1965, we were discussing inverted catenaries (the type of curve you get when you hold a chain—the St. Louis Arch is an inverted catenary), and I tried to illustrate it by asking the students what shape the Arch was in. Somebody piped up, 'About 95 percent complete.'"

After graduation, Brasch went to work in research and development for Anheuser-Busch. An accomplished musician, he also worked as a church organist and a choir director, and helped his mother and brother run a small mail-order company. He recalls, "I asked if I could buy a third share in the business. My brother said he'd give me a share, but he failed to mention that it was the part with all the work!"

Following a stint in the heating industry, Brasch realized a dream by founding his own company, Brasch Manufacturing Co., Inc., in 1964. "In the early years, I did everything—typing, filing, sales, design, and product development—everything except actually fabricating the products," Brasch remembers. The company was first in the industry to introduce several technical innovations in its lines of electric heating equipment and industrial, commercial, and institutional gas sensors. As president, Brasch continues to run the company from offices in Maryland Heights, Missouri, where he calls his role "chief worrier."

A Lifetime of Service

Brasch is modest about his remarkable record of accomplishment, preferring to talk about the activities of his wife, Rosalie, their four children, and 12 grandchildren. The Brasches make a point of getting to know the students who receive the scholarships they support. In 1996, the School of Engineering honored them with the Dean's Award in recognition of their service to the School, the University, and the community. Jerry Brasch also has received a Washington University Distinguished Alumni Award and a School of Engineering Alumni Achievement Award.

In addition to his dedication to the University, Brasch serves on executive committees for the United Hebrew Congregation and the St. Louis Chapter of the American Society for Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology. He is a past president of his congregation, the St. Louis chapter of Technion, and the St. Louis Electrical Board. He is also a member of the St. Louis Theatre Organ Society.

Music Man

As a young piano student, 14-year-old Jerry Brasch was entranced by the organ at Radio City Music Hall. He took lessons and played professionally until 1954; he has played theatre pipe organs all over the country. Today, he indulges his love of show music with a three-manual Allen Digital-Computer Organ housed at his home in its own acoustically live, 47-foot room with a cathedral ceiling. The organ is equipped with 122 fixed stops, 50 alterable stops, a computer with 60 special sounds, a synthesizer with 334 orchestral and other sounds, antique instruments, including a glockenspiel, a xylophone, and a metal-bar harp, as well as cymbals, a triangle, and a tambourine. It even has an array of bells and whistles—literally.

Currently Brasch is lending his advice to rebuilding the organ in Graham Chapel, a project made possible by the success of the Roland Quest Memorial Challenge. A new organ console will include a synthesizer, which will augment the organ with the sounds of a full orchestra and allow music students to experiment with exciting new compositions. Brasch says, "It will add a wonderful new dimension to concerts in the chapel. I think it will be great for the students."

Throughout his years of selfless dedication to Washington University, that has been Jerry Brasch's greatest contribution—providing opportunities for generations of students.

—Susan Wooleyhan Caine is associate director of Development Communications in Alumni and Development Programs.