ALUMNI PROFILES — Summer 2004
   

 
Tobacconist Revitalizes Historic Treasure In the 1970s, John Dengler, Certificate in Retailing '52, moved his family business to South Main Street in St. Charles, Missouri; he's been helping the area's rebirth ever since.

The people of St. Charles, Missouri, consider John Dengler a local treasure. Although he's only lived there since 1980, few people have contributed more to this Missouri riverside community.

The son of a St. Louis tobacconist (also named John Dengler), Dengler planned to study law. While still in high school, he began taking classes in prelaw at Washington University. But war interrupted his studies, and in 1943, at the age of 18, he joined the military, serving in France and Germany with the U.S. Army's 70th Trailblazer Division. His father died while he was away, and his aunt took over running the family business.

"When I got home in 1945, my aunt and my mother both wanted me to continue my prelaw studies and become a lawyer," Dengler says, "but I didn't feel they should be supporting me, so I went to work and took retailing classes at night. I thought all my day school credits would carry over, but most didn't. So, even with going five nights a week, it took me a few years to finish."

He finished in 1952, when he received a certificate in retailing from University College. He credits the University for giving him a strong foundation in sales promotion and marketing—and for introducing him to his wife, Tru.

"I met my wife in class," Dengler says with a smile. "I saw her sitting on a stool, and I thought to myself, 'Now there's a girl I'd like to marry.' I know it sounds silly, but it really was love at first sight."

With school completed and a new partner in life, Dengler continued managing the family business. Founded in 1917, John Dengler Tobacconists is one of the country's oldest tobacco shops under continuous family ownership. Dengler was director of the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America from 1961-80, and his company was honored in 1962 with the first presentation of the Pipe and Tobacco Council's prestigious Quality Retailer Award.

In the 1970s, Dengler sold his three St. Louis tobacco stores and opened one in St. Charles. At first, Dengler's was one of only 17 shops on St. Charles' dilapidated South Main Street. Serving on and chairing numerous boards, including the South Main Preservation Society and the local historical society, Dengler has been instrumental in revitalizing the now thriving historic district.

But Dengler wanted to enhance the city's cultural programs, as well.

Among his most notable contributions is the annual Lewis and Clark Heritage Days festival, now in its 26th year and one of 15 National Signature Events in the country's Lewis and Clark bicentennial commemoration. Each May, the event draws participants from across the country and hosts the largest fife and drum muster west of the Mississippi. In 1992, Dengler founded the all-youth Lewis and Clark Fife and Drum Corps, now the official fife and drum corps for the state of Missouri. He also serves on the board of the Discovery Expedition of St. Charles—official re-enactors (with full-size replica boats) of the national Lewis and Clark bicentennial—and of the Lewis & Clark Boat House and Nature Center, a designated site on the Lewis and Clark National Heritage Trail.

For his contributions, Dengler was awarded a Lifetime Distinguished Service Award in 1994 by the St. Charles Chamber of Commerce and received the state's first and only Missouri Heritage Award in 1995.

At 79, Dengler shows no signs of slowing down. He continues to serve on a variety of boards and committees and can be found most days in his aromatic and nostalgic tobacco shop, greeting his customers with a friendly smile.

—Terri McClain

 


World's Fair Music Attracts Historian Music alumnus Richard Schwartz, M.M. '75, Ph.D. '82, and his wife, Iris, wrote the book on music performed at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

When we think of the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, we conjure up images ranging from children eating ice cream cones and riding the giant Ferris wheel to the movie images of Judy Garland singing "Meet Me in St. Louis" and uttering the now-famous last line: "I can't believe it. Right here where we live. Right here in St. Louis!"

But for Richard Schwartz, a musician, music historian, and scholar on concert and brass bands, no imagined scene holds quite as much pull or charm as May 7, 1904.

"On that particular day practically all the major cornet soloists played something, spread out throughout the day with different bands," says Schwartz, a native St. Louisan who is now an associate professor of music at Virginia State University. "Opening day might be the obvious favorite choice for everybody else, but the 7th of May actually choked me up when I saw the official program for the day—when I saw all those great names in print."

Schwartz can quickly rattle off the names of those musicians, names perhaps forgotten by all but their families, names like Llewellyn, Clarke, Rogers, Bellstedt, and Kryl. In fact, given a little time Schwartz could tell you the name of every band as well as every piece of music—more than 12,000 compositions—that was performed during the Fair's 184-day run. He wrote the book on it.

Schwartz spent more than three years researching and compiling Bands at the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904: Information, Photographs and Database, a highly documented work that contains more than 450 pages of information about the bands and music at the St. Louis World's Fair, including some rare color photos. Luckily, he didn't have to work alone. His collaborator on the project is his wife, Iris J. Schwartz, also a St. Louis native and also a musician who is a performer on the flute and piccolo. She also is the conductor of several wind ensembles in the Richmond, Virginia, area where the couple resides.

The book, completed to coincide with the centennial of the Fair this year, even includes specifics about soloists, instruments, and the place, date, and time of the performances. It has already been picked up by a number of research libraries, and Schwartz has received inquiries from band directors across the country.

"Concert and brass bands were the central vehicle for music at the Fair," says Schwartz, a clarinetist and coronetist who attended graduate school at Washington University before beginning his 30-year career as a performer, composer, arranger, conductor, soloist, and scholar. "Of the approximately $450,000 budgeted for music for the Fair, the bands were provided with 60 percent of that money, which was an incredible amount of money for that time period."

Music at the Fair ran the gamut of musical influences, ranging from the European compositions of Wagner and Liszt to popular American music that included Sousa marches, Dixieland, cakewalks, and even a few of the then-newfangled ragtime pieces by the likes of Scott Joplin. The job of compiling a near-definitive account of all the music had never been attempted, and Richard and Iris Schwartz liked that kind of challenge.

"We wanted to unearth the names of the lesser-known bands and rediscover the names of musicians who played there, so their families could rediscover a part of their own family history," says Schwartz. "We wanted to do service and justice to all the great band musicians who were present at the Fair."

Mission accomplished.

—Steve Givens

 


1904 Olympic Spirit Lives On June Wuest Becht, M.A. '79, is an Olympic historian; she stands at the gate to Francis Field, one venue of the 1904 Olympian Games.

On the centennial of the University's hosting the first Olympian Games in the Western Hemisphere, it is appropriate to note that one of the University's own, June Wuest Becht, excels at telling the Games' story. And Becht's Olympic knowledge does not end with 1904, she also is an expert on women Olympic athletes in the 20th century.

An athlete, coach, athletic director, and university physical education faculty member earlier in her career, Becht has devoted the past 25 years to collecting historical anecdotes about the Olympics and sharing them, as writer and lecturer, with audiences worldwide. At age 74, she's still at it: taking part in the 2004 ceremonial passage of the Olympic Torch through St. Louis in June; the women's marathon trials, which began in Francis Field in April; and the diving trials in St. Peters, Missouri, in June.

"Having the 2004 women's marathon trials start at Francis Field was especially exciting—since the actual marathon, which was the most important event of the 1904 Games, started there," Becht says.

"The two most important venues of the 1904 Olympic Games are still standing today on the Hilltop Campus: Francis Gym and Francis Field, both named after David R. Francis (A.B. 1870, LL.D. 1905, and president of the World's Fair) on the 10th anniversary of the Fair. The University has done a great job of preserving those venues."

The Hilltop Campus served as a starting point for Becht, M.A. '79, as well. In 1979, while teaching in the physical education department, she presented a paper at an academic conference in New Orleans. There she met officials of the U.S. Olympic Academy, who encouraged her to write about the 1904 Olympic Games. Becht recalls, "I just assumed that dozens of books had already been written about the games, but when I researched it, I found only one; it was printed in 1905 and covered just the track and field events."

She was off and running.

Since then, she has published more than 200 articles, delivered dozens of lectures for the Missouri Historical Society and Missouri Humanities Council, and has written the definitive text (not yet published) on women Olympic athletes: America's Golden Girls: The Early Years 1900-1980, which afforded her personal contact with every female U.S. gold medal winner from 1900 through 1980.

In 2000, the Women's Sports Network honored her with the St. Louis Women's Sports Achievement Award.

Remembering the many details of her rich career, Becht grows animated when talking about her 1988 visit to Olympia, Greece, site of the ancient games. "The International Olympic Academy met on the grounds adjacent to the ancient ruins. I was one of five U.S. delegates. My paper had been accepted for one of the education sessions, but instead of just reading the paper, I delivered a presentation and showed my slides of St. Louis in 1904. It was projected on a screen that was huge—at least 12 feet tall."

Becht puts her visit in a broader context, as well: "Women didn't participate in the ancient games in Olympia. They weren't even allowed to watch. In fact, women who dared to watch were thrown off a mountain."

Despite women's early exclusion from the competition, Becht observes, "During the last century, the Olympic Games have been the best stage for women athletes who are achieving at an elite level."

If historian Becht has anything to say about it, the recognition that women athletes have achieved in the Olympics will survive well into the future.

—Jan Niehaus, M.S.W. '80