Hubert Meyer was the oldest of nine children. He never married, instead helping his parents rear his brothers and sisters in a small house on South Broadway near Jefferson Barracks after he returned from a stint in the Army during World War II.
He got a job as a purchasing agent at what was then Mound City Candy Co., helping his financially strapped family. When his brothers and sisters got birthday and Christmas gifts, they were usually purchased by Meyer, but he put “From Mom and Dad” on the cards.
“The family never had any money to speak of,” said Meyer’s nephew, Dennis Meyer.
St. Andrew Catholic Church in the Lemay area of St. Louis County paid for the Meyer children to attend classes at the parish school because the family was too poor, he said.
Hubert Meyer, known as Herb by family and friends, continued living in the house after his parents died and his siblings had long moved on, getting married and having children of their own.
On Dec. 8, 2012, at the age of 90, Hubert died of various health problems related to his age. Dennis, who worked for 40 years as a CPA and had done his uncle’s taxes for years, was named executor of his estate.
Hubert’s will was clear: Distribute my assets — $2.8 million — to my church, my family, my “guardian angel” (a neighbor lady) and to 14 organizations, most of them whose work focuses on children and the poor. They included the Salvation Army, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities, Make-a-Wish Foundation of Missouri, Smile Train, Feed My People, Habitat for Humanity, Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and the 100 Neediest Cases campaign.
The stories of the region’s poor resonated with Hubert Meyer. He saw the same struggles in his family.
“I can tell you that if it was 1930 and you were sitting here across the table from my grandparents, they would be part of the 100 Neediest campaign,” Dennis Meyer said.
The list also included USO of Missouri, an organization that helped Hubert and his brothers Bill and Adolph during their tours of duty. Hubert served just under three years in the Army. His discharge papers listed him as a radio operator, but he told his family he ran wire for radio communications.
Dennis Meyer’s father, Bill, turned 90 last month and has continued the Monday afternoon pinochle games that his brother, Hubert, used to be a part of. The games also include Hubert’s brother Frank and sister Shirley.
Hubert’s parents, Charles and Mary Meyer, lived on a farm in Perryville, Mo. But living off the land was a hard way to make a living for a growing young family. In the late 1920s or early ’30s, they moved to the St. Louis area. In 1951, they bought the house in the 9900 block of South Broadway.
Charles became a truck driver, then later a custodian at a bank. Mary kept busy raising the large German Catholic family.
As Hubert spent decades living alone in the house that sold last year for $30,000, some of his family members thought of him as a hoarder. He preferred the term “collector.” Either way, it took the family about 3½ months to prepare the house for sale.
“It was a sifting process,” Dennis said. “My grandmother saved newspapers with headlines about the war. Obviously with three sons in the war, she kept up with what was going on.”
And a lot of memories were revisited, Dennis said. Hubert’s brothers would come by and talk about a piece of furniture or tool that remained in the house.
Hubert didn’t throw much away, but he was organized, Dennis said.
“Everything in the fridge and freezer he had dated,” Dennis said. “There were frozen dinners from the late 1970s, covered with ice.”
And as Hubert’s health began to decline, he told family members where to find money in the house.
“‘There is a surprise under the sink in a coffee can if you look for it.’ He probably had hundreds of dollars stashed around the house,” Dennis said.
Hubert did not like things to go to waste. He would eat what he wanted from the Meals on Wheels delivered to him twice a day, then take the aluminum tray outside, where a groundhog would emerge from under the garage and lick it clean.
Hubert also was a voracious reader.
He had folders of newspaper clippings. One for recipes. Another for horoscopes. One for crossword puzzles that he hoped to someday solve.
And clippings of cases from the 100 Neediest campaign.
YEARS OF GIVING
Hubert had given to the campaign for years — $25 annually since at least 2004. That’s when electronic record keeping was first used by the United Way of Greater St. Louis, which runs the campaign in partnership with the Post-Dispatch. The average donation to the 100 Neediest Campaign is $225.
The check that arrived at the United Way offices on Jan. 9 from Hubert Meyer’s account was for $81,576 — the same amount given to the 13 other charities Hubert mentioned in his will.
In each case, Dennis Meyer sent the check with the message “at Herb’s request” written in the memo line.
“For us, this is the gift of a lifetime,” said Kate Fotenos, a spokeswoman for Make-a-Wish Foundation of Missouri. “This is an ordinary individual who gave an extraordinary gift. This will help grant nearly 20 wishes.”
Like some of the other agencies that received a windfall from Meyer, Make-a-Wish had no idea the gift was coming and no record of Meyer donating previously.
“It’s amazing the humility that is out there, and the generosity,” said John Foppe, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. “You find that many times, that the people who give are very unassuming, humble people.”
The funds will be used for a variety of services the agency offers, including helping pay utility and medical bills, Foppe said.
Dennis Meyer said his uncle had been sending money — $10 to $20 a pop — to various charities for several years.
Hubert kept plastic bags stuffed with solicitations for money from charities. It’s possible he made his decisions based on some of the mailings he received, Dennis said.
Dennis said he was aware that his uncle invested in stock, but he had no idea the extent.
“The heights to which it had grown astounded me,” the nephew said. “I talked to his stockbroker after he died. He did his own research and very seldom followed his stockbroker’s advice.”
His strategy obviously paid off. He invested in Anheuser-Busch, which cashed out to stockholders when the company was purchased by InBev. And he invested in Ameren and Altria, a tobacco company.
Beyond the charities, which each got more than $80,000, his six living siblings received twice that amount, as did the families of brother Adolph and sister, Rosemary, who both preceded him in death.
Also receiving north of $160,000 was a woman Hubert referred to as his “guardian angel.” She lived around the corner and attended nearby St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church with him. Dennis Meyer asked that her name not be disclosed.
St. Martin benefited from Hubert’s generosity as well, getting the same amount as the agencies. As for St. Andrew, the church that had been so kind to the Meyer family all those years ago, it will receive a check on par with what each of Hubert’s siblings received.
Dennis Meyer said his uncle never forgot those who helped him and his family along the way.
“As a product of the Great Depression, he kept his money close in life, but shared it in death.”