Today St. Louis, as all major cities, spends a lot of time incubating new companies that we hope will be the basis for our future growth. If all goes as planned, some of these startups will provide many jobs for the region.
But most of our current big employers started the old-fashioned way: They just grew up here. An example of this is of course Enterprise — in the headlines today as descendants of the founder work to bring a soccer team to town.
Another St. Louisan, Edward Jones, started a brokerage firm in downtown St. Louis in the 1920s. In the 1950s, Edward “Ted” Jones Jr. joined his father in the firm. Ted’s interest was not so much in the day-to-day business of the securities industry but in his love for — and the opportunity he saw for — providing financial advice in the small towns that dotted the Missouri countryside. He noticed a market that others didn’t, much like his fellow former University of Missouri student, Sam Walton.
One of the first Edward Jones offices outside of St. Louis was in Mexico, Mo. Ted liked to tell the story of the business card of Zeke McIntyre, the broker who staffed the office. “If you want to buy ’em at the bottom and sell ’em at the peak, just pick up the phone and call old Zeke.” Financial advertising regulations apparently allowed for a sense of humor 60 years ago.
Ted built a big business from this small-town start, and even though the company has grown to thousands of offices around the country and in Canada, many of the original principles Ted established remain the same.
After building an innovative business and sharing the ownership of the company with thousands of employees, including me, Ted retired in the mid-1980s and turned his efforts to another project: bringing the relatively new idea of “rails to trails” to Missouri.
In 1986, Ted rode on a bike path in Wisconsin and returned to St. Louis full of enthusiasm for providing Missourians an opportunity to ride and walk through the Missouri countryside in a new way, past farm fields and forests and along rivers on a flat, traffic-free trail. Remarkably, just at that time, the Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad (the Katy) was abandoning its right-of-way across Missouri. Taking advantage of this serendipitous timing, Ted got to work.
Ted and his wife, Pat, worked tirelessly for five years to convince landowners, legislators, governors and ultimately courts that the 280-mile railroad right of way should become the Katy Trail. After spending millions of dollars in personal funds — and thousands of hours — Ted and Pat, along with Gov. John Ashcroft, cut the ribbon on the first section of trail in 1990. Sadly Ted was suffering from cancer at the time of the dedication, and he passed away later that year.
In the succeeding decades, the Katy Trail has become the most popular and visited state park in Missouri, 280 miles long and 10 feet wide. It attracts visitors from around the world. It provides exactly what Ted and Pat had hoped, a way for people of all abilities to experience the outdoors and a way to bring economic benefits to rural Missouri.
After Ted’s death, Pat continued to actively support and advocate for the Katy Trail. She also supported countless Missouri-based environmental and conservation organizations. Working with Missouri State Parks, she created Confluence Point State Park, enabling visitors to see the meeting place of the country’s two greatest rivers, and donated their family farm to the Missouri Department of Conservation. Two months ago, Pat visited the Katy Trail for the last time, riding a state parks tram from Rocheport — where she, Ted and Gov. Ashcroft opened the trail in 1990 — to McBaine, home of Missouri’s biggest oak tree.
Pat Jones died recently at 93, having extended the philanthropic legacy of a company that started here almost 100 years ago. In an interview after the opening of the Katy Trail, Ted and Pat Jones summed up their financial philosophy. “Money isn’t my goal,” said Ted. “I want to spend it on things that are worthwhile.” Pat added, “We don’t have any children, so we just adopted the state.”
On behalf of all of us adoptees, thank you. We hope that the companies getting started today succeed at creating both jobs and legacies.
Dan Burkhardt is a retired partner of Edward Jones and with his wife, Connie, founded the Katy Land Trust.