ST. LOUIS (AP) — About a dozen nonprofit agencies serving foster children in St. Louis have been unveiling projects in recent months made possible by a more than $2 million bequest found in the obscure will of a woman that none of their leaders had ever met.
The woman, a free spirit of St. Louis high society, had given nearly all of her estate to programs aiding foster youths, even though she had never sat on a board of any of these agencies nor had any children of her own.
The gift has helped Epworth Children and Family Services move forward with a drop-in center for older or aged-out foster youths in Normandy. The Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition of St. Louis used its windfall to open a center to train social workers in the latest techniques to quickly reunite foster children with a capable family. Youth In Need updated its common areas at its youth homeless shelter, and purchased computers and other items to help foster and homeless youths get training and other services.
And the list goes on, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1k4pXuF ) reports.
So, who was this mysterious woman? Where did she get her wealth? And what compelled her give almost all of it away in this way?
The answer dates back to an age when the Veiled Prophet Ball was broadcast annually on local television, when a group of high-rolling auto dealers called the River Rats ran a floating poker game on the Mississippi, when locally grown magnates of the beer, mining and shoe industries populated the Bogey Club and the Bridlespur Hunt, a fox-and-hound affair.
This was when a 6-foot blonde teenage beauty began working in a hub of St. Louis society: the coffee shop at the Chase Park Plaza. She maneuvered her way up from a poor childhood spent in a north St. Louis boarding house into this rarefied world, one marriage at a time.
St. Louis socialites of a certain age know her as the unsinkable Carleen Goddard-Mazur: a woman so stunning in her youth, so vibrant, and so flirty that even today — two years after her death at 75 — the mention of her name makes men in their 80s giggle.
“She was the Mae West of St. Louis,” said Jerry Berger, the former gossip columnist for the Post-Dispatch, who grew up just blocks away from her at Goodfellow and Page.
Lots of people in St. Louis society knew Carleen. They knew her by the eight men she reportedly married. And the wealthy, married longtime companion — a fixture with her at Veiled Prophet Balls — that she didn’t.
But they also knew her by the generous parties she held, by the lavish funerals she orchestrated, by the boats she piloted on the confluence and by her many pursuits: former model, nurse, Miss Missouri, airplane pilot, maritime pilot, equestrian, singer, tennis player and champion twister.
Close friends said Carleen lived a restless life in which she constantly sought approval to fill a gaping sense rejection by her mother.
Carleen’s mother, Johnnie Bell Piekel, had left Carleen when she was very young to be raised by John and Lillian Jones, the same guardians who had raised Johnnie.
Carleen called the Joneses “Ma” and “Pa” and referred to them as her foster parents her entire life. The Joneses were simple southeastern Missouri folk, and they all lived together in a boarding house in north St. Louis.
?Carleen’s birth mother later married and gave birth to a son in Chicago. But she never asked Carleen to join the new family.
“I guess psychologically she felt her parents never accepted her, really, and in a sense she never really accepted herself. And she was looking for that love and acceptance, and that drove her,” said her longtime friend, Gary Kulak, a retired psychiatrist whom she first consulted after her whirlwind St. Moritz marriage to internist Franz Alexander exploded.
Growing up, Carleen got a taste of St. Louis society when her birth father, Carl Oehler, would make rare visits from Las Vegas. He lived a glitzy life there. He wanted to give her a taste of that life, said Joann Brooks, who had grown up with Carleen.
“They would go to the Chase Park Plaza when she was just a little girl, and they would introduce her to society, and she loved it,” Brooks said.
Many credit her entrance to society to her marriage to St. Louis Globe-Democrat society columnist Bob Goddard. When Goddard died, she had the hearse drive by their home so he could say a final goodbye, and she played the organ and sang liturgical songs at his funeral.
After many failed marriages, friends said she found true happiness with Husband No. 8: Sigmund “Sig” Mazur, a widowed optometrist who was a neighbor and the son of a prominent rabbi.
Friends say Carleen, once a student at Midwest Bible College, waited a respectable year after his wife’s death, then appeared on his doorstep in a revealing dress with a pie.
According to Berger’s society column, Carleen’s wedding to Mazur at Union Station featured five ministers of different faiths and a rabbi.
Mazur predeceased Carleen by nine years. During that time Carleen cared for many of her ailing friends as part of her early training as a registered nurse.
As she aged, back problems sidelined her. She suffered a disabling stroke nearly four years before she died in 2011. She spent those years unable to speak and partially paralyzed in a nursing home.
The people who stood by her then were mostly family and friends from her childhood with few connections to St. Louis society.
Near her death, her cousin and primary caretaker Colleen Fink said ? Carleen had grown catatonic — until the day Fink’s daughter came to visit and showed off her engagement ring. Carleen stirred.
When she died, Fink said it took weeks to go through her cluttered home to find a last will and testament. Her lifelong friends were not entirely surprised by the gift it held for St. Louis foster children.
“She had the qualities, the determination, the intelligence, the stature — and she had the beauty,” Kulak said.
“Put that all together, and she made the most of it. And her legacy is going to these kids and saying, ‘Look, take your natural attributes, whatever they may be, put them to work, and you can succeed.'”
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com
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