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Obituary of Jean Fahey Eberle: St. Louis neighborhood historian

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 29, 2010 - Jean Fahey Eberle, who meticulously chronicled the unique beauty of many St. Louis neighborhoods along with the lives of the people who inhabited them, died Tuesday at her home in Shrewsbury following a long illness. She was 85.

For more than 30 years, Mrs. Eberle had written books that traced the ebb and flow of some of St. Louis' oldest and most storied communities. In doing so, she sought the help and guidance of the the people who lived there.

Chronicling Community History

After publishing three other books about St. Louis enclaves, she wrote about the place she knew best: the Parkview neighborhood, a subdivision of 255 homes just west of Skinker and north of Washington University that has its toes in the city of Louis and both feet in University City. It's a neighborhood that has been home to such greats as St. Louis Baseball Cardinal Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson and U.S. Air Corps Col. James Doolittle. The book, "Urban Oasis: 75 Years in Parkview, a St. Louis Private Place" was co-authored in 1979 with Judith Phelps Little.

Little, who handled the architectural parts of the book, said Mrs. Eberle ably tackled a daunting task with a little help from her friends.

"Jean grew up in Parkview and was part of St. Roch's parish, so she knew many, many people," said Little, who has lived in Parkview for nearly 40 years. "She was positive, smart, wonderfully organized and wonderful to people. She worked with a whole committee on the book and it was her idea to give credit for the book to everyone."

The primary author of the book is listed as The Parkview Book Committee.

Mrs. Eberle, again with the help of Little and a new collaborator, architect Mary Henderson Gass, who noted that "Jean was a delight to work with," updated the book for the neighborhood's centennial. Little said that "Parkview: A Saint Louis Urban Oasis 1905-2005," was more polished than the first edition.

"We laid out the first book on her dining room table and she did everything, including publishing it," Little said. "It was loaded with information, but it wasn't as professional" as the second edition.

Mrs. Eberle's first book was "Saint Roch's: The Story of a Parish," which she completed in the mid-60s. It was followed by "The Incredible Owen Girls," a history of St. Joseph, Mo., through the eyes of three sisters who were witnessing and recording Missouri's early days as the Pony Express gave way to the railroad. She also wrote the first "Urban Oasis"; "Midtown: A Grand Place To Be," "Xavier High: A School and its History Since 1833," "A Starting Point: A History of the Oakville-Mehlville-Concord Village Communities" (which she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1994, she wrote because she didn't "want deep South County's past forgotten"), and the second edition of "Urban Oasis."

In a departure from historical works, in 1982, Mrs. Eberle wrote "Essentials Of Helping Older People: In Their Homes, In Your Home, In A Relative's Home, In Rural Areas, When You Live In Another City." In keeping with that interest, Mrs. Eberle had served as the associate producer of a "Creative Aging" program on St. Louis public radio (now KWMU).

Service with a Smile

Mrs. Eberle graduated from old City House High School and earned a degree in English Literature from Maryville University in 1945. Shortly after graduation, she married another St. Louisan, Vincent L. Eberle who became an obstetrician and gynecologist after graduating from St. Louis University. The two lived briefly in England during Dr. Eberle's service in the Army.

After her husband's tour of duty, they returned to their hometown where Mrs. Eberle began to work, raise a family and become active throughout the community. She was a longtime member of the Katharyn Curtin Readers, the St. Louis Women Historians, the St. Louis County Historic Buildings Commission and St. Mary's and St. John's Auxiliary.

She served 20 years as St. Roch's volunteer librarian and as a docent for the Shrine of St. Philippine Duchesne in St. Charles. She also previously served on the board of directors of the Skinker-DeBaliviere Neighborhood Association.

Mary Jane Kauffman, Mrs. Eberle's friend since their days at Maryville, was not surprised by her friend's achievements and community efforts.

"Lassie was one of the smart ones in our class at Maryville," said Kauffman, referring to Mrs. Eberle by her nickname. "She was always very good at research and organized. She took great pride in her work and she should have.

"She was a gentle, kind, loving and humble person who did everything with a smile. If everything fell apart, she never did."

Before the age of computers, she was recognized as a fount of knowledge within her family. Her daughters, Cathy and Libby, recalled their brother-in-law, Bryan Gerard, declaring that the Eberle house always had two unabridged dictionaries - because she was one of them.

When not engaged in intellectual, family and community pursuits, she spent time gardening and quilting with her husband, who prided himself on his stitching ability.

Mr. Eberle would do the quilting and she would do the design and figure out how it would go together, her daughters recalled. Each of the children got their own quilt and could weigh in on the pattern and the color they wanted.

The Services

Mrs. Eberle was preceded in death by her husband and precision quilting partner, and her parents, William Francis Fahey and Catherine Heffron Fahey; two children, Tina Gerard (husband Bryan surviving) and Daniel Eberle (the late Gayle).

She is survived by her brother, Don E. Fahey of Webster Groves and five children, Timothy L. Eberle (Mary) of Collinsville, Andrew Eberle (Barbara) of Brandon, Fla., Cathy Eberle, M.D., of Omaha, Neb., Mary Beth Burka (Jerry) of Webster Groves, and Libby Hagene (John) of St. Charles.

She is also survived by her grandchildren, B. David Gerard, Emily Holman, Anne Gerard, Sara Gerard, Jennifer Gerard, Michael Eberle, Rachel Eberle, Paul Burka and Bridget Hagene, and two great-grandchildren, Liam Holman and Dorothea Holman.

A Memorial Mass will be celebrated on Saturday at 11 a.m., at Cure of Ars Catholic Church, 670 South Laclede Station Road, in Shrewsbury. A reception will follow the service. There is no visitation and interment will be private.

In lieu of flowers, memorials would be appreciated to Cure of Ars or St. Roch's Parish, 6052 Waterman Avenue, St. Louis, Mo. 63112.

Gloria Ross is the head of Okara Communications and the storywriter for AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service.

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.

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