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Memorial service set for I.E. Millstone, legendary St. Louis leader

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 22, 2009 - A memorial service for I.E. Millstone, the legendary St. Louis builder and philanthropist, has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Sun, May 31, at United Hebrew Congregation, 13788 Conway Road, the Millstone family said today.

"We also wish to express our profound gratitude to all of people in St. Louis, around the country, and beyond who have come forward with expressions of love and concern," the family said in a statement. "The outpouring represents the highest possible tribute to the man we love so much. We are deeply appreciative."

Mr. Millstone, who was 102 years old, apparently jumped off the Daniel Boone Bridge into the Missouri River May 16. The family also thanked the Missouri Highway and Missouri Water Patrols for their continuing efforts to find the body.

The service will be open to the public.

Read the earlier Beacon story below:

Family members say I.E. Millstone, the legendary St. Louis builder and philanthropist, had been suffering from anxiety in the days leading up to his disappearance on Saturday.

Authorities began searching for Millstone in the Missouri River after learning of his disappearance and receiving a report that an elderly man was seen jumping off the Daniel Boone Bridge into the river about 1:15 p.m. Saturday. KMOV reported that a car belonging to Millstone’s housekeeper was found near the bridge.

A family spokesman released a revised statement today concerning Millstone's disappearance: "The man we all loved so much had suffered from anxiety. A painful shoulder injury he suffered in January, 2008 was a contributing factor; beyond that, it is difficult to say, especially in a man of his years." The new statement differs slightly in that it doesn't address the pain medication that Millstone had been taking as a possible factor in his disappearance.

The family spokesman said Millstone had left letters for family members, but the contents are being kept private.

Sam Fox, a family friend, businessman and former U.S. ambassador to Belgium, said in an interview today that the shoulder injury dated back to Millstone's 101st birthday party in January of 2008. "He had come down with the flu. He was weak and pale and he fainted in the men’s room. That's how he hurt his shoulder. He told me later that he had to take some pain pills."

That, said Fox, was a first for Millstone, who had told him that he had never taken any medication during his life, including aspirin. "His health was beyond belief," Fox said.

Though 102 years old, Millstone had been to all appearances spry and in good health when he spoke on May 3 at the opening of the Staenberg Family Complex at the Jewish Community Center in west St. Louis County.

Sheila Greenbaum, president of Jewish Federation of St. Louis, said Millstone spoke without notes at some length and in good humor about the history of the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis. It was Millstone who donated the grounds for the center off Scheutz Road in West County in the 1950s. The campus is named in his honor.

“He called it the best investment that he had ever made,” Greenbaum recalled.

The Missouri Water Patrol resumed its search  on Monday but to no avail. Cpl. Lou Amighetti, a spokesman for the Water Patrol, had said Sunday that the search could last weeks. 

Friends who have been in touch with the Millstone family have been told that they do not hold out much hope for his survival. And so when contacted some have begun to speak about him in the past tense.

“I.E. Millstone was a hero of St. Louis and a hero of mine,” said Dr. William Danforth, chancellor emeritus of Washington University. “He was a remarkable combination of intelligence, energy, vision and good will. He loved St. Louis and knew its history, how it was built and why decisions were made the way they were. He seemed never to forget anything.

“At the same time he could see farther into the future than the rest of us and use that foresight to lay plans that would benefit the community. He loved and enjoyed the people he knew and supported their good causes generously. Even when over 100 years old he would exert influence at the board meetings at Washington University by seeing through all complexities to the heart of issues and charting a wise course. His life was a blessing."

BUILDER, PHILANTHROPIST, CIVIC LEADER

Over eight decades beginning in 1930, it seemed, Millstone Construction was engaged in almost every major project of consequence in St. Louis from paving runways at Lambert Field to building the double-decked highways that shot U.S 40-64 through downtown; from the erection of the graceful apartment towers along Skinker Boulevard to construction of the old Busch Stadium and Northwest Plaza.

In the exception that proved the rule, Millstone did not play a major role in the building of the Gateway Arch., a great disappointment, said St. Louis architect Andrew Trivers.

“He was very proud of all the work he had done in the community,” Trivers said. “He talked with great pleasure about being the contractor on Busch Stadium and noted that the concrete never had a crack in it.”

Though many of Millstone’s projects such as Milles Fountain near Union Station have stood the test of time, others such as the Pruitt-Igoe and Laclede Town public housing projects have been swept into history’s dustbin. Pruitt-Igoe has long been identified as a symbol of government ineptitude in public housing. It became so decrepit and crime-infested only several years after its completion that the government imploded the buildings – a moment that made the national news.

But as Trivers points out, Millstone simply erected the buildings, it was the government’s plan to concentrate the urban poor in high rise buildings that led to the failure of that concept. Later Millstone would mentor Trivers and developers, such as Leon Strauss and Richard Baron, who had great success in revitalizing many city neighborhoods. There they found that low rise buildings, generous green space, a mix of tenants at various income levels and strict supervision kept neighborhoods beautiful and safe.

Millstone had an international impact as well. Not long after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Millstone built housing for refugees and led that nation in its public housing efforts.

OUTSPOKEN AND GENEROUS

Millstone made a great deal of money over the years and was enormously generous with it. At Washington University, dozens of students attend on Millstone grants. His foundation has contributed millions to the Mathews-Dickey Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, the United Way, the Boy and Girl Scouts, Operation Food Search  Saint Louis University, the St. Louis Symphony, the American Cancer Society and at least 100 other charities.

He not only considered himself good at his profession but also pretty lucky coming along as he did when cars became a huge part of American life and he could sell the concept of concrete parking garages.  He would also brag that he bought Anheuser-Busch stock many years back at 10 cents a share.

Millstone never sought publicity, but he wasn’t shy about expressing his opinion when asked. For instance, he took a dim view of developers who seek government handouts before proceeding with a development project.

In an interview with the Post-Dispatch in 2005, Millstone said: "Today, unless you can get a government agency or somebody to pay for a new stadium or to pay even to get an old school and make it into condominiums, or get up to 60 to 70 percent of it paid by the taxpayers, it doesn't even get done. They're robbing the community. If one gets it, the next one gets it. They could very well use their own money, or borrow it like we did.”

A GREAT TEACHER

Millstone was also generous with his time, especially with the younger generation. Robert W. Duffy, architecture critic, Washington University professor and Beacon associate editor, remembered how Millstone helped him out one day with a class.

"I teach a course called Case Studies in the College of Architecture. The curriculum includes work by many modern masters, but Eric Mendelsohn, whom I consider one of the great architects of the modern movement,  was not included. I decided to correct that, in light of the fact that  one of his great buildings is about five minutes from campus, the old B'nai Amoona synagogue, now home of COCA, the Center of Creative Arts, at 524 Trinity Avenue in University City.

"Millstone Construction built B'nai Amoona, and I knew from previous conversations that Mr. Millstone was very proud of the building and had a strong attachment to it, both because of the challenges presented by its parabolic stucture and the difficulties presented by the rather cramped site in U. City. Because he was a living link to Mendelsohn and the building, and to the mid-century modern movement, I asked him to to come to talk to the kids about his experience with the construction of this incredible building, and he agreed gladly.

"At least 100 years old, he climbed the stairs to the stage unassisted, and held forth eloquently on everything from construction techniques to the meaning of the building to the Jewish community. The students were in awe, and understood, I think, they'd been privy to a remarkable experience. When he was finished, he took his leave quickly, got behind the wheel of his automobile and headed off for a meeting of the Board of Trustees at his beloved Washington U."

Fox, who is quite a successful businessman himself as the founder of St. Louis-based Harbour Group, still holds a measure of awe for his friend of 40 years.

"He was a man before his time. Let me give you an example," he said in a telephone interview. "Back in the '40s African-Americans could only get job as laborers … they weren’t trained as tradesmen. So I.E. set up a trade school to teach African Americans to become plumbers, bricklayers and electricians and he put them to work."

Fox said Millstone never lost the visionary touch. He recalled attending a board meeting of a non-profit with Millstone as recently as a few weeks ago at which the topic was how the board could deal with a shrinking endowment as a result of a depressed stock market and lower interest rates. "I.E. came up with an idea about what the board could do with its money as an alternative to investing. I can't tell you how many meetings I've been in with him where I.E. proposed ideas and solutions none of us had ever considered."

Fox said Millstone's advancing age and good health had long been a source of wonder for his friends. He recalled a time several years ago when a middle-aged man who did not know Millstone all that well asked him if he minded revealing his age.

No problem. "I'm 95," Millstone told the man.

"Oh, Mr. Millstone, I want to come come to your 100th birthday," Fox recalled the man saying.

To which Millstone responded: "You look pretty healthy son. You might just make it if you take good care of yourself."

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