Bert Schweizer II was a man short in stature, just 5 feet 6 inches, but blessed with a booming voice and engaging smile that commanded both attention and affection. He employed those gifts as the co-owner of the locally iconic Helen Wolf Shops for 50 years, as a Boy Scout leader for even longer and, in the latter part of his life, as a volunteer logging more than 5,000 hours at Barnes Jewish Hospital and Missouri Baptist Medical Center.
Schweizer, 95, died Oct. 21, 2019, at the Brookdale West County senior center in Ballwin of complications from dementia.
Schweizer was born on Jan. 17, 1924, to Albert and Esther Schweizer of St. Louis. He had an early introduction to retailing because his dad operated Busy Bee Department Store in Wellston. Schweizer got into scouting early as well, and by age 15 had worked his way up to Eagle Scout. Not long after that, he was off to the University of Missouri, but only for a year or so, as he was drafted in 1943 and went on to serve with the Army Air Corps 436th Carrier Group based in England and France.
After the war, Schweizer married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Wolff, whom he had known since the two attended University City schools in the prewar years. Her parents also happened to be retailers. Walter and Helen Wolff had been operating a women’s clothing story then known as Wolff’s since 1937 in the Delmar Loop. When the couple opened a new store on Maryland Avenue in Clayton, they renamed it the Helen Wolff Shop to distinguish it from a downtown clothier and a relative also named Wolff.
Schweizer and other family members provided leadership for the company starting in the 1960s and expanded operations to Plaza Frontenac and Longboat Key, Florida. Sales associates at the Helen Wolff shops were known for lavishing attention on their customers, including the little ones whose moms would bring them in to buy their school clothes. Along with the fashionable apparel, the stores featured a wide array of gift items that the associates would take the time to wrap for customers at the counter at no charge.
Outside of work, Schweizer continued his association with scouting. In 1972, he received the Scouting Silver Beaver Award given by the Boy Scouts of America to adult leaders who set an example by implementing the scouting program and performing community service over many years. Schweizer received his award from astronaut Neil Armstrong at a ceremony at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel.
Schweizer attended his first Cardinals game in 1929 and became a lifelong fan. He remembered while with his parents at age 7 finding himself sitting next to Babe Ruth at a restaurant at a Chicago hotel. Ruth advised young Schweizer to always eat everything on his plate. In later years, Schweizer would tell friends that the Sultan of Swat was to blame for making him chubby.
His youngest son, Tom, joined the Helen Wolff operation in 1973. Father, son and Schweizer’s brother-in-law ran the stores until 1990, when Helen Wolff shuttered and Schweizer retired.
Schweizer remained busy long after retirement, serving as a volunteer at hospitals and for the Senior Olympics. He served several terms on the Creve Coeur Planning and Zoning Commission.
Surviving include Schweizer’s three children, Bert III, Tom, Betsy, eight grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. Lizzy Schweizer died in 2015. They were married 69 years.
Funeral services for Schweizer were private.
Donations can be made to The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital, ATTN: Bert Schweizer Tribute; 1001 Highlands Plaza Drive West, Suite 140, St. Louis MO 63110. Donations may also be made online at http://www.FoundationBarnesJewish.org. In “Areas to Support”, select “Other” and specify “Bert Schweizer.” Or to the charity of the donor’s choice.