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Obituary: Adolphus Busch Orthwein: After working at Anheuser-Busch, he led smaller companies

Adolphus Busch Orthwein
Provided by the family

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - Adolphus Busch Orthwein, a great-grandson of the legendary Adolphus Busch, founder of Anheuser-Busch, died at home in Huntleigh Village on Monday (Nov. 25, 2013). He was 96 years old, and at the time of his death was the oldest living member of the sprawling St. Louis family also founded by his great-grandfather.

As a child, Mr. Orthwein spent happy days at his family’s home in Huntleigh Village; at a Busch summer place near Cooperstown, N.Y., called Red River Farm; and with his grandfather, August A. Busch Sr., at Grant’s Farm, the family’s estate in Grantwood Village, part of which was once was the property of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Mr. Orthwein’s halcyon-sounding childhood was interrupted dramatically on New Year’s Eve, 1930, when he was kidnapped at gunpoint from a limousine taking him and his family to Grant’s Farm for a New Year’s Eve celebration.

The kidnapper, according to an Associated Press report, was Charles Abernathy of St. Louis. When Charles Abernathy’s father, Pearl Abernathy, saw the boy at his son’s residence, he recognized young Dolph, as he was called, having seen his photograph in the old St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

Pearl Abernathy turned over Mr. Orthwein, then 13, to his family on New Year’s Day. He was unharmed; no ransom was paid. Although physically unscathed, his daughter-in-law, Virginia Orthwein said his aversion to publicity and his penchant for staying in the background, unlike some of his more flamboyant relatives, was a lingering result of the trauma of his abduction.

A statement from the family said he developed a strong affinity for animals during frequent visits to his grandfather at Grant’s Farm. His daughter-in-law said he inherited an ability to pick great horses. He was a skilled equestrian, and a three-goal polo player. (In polo’s 10-goal handicap system, few players advance beyond three goals, and about two-thirds of the players in the world are handicapped at two goals or less.)

Like many members of his family, he hunted fox and served as Master of the Hounds of the Bridlespur Hunt. His celebrated skills in riding to hounds, taking horses over jumps and creeks, and coaching won him a place in the Missouri Horseman’s Hall of Fame. 

Mr. Orthwein graduated from Yale University in 1940, after which he spent six months in officer’s training with the U.S. Navy and also worked for a brief time for Shell Oil Co.

In 1941, he was commissioned an Intelligence Volunteer (Specialist) officer in the Navy, and served in the Navy during World War II. His main occupation was the design and implementation of systems used to track German submarines in the Caribbean. He achieved the rank of lieutenant commander, and when he returned to St. Louis he remained in the Naval Reserve.

For about 14 years, he worked for the family business, Anheuser-Busch, serving on its board of directors and as vice president of operations. At the time of his death, he was president of Starbeam Supply Co., a lighting supply business in Olivette. Until 10 days or so ago, his daughter-in-law said, he went to go into work every day.

When he left the brewery he was executive of a number of smaller companies. He also wrote autobiographies, played poker on Saturdays, spent winters in Florida, and autumn and spring in St. Louis. In summer he went to Red River Farm, where he celebrated his 96th birthday in September.

Mr. Orthwein’s second cousin, Adalbert von Gontard Jr., who lives in Greenwich, Conn., said, “Dolph had a wonderful spirit, and a special outlook on life. He was a tremendous family man, and loved doing things together with our family.”

That spirit of unity was evident in troubled situations. Von Gontard said that although members of the family sometimes disagreed, “We get along, and stick up for each other.”

“Dolph,” von Gontard said, “kept us all together.”

Mr. Orthwein is survived by his wife of 51 years, Nancy Morrison Orthwein; their son Christopher DaCamara Orthwein (Christine) of Palm Beach, Fla.; her son by a previous marriage Michael Montgomery (Mimi) of Palm Beach; his first wife, Ann Thornley Metcalfe, and their four sons: Adolphus Busch Orthwein Jr. (Judy) of Atlanta, Ga., Stephen August Orthwein (Virginia), St. Louis; Peter Busch Orthwein (Beverly), Greenwich, Conn.; David Thornley Orthwein, St. Louis; and 14 grandchildren, three step-grandchildren, and 11 great grandchildren.

A memorial service will be at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 110 North Warson Road, 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be sent to the United States Polo Training Foundation, 70 Clinton Street, Tully, N.Y. 13159; to the St. Louis Chapter of Ducks Unlimited; to Mercy Hospice, 1000 Des Peres Road St. Louis, Mo. 63131; to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church; or the charity of one’s choice. A memorial service will be conducted in Palm Beach, Fla., at a later date.

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.