© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Oliver Langenberg leaves legacy of philanthropy, business and good humor

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 2, 2012 - Peter Langenberg prepared a biography of his late father for distribution to the press. Written very much in the spirit of his father, this document is extraordinarily thorough and also is distinguished by a bittersweetly jocular quality. It was wrapped up with this statement: “In summary, his life was cut short.”

Oliver Langenberg, Peter Langenberg’s father, died March 28 about seven weeks shy of his birthday. On May 16, he would have been 100 years old.

Oliver Morton Langenberg was born and reared in St. Louis. He graduated from St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., in 1931, and from Princeton in 1935 with an bachelor's in philosophy.

Mr. Langenberg was a businessman, an intellectual, a philosopher, an athlete, a lover of music and the visual arts and a model philanthropist.

His business career, which spanned more than seven decades, was spent in St. Louis. Most of it was at A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., now Wells Fargo Securities. At A. G. Edwards, he was a senior vice president for institutional sales and research and a member of the board of directors and head of the board’s finance committee. With Wells Fargo, he was at senior vice president of investments.

Until two weeks ago, he went to the office almost every day.

Last year he celebrated half a century with the firm. At that time, he told the St. Louis Business Journal, “This is what I love to do. I love being around people. I love studying the market. I like making my clients money. This is where I get my jollies.”

Danny Ludeman, CEO of Wells Fargo Advisors, said, “Oliver Langenberg’s passing is an occasion of deep sadness for everyone who had the honor of knowing and working with him. Ollie made a difference to people and made our world a better place not just because of the wisdom he gained during his remarkable life, or because of his exceptional mind and positive outlook on life, but because of his extraordinary heart and soul.”

“Ollie’s quiet generosity,” he continued, “changed lives for the better and his example inspired all who knew him or had the opportunity to learn from him. He defined what it means not only to be a successful professional, but a successful person and he remains a true giant among us.”

Dr. Virginia Weldon was a close friend of Mr. Langenberg, having met him when she moved into Pershing Place in 1968, two doors away from Mr. Langenberg and his wife, Mary.

“He was the closest to a man for all seasons as one can get,” Weldon said. “He knew everything about everything – picking stocks, sports, Oriental art, music. Not too long ago I heard him having a discussion with David Robertson (music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra) about Russian music.

“He knew everything about everything,” she repeated for emphasis, “and what he did not know he wanted to learn. And, of course, he was generous to a fault. He was a great philanthropist. He believed deeply in taking care of St. Louis’s treasures.”

Weldon also remarked upon his talent for picking stocks. His son backed her up. “He enjoyed a reputation as a ‘stock picker’ and was considered by many in his profession to be a legend," he said. "Among his other achievements, he established a successful international business, starting first in London and then expanding to Edinburgh and Paris, by making cold calls from a telephone booth with a roll of shillings in hand.”

He minded those treasures in no meager fashion. His son Peter wrote of his father’s saying, “Philanthropy is a matter of sharing.  In a capitalistic system you have to share with others.  That keeps the system going.”

At one time or another, he kept things going by sharing his time on the board of trustees of the St. Louis Art Museum, including a stint as chairman; on the board of St. Louis Children’s Hospital (as chairman of the finance committee); on the boards of Grace Hill Settlement House, the Japan-American Society, the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater St. Louis, and the St. Louis Public Library.

He was at one time chairman of the St. Louis YMCA; president of the Mercantile Library Association; and president of the Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation. 

His giving to organizations he admired was prodigious. Among the beneficiaries of his largess were St. Luke’s Hospital; the Muny; the Missouri Botanical Garden; the St. Louis Art Museum; Princeton University, for which he funded two scholarships that benefit eight students each year; and City Academy in St. Louis; and the St. Louis Symphony Society. He was a donor to the St. Louis Beacon as well.

Fred Bronstein, president and CEO of the symphony, said, “Oliver Langenberg lived an extraordinary life, and in losing him, St. Louis has forfeited one of its great citizens.  Oliver’s and Mary’s generosity has been boundless, and the St. Louis Symphony and so many others are the better for it.  We will truly miss him.”    

Washington University was a beneficiary as well. William H. Danforth, chancellor emeritus of the university and a former vice chancellor for medical affairs at the School of Medicine, said, “Ollie Langenberg was one of the greats of St. Louis.  Everyone admired him.  To know him was to love him, to appreciate that he was special, fun and kind.  He enjoyed life, his family, his friends, his work, and his varied interests.  He was a wonderful human being.”

A notable contribution to the university was the establishment, via the Mallinckrodt Foundation, of the distinguished professorship for science and practice of medicine at the medical school.

He also took a generous interest in the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, for which he established the position of distinguished investigator.

“Ollie was always interested in the power of science,” said James C. Carrington, president of the Plant Science Center. ”Though not a trained scientist, he led the Mallinckrodt Foundation with great vision. He understood the importance of science and provided generous support to the Danforth Center from the very beginning.

“He helped to ensure we could have the kind of scientists who could meet high standards. The first endowed investigator here at the Danforth Center carries his name; we’re incredibly proud of that.”

His longtime friend, the Rev. Steven Lawler, said, "Oliver filled a century of life with several centuries of meaning." 

Besides his son, Peter, Mr. Langenberg is survived by his wife, Mary B. Langenberg; his daughter, Alice L. Abrams (Walter); and a stepson, William L. Polk Jr. (Carrie); seven grandchildren and one great-grandson.  

For the constellation of men and women, family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances who regard Oliver Langenberg’s death last week as the passing not only of a brilliant and consummately generous man but also of an era, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s notion about death may provide some comfort.

“It is the secret of the world” he wrote, “that all things subsist and do not die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again.  Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals and mournful obituaries, and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and well, in some new strange disguise.”

A memorial service will be conducted at the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and St. George, Wydown at Ellenwood in Clayton at 11 a.m., Tues., April 3. The family will receive friends in the Great Hall following the service.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to St. Luke's Hospital, City Academy, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra or to the St. Louis Art Museum.

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.