Rather than list the local institutions that Bob and Mary Lee Hermann have supported, it would almost be easier to list those they have not been involved in—if you could think of anything to put on that list. So while they may protest that they’ve slowed down in recent years, it’s no surprise to those who know them that they would be named among LN’s Most Dynamic St. Louisans.
The founder of Hermann Companies Inc., Bob Hermann is the chairman and president of Hermann Foundation. One of his early claims to fame was founding the VP Fair, now known as Fair St. Louis. “It was 1981 and I decided to put on a big thing for St. Louis in the park, under the Arch. I got a whole lot of volunteers and divided the responsibilities among eight vice-chairmen,” Bob recalls. The event had its share of logistical hurdles, but the biggest hiccup was actually planned, he admits. “The first day, I called up the chief of police and said, Do you know how to put on a traffic jam? He said, What? Are you kidding? And I said, I want you to put on a traffic jam after the fireworks, at Fourth and Olive.” Sure enough, that night a traffic jam happened, giving the fair just the publicity it needed: “The next day, the headlines in the paper read, VP Fair Causes Traffic Jam.”
More recently, Bob founded the Veterans Festival in Forest Park, which will have its second celebration this year on Sept. 14 and 15. He looks forward to filling the park’s 1,293 acres with festivities, including a parade, golf tournament, entertainment and more.
He also founded St. Louis Arts Festival and Operation Brightside, now Brightside St. Louis. Additionally, he has chaired the board of the Saint Louis Zoo, St. Louis Public Library Foundation, Old Newsboys Day—even the Miss Universe Pageant—and been a member of boards too numerous to count. He is particularly proud of is his work with the Zoo, where one of his major goals was to increase the income from restaurants. He also helped lead a $55-million drive to build the River’s Edge exhibit. “It’s the biggest institution in St. Louis, with 3 million visitors per year,” he says. “It’s the No. 1 zoo in America.”
Additionally, the most prestigious award in college soccer, the MAC Hermann Trophy, was named after Bob as a result of his involvement in a now-defunct professional league he helped create in the 1970s. “Soccer is the biggest sport in the world, and it’s the biggest sport in the U.S. for youth through college,” he says, joking that the award, given to one male and one female player each year, is even bigger than the Heisman Trophy. “We have two, and they only have one.”
Keeping up with that kind of resumé is no small task, but Bob’s wife, Mary Lee, has done it. Since moving to St. Louis from Detroit 30 years ago, she has chaired at least 25 galas, which raised more than a combined $2 million for The Muny, the Missouri Botanical Garden, Saint Louis Science Center, Missouri History Museum and Paraquad, among others. Mary Lee received the first-ever President’s Award from the Saint Louis Science Center in 2002, and was named a Woman of Achievement in 1996. The pair was also recognized in 2005 with the Cornerstone Award by Barnes-Jewish Hospital for their support of the hospital and Siteman Cancer Center, as well as the 2012 St. Andrew’s Ageless-Remarkable Saint Louisans Award.
Bob, who says Mary Lee was a ‘leading woman’ in Detroit before coming here, gives some insight into his wife’s success at fundraising: “She’s an expert. A lot of people, when they’re made chairman of something, they get two vice-chairmen and four junior chairs. She gets 40 vice-chairmen reporting to her. She tells them, You don’t have to give any money, although we hope that you do; I just want your good name. Well, that’s pretty hard to say no to.”