ST. LOUIS - On June 17, Barnes-Jewish Hospital president Rich Liekweg and Patrick Stokes, president of the Barnes-Jewish board of directors, continued a tradition that dates back to 1914. Stokes and Liekweg placed a wreath in Bellefontaine Cemetery at the grave of hospital founder Robert A. Barnes.
Barnes, who made his fortune as a grocer and banker in mid-nineteenth century St. Louis, left an endowment in his will to found “a modern general hospital for sick and injured persons, without distinction of creed…” In the will, Barnes asked that the hospital chairman come to the cemetery once a year, remembering him and his wife by laying a wreath.
From the hospital’s opening in 1914 until the mid-1990s, the stipulation was followed, usually on or near Memorial Day.
When Barnes Hospital and The Jewish Hospital of St. Louis merged in 1996 and a new board was formed, the tradition of visiting the Barnes grave was put aside and might have remained forgotten if not for a chance discovery in 2008.
A Barnes-Jewish public relations staffer, while researching the history of the hospital, found a yellowed photo shoved in a file. The photo, from the 1960s, showed a man placing a floral wreath against a huge grave marker reading: “Barnes” and “Founder of Barnes Hospital.”
The back of the photo had a label identifying the man in the photo as the chairman of the board of Barnes Hospital and explained he was placing the wreath as Robert Barnes had wished.
Investigating further, public relations manager Jennifer Arvin found that the yearly remembrance had fallen by the wayside. The tradition was brought back, in order to foster a sense of tradition and pride, and as well as to honor Barnes’ wishes.
“I think employees appreciate working at a place that honors its past, even as it’s looking forward,” Arvin said. “And in reality, Robert Barnes really didn’t ask for much, just to be remembered.”
On May 28, 2008, Stokes revived the tradition, placing a wreath next to the Barnes grave and this year, Richard Liekweg, who became president of Barnes-Jewish Hospital in September, joined him. Arvin noted that it was a somewhat fitting coincidence that Stokes would be involved. In addition to being chairman of the Barnes-Jewish Board, Stokes has also served as chairman of the board of Anheuser-Busch Inc. As a banker, Robert Barnes once granted a loan to a young German immigrant who wanted to start a brewery – Adolphus Busch.
Biography of Robert A. Barnes
From the Missouri Historical Society
“Robert Augustus Barnes—grocer, commission merchant, bank president, stockholder, property owner, and philanthropist—was born Nov. 29, 1808, in Washington, D.C. His father, Jesse, died when he was 13 years old, at which time he moved to Louisville, Kentucky, to be raised by his uncle, Richard Barnes.
He supplemented his rudimentary education with extensive reading, and became knowledgeable in several subjects.
After working as a clerk for two years, he moved to St. Louis in 1830, and took a position in a mercantile house. At 23 years old, he opened his own grocery and commission business.
In the early 1840s, Robert Barnes became president of the Bank of the State of Missouri, a position which he held for 26 years. He also held executive positions in other local companies. In addition, he was a large stockholder in various local companies.
On Jan. 28, 1845, Robert Barnes married Louise DeMun, the third daughter of Jules and Isabelle Gratiot DeMun. They had two children, DeMun and Isabelle Gratiot, neither of whom survived infancy.
Although he was a successful businessman and capitalist, he kept his financial status private during his life. He contributed to several charitable organizations, and left a portion of his wealth to found and endow a hospital in his name.
Robert Barnes died April 2, 1892, in St. Louis and is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery.
The hospital he endowed, Barnes Hospital, opened in 1914. As the primary adult teaching hospital for Washington University, it quickly gained a national reputation for excellence and innovation in medicine.