Jean Marquart, nee Berg, thrives on a team. From her years growing up the oldest of six in St. Louis to raising seven children and hosting nine exchange students with her late husband, Glen, to her work volunteering in the Union community, Marquart stresses that she hasn’t acted alone in any of it, particularly in organizing and running blood drives for the American Red Cross.
“It’s not me who does these (blood drives),” Marquart, 82, told The Missourian at a recent interview in her Union home. “It’s a crew. It’s a partnership. I’m not worth a shot of powder without my people.”
Marquart and her team have been organizing regular blood drives through Immaculate Conception at the KC Hall in Union and recruiting donors for more than 20 years. The team holds five per year, which collect around 50 units each, according to Mary Jane Thomsen, executive director for the Greater St. Louis Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.
“The Red Cross is so grateful to Jean for her very loyal service to the Red Cross and to the patients in need of blood transfusions over the years,” Thomsen said. “Her commitment to the blood support that the Red Cross provides locally is phenomenal and appreciated. She leads her team well.”
At the onset of COVID-19, the Red Cross reported an unprecedented number of canceled blood drives, which numbered more than 2,700 drives and resulted in 86,000 fewer donations of blood.
Not long after, the Red Cross implemented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) safety measures across its organization. The CDC now classifies donating blood as a safe activity. It’s a message that Marquart and other Red Cross volunteers are trying desperately to communicate to the region, where Red Cross donations make up 80 percent of the blood supply used by health care facilities.
“We keep trying to convince more people to give blood before it’s an emergency,” Marquart said. “If you wait until it’s an emergency, you’ve waited too long.”
Long before she was an organizer, Marquart became a regular donor. She said she’s given as often as she’s able — about every 56 days, according to the Red Cross — for as long as she can remember and has given roughly a pint each time. She is on track to reach 18 gallons donated throughout her life in February. With the Red Cross’ official statistic of three lives saved per donation, that would be more than 400 people helped.
“There are others who have given more,” she said.
‘Well, Glen, I Guess Maybe You’re Staying for Supper’
While the stories of these more than 400 people who received blood are intertwined with Marquart’s, her own story is bound most tightly with her late husband of almost 60 years, Glen Marquart.
They might never have met if not for a trip Marquart took with her sister and a friend when she was around 16. The women, who lived in St. Louis city, were visiting Marquart’s paternal relatives in her dad’s hometown of Dutzow, excited to be taking the train all by themselves. As the motor slowed upon approaching Washington, they were about to walk up the hill to her aunt’s business, Office Supplies and Equipment, in the downtown area when they spotted him.
“There was Glen Marquart with the car,” Marquart chuckled. “He was supposed to bring us and our luggage up to my aunt. … if you met him a couple years ago you wouldn’t think he was so shy, but he was then.”
Marquart said he had recently returned from the Korean War, dropping the trio off at the shop and leaving. A few minutes later he returned with a stack of envelopes for Marquart’s aunt to address, and when that was done he left again. He returned a third time and repeated the instructions his kind boss had given him.
“I’m not supposed to come back to his office any more today because I need to make friends with those three young girls,” Marquart remembers him saying. That day he brought the women to see some horses, and he later stayed at Marquart’s aunt’s house visiting with the family.
“He sat down like he was welcome company, and he talked and talked and talked to my uncle,” Marquart laughed. “Finally my aunt said to him, ‘Well, Glen, I guess maybe you’re staying for supper.’ He said something like, ‘Yeah, that would be nice.’ So he did. He stayed for supper.”
After Marquart returned home to St. Louis, she didn’t think she’d hear from the shy man who loved horses again. One day she returned home and heard from her mother that she’d missed a call from a man she met in Washington. Her mother didn’t remember his name, but Marquart knew. Later that day he called and invited her to a horse show at the now shuttered St. Louis Arena, former home of the St. Louis Blues, concerts, political rallies and other large events until it was demolished in 1999.
“You know, we didn’t have a lot of money. I didn’t get to go many places,” Marquart said. “I was tickled to death to get out of the house. And with all these brothers and sisters, are you kidding? I’m gonna turn down a date who has a car? No, I wasn’t stupid.”
She laughed warmly remembering how he didn’t want to leave after the show, but he had to because she’d already agreed to another date that night. The next week he asked to take her to a baseball game. “I’m not saying I dated all the time, but I had something to do that night too,” she chuckled. “I was liking him, so I said, ‘Glen, if you’re gonna come up here I need a little more advance warning.’ ”
So he started driving up to have “dates” with her on Tuesday nights during devotions. After the devotion, she went to choir practice and he drove back to Washington on the deteriorating Route 66, a trip that lasted “well over an hour” as Interstate 44 hadn’t yet been built.
She also spent time with her five younger siblings, walking them to school and combing their hair. She helped with chores, often spending Saturdays cleaning the house with her dad while her mom worked part time.
“We had just gotten a television, and my dad liked to watch football,” Marquart said. “He turned on the football games as a way to get me to help him clean the house — not that I was gonna watch football, but football has halftime, and halftime has parades. That’s how I learned the rules.”
Marquart graduated from Rosati-Kain, an all-girls Catholic high school across the street from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Her favorite memories of her school days were eagerly checking the progress of the cathedral’s mosaic installation, which saw more than 41.5 million glass pieces in over 7,000 colors added to the church’s interior from 1912 to 1988, and playing softball and volleyball.
“I was never into dollies very much,” she said. “My dad taught me how to hold a bat and catch a ball.”
She also loved acting in plays and in the school’s speech club.
“The best part about it was it taught me how to talk, how to really speak so people can understand your words,” she said, adding the skills have come in handy as a reader at Immaculate Conception Church in Union and in communicating with family members with hearing aids.
After graduation, she enjoyed having more time for dates with Glen. Her favorites were sitting outside the Jewel Box in Forest Park at night and listening to the crickets and chimes.
“He was strong,” Marquart said. “He was grown up. He wasn’t silly. He was serious.”
The Marquarts married Oct. 5, 1957, at St. Cronan Church in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood.
“October can be very cool and rainy sometimes. The day I got married it was 90 degrees,” Marquart said. “We had a wedding breakfast at my mom and dad’s house. We cleaned out the big bedroom where the younger kids slept in two big double beds, and we set up tables and fixed breakfast.”
The couple later moved to Union, two months before Marquart had their first child, Kathy. Around the time their second child, Doug, was born, they moved to the home near downtown Union where Marquart still resides today. Nearly every wall is covered with photographs and mementos from the couple’s seven children — Kathy, Doug, Greg, Becky, Jenny, Dianne and Phillip — 13 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and many friends.
A Heart for Service
As a young woman, Marquart worked as a paper delivery driver for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and at Office Supplies and Equipment.
She was enrolled in one of the first classes at East Central College and remembers attending in the old auditorium, a contrast to her dad’s years at the then one-room St. Vincent de Paul School, where he arrived speaking only German. Education was also something she hoped to instill in her children — learning not only from books but also from life. She frequently took her children to see plays at the Muny and the Fox in St. Louis.
“I took the kids to the Muny once for ‘Porgy and Bess.’ That September my daughter’s teacher put on a record during music time and said, ‘Now I want you to listen and see if anyone recognizes this melody.’ My daughter raised her hand. The teacher kind of closed her eyes and said, ‘Jenny, do you know this?’ ‘Well, yes, I know that, that’s “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess.” Mom took us this summer.’ “
Besides music, reading has been another lifelong passion. Marquart’s living room is dotted with books borrowed from the library, purchased books to add to her collection and whichever books she is currently reading to a class of first-graders at Immaculate Conception School, where the students lovingly call her Grandma Jean when she shows up each week to lead storytime.
She also co-organizes an annual rummage sale with Immaculate Conception Church, which was reimagined this year as a clothing giveaway to help anyone struggling from the economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic access warm clothing and bedding for the winter months.
She knows that people here need it, more than one might suspect. She can recall one year when a mother and a young girl who spoke almost no English eagerly sorted through clothes they could buy for $1 each at the sale. They planned to send the clothes to relatives back home in Eastern Europe. The child told Marquart that their family would freeze otherwise. Marquart and the other leaders tried to explain to the woman that they wanted to give her the things for free. At first she cried because she thought they were saying she couldn’t buy any of it, Marquart said. But then she understood.
But the volunteer work that many know Marquart for is with the Red Cross. She can remember decades ago trying to put on weight so she could be eligible to give, once even considering putting rocks in her pockets to meet the cut off. When she did finally meet the weight requirement, she started driving to St. Louis to donate blood platelets to be used by cancer patients.
“I started giving blood because I saw my dad do it, I saw my husband do it, I saw in the newspaper soldiers doing it, I saw all kinds of people doing it,” Marquart said. “I gave blood because I had seven kids. If I had never given blood and one of my kids in an emergency needed blood, I’d have been so embarrassed.”
She hopes the commitment of her and her team members inspires people to come and come back. When she sits next February to donate her 18th gallon of blood, she said she’ll be proud not of herself, but of all the other volunteers.
“If I died tomorrow, the blood drives would go on because of (the other volunteers),” Marquart said. “All those people help me because they believe in it.”