The Story Behind The Name: The Wool family’s philanthropy


A collage of photos provided by the Wool family. Center shows Harlene (L) and Marvin (R). Bottom right shows the Wool siblings.

By Bill Motchan, Special to the Jewish Light

New Jewish Theatre performances are held at the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio. St. Louis University students who attend events at the Busch Student Center often use the Harlene and Marvin Wool Ballroom. The large brick building a block north on Grand Avenue that houses the SLU human resources department is the Wool Center. 

The Harlene and Marvin Wool Endowed Professorship in Cardiology at St. Louis University was created in appreciation of the care Marvin was given by a SLU cardiologist. Heart patients at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield often go to the Marvin Wool Cardiac Rehabilitation Center.

The Wool name at these institutions honor the Jewish couple team who for many years were successful in business and committed to giving back to the St. Louis community. Now, their three children are continuing that legacy through their stewardship of the Wool Foundation. 

In 2020 alone, the Wool Foundation provided grants to two dozen organizations, including the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum, Foster Care Coalition of Greater St. Louis, Friends of Kids With Cancer, the Miriam Foundation and Ronald McDonald House. 

Marvin Wool died in 2014; Harlene Wool passed away four years later. But their many contributions live on via the institutions that bear their names. The Wool Foundation continues to support health and human service organizations thanks to a healthy balance sheet with assets of more than $30 million and a dedicated team of trustees.

Marvin Wool was born in St. Louis in 1928. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and an MBA from St. Louis University.

“Marvin and Harlene Wool have made a lasting impact on St.  Louis University through their generosity,” said Sheila Manion, vice president of development at SLU. “When families like the Wools support the university so generously, SLU is able to fulfill its mission to serve humanity through teaching, research and service to the community. Today, students, faculty and staff across the university benefit from their legacy of support.”

After his graduation from SLU in 1956, Marvin Wool worked for Dennis Chemical. He then founded M-R Plastics and Coatings. The company was so successful, he sold it a few years later. He followed that with a startup called Dash Multi-Corp, which specialized in chemicals and rubber recycling.

Wool was chairman, president and CEO of Dash, which grew to 700 employees. While running that company, he helped build Allegiant Bank. He was chairman of the bank when it went public and grew to be the largest publicly held bank based in the St. Louis area. He served on a number of boards and supported Jewish causes and other community organizations. Wool was a past president of B’nai El Congregation. 

Harlene Wool was also an active volunteer in the community, including at St. Luke’s Hospital and a school library.

The Wools were committed to philanthropy, as evidenced by their support of institutions as varied as the St. Andrew’s Charitable Foundation and the now-defunct St. Louis Chapter of the American Technion Society (the chapter is now served by the Chicago office). Even with business and volunteer responsibilities, Marvin and Harlene Wool always spent time with their family, said their daughter Deni Wool, 71.

“They supported us in all our sports and other events,” she said. “It could be a Girl Scouts event or a father-daughter banquet. He would always be there. Things that were important to us were important to them, too.”

A summer ritual was the Wool family road trip, said their son Sandy Wool, 69.

“The family vacation was something they believed in,” he said. “My dad worked a lot, but he was also a really high energy person and he spent a lot of time with the family.”

For relaxation, Marvin Wool enjoyed gardening. He was a good chess player, and he excelled at racquetball. He also played Indian Ball, a softball variant that originated in St. Louis in the late 1940s.

Helping others help themselves

The three adult Wool children — Sandy and Deni Wool, and Amye Wool Carrigan — often get together for family events. But they also regularly meet for business matters. All three are members of Temple Emmanuel and are the
trusees of the Wool Foundation. As siblings, they have a chemistry that works well in that role.

“We just say that we get together to give away money,” Deni Wool said. “We get along, and we do really well. I know it has brought us a lot closer for a common purpose, and the purpose is to do good. To give away money to people who need it in the community. That’s a good thing.”

As trustees of the foundation, the Wools bear a responsibility to maintain a mission consistent with their parent’s philanthropic philosophy, said Carrigan, 66.

“Our mission statement refers to helping people to be able to help themselves,” she said. “We often give to medical organizations who care for children and help with their medical needs, or for people who are living in poverty. As trustees, we also vet the organizations and try to make conscientious decisions so that the organizations we’re distributing funds to are good fiduciary custodians.”

Sandy Wool said, “My father came up in a generation where if you wanted something, you had to get it yourself. He had a lot of compassion, but he definitely wanted to see people help themselves. And he wanted to give people a hand up if he could.”

The Wool siblings do their homework, too. They research potential organizations before meeting to decide which grantees 

make the best case for funding.

“We each bring ideas for different organizations that we know of personally to the group,” Sandy Wool said. “In our discussion, one of us might say, ‘Here’s an organization that I think is worthy of our support.’ And we typically are unanimous in our decision to either give or not give. There are certain themes. I know a lot of our giving has centered around child-related causes. In fact, one-third of all of our giving goes to child-related charities. We gave funds to 50 charities in 2022, and a full third of them were child-related.”

Volunteering runs in the family

In addition to their foundation responsibilities, the Wool children followed in their parent’s footsteps as volunteers. Deni Wool volunteers for the Little Bit Foundation and the St. Louis Area Food Bank. Amye Wool Carrigan has served on the board of Jewish Family Services. Sandy Wool is a longtime board member and treasurer of Next Step.

The Wool siblings understand the value of giving back. They remember their parents fondly and, of course, they’ve become accustomed to seeing the Wool name at SLU or the other institutions where their parent’s legacy is prominently displayed.

“It’s a comfort to me to know that they’re still recognized by other people,” Carrigan said.

Deni Wool said: “It makes me feel very proud to see it. When I see his name anywhere, I think, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s my dad!’ He was very philanthropic, and he did a good thing with his financial success.”