Charles Baron

Portrait of 2011 Unsung Hero Charles Baron. Photo: Mike Sherwin

By David Baugher, Special to the Light

Driven is a word that could easily describe Charles Baron.

“What drives me at the moment are primarily issues affecting the city of St. Louis and its future,” said the Temple Israel congregant. “I see evidence of the city’s collapsing. The city of St. Louis is losing population at a fierce pace. It’s very much reflected in the education problems.”

His passion for the city may seem unique for a man who has never lived within its limits but much about Baron is unique and his connection to the home of the Gateway Arch goes back a long way, long before the Arch itself, in fact. After a tornado devastated the region, Baron remembers the site of tarpaper shacks lining the shores of the Mississippi housing the displaced.

“My mother would write plays and we would – all of us were under age 10 at the time – perform these plays out in the garage,” he recalled. “Other kids would bring canned goods as their admission to the play. We would then go with my mother to the riverfront and pass out what we had collected from all the kids to people living in these shacks.”


It was an early sign of the longtime sense of commitment he would display. Baron has been involved for some time with city schools, particularly the Innovative Concept Academy, a collaborative effort between the public schools, MERSGoodwill and the Juvenile Division of the Family Court.

His work with youth goes beyond the bounds of the city however. The 86-year-old has been instrumental in selecting participants for Seeds of Peace, a program that sends young people from the local Jewish and Arab communities to a summer camp in Maine to develop leadership skills that will promote peaceful coexistence. Baron calls it a “unique organization,” and said those who have undergone the training have told him about its effect.

“It has had an influence on their lives, their careers and it was personally invaluable to them because it gave them insights they never would have had,” he said.

He’s also chaired the Simon Foundation from its inception.

“We meet once a month and have funds left by Mildred Simon, who I have known forever,” he said. “That’s been an ongoing undertaking.”

Baron made his career in the law as a partner in his own firm, one that would later merge with what is now the firm of Thompson Coburn. Today, his son Dugie is a partner there.

Baron has been known to shake things up as well. In the mid-1960s, when it was still unusual for African-Americans and whites to eat together in public, Baron and his friend, local civil rights figure Norman Seay, took in a meal at the formerly segregated Stix, Baer and Fuller lunch counter, said Baron.

“Our experience was actually a good one,” recalled Baron. “Obviously everyone was looking at us but that was about it.”

What did they eat?

“I have absolutely no clue but it was a good lunch,” he laughed.

He also played a part with a group in the Maplewood Business District where individuals could discuss the racial divide in St. Louis.

“It was just to get people to know one another really,” he said.

Baron’s family is a part of a tradition of service to the community as well. Betty, his late wife of 46 years, was chair of the National Council of Jewish Women while their four children are all active in their own communities in various ways. Susan is in Washington D.C., John is in Denver, Dugie is in St. Louis and Fred is in Palo Alto, Calif.

“There’s one child in each time zone so the family is very spread out at this point,” Baron said with a chuckle.

Lois Goldring, a Westwood resident who has known Baron for four decades, calls him a generous individual who sees the best in others as well as in difficult situations.

“[He’s generous] not just in terms of money but also generous in terms of how he views people,” she said. “I’ve never met anybody who really finds good in everybody that he meets. It’s a marvelous, marvelous quality.”

She called Baron an innovative thinker whose passion for the city often acts as a catalyst for bringing people together.

“He thinks out of the box,” she said. “He’ll read an article in the New York Times and think how does what they are doing up there apply to what we need in St. Louis? He locks onto things that become popular but at the time he talks about them, nobody else has heard of them.”

Charles Baron

AGE:  86

FAMILY: Wife Betty is deceased; four children and 10 grandchildren

HOME: Chesterfield 

FAVORITE PASTIME: He enjoys hiking in his spare time.