SLU Supporter: Mary Bruemmer
When asked why she gives to Saint Louis University, Mary Bruemmer’s answer is simple. “Why wouldn’t I?” Bruemmer said, shocked by the question. “It’s my alma mater!”
Indeed, to Bruemmer, the thought of not giving to SLU is unimaginable – so much so that the 1942 graduate has given to the University for at least 43 consecutive years. That makes her one of the longest-standing members of the True to SLU Society, which honors those true-blue donors who make a financial contribution to SLU in consecutive fiscal years.
“I loved SLU from the beginning: I loved the people, the whole atmosphere. I fit there. I surprised my family, the sisters, my parish,” Bruemmer said, thinking back to when she started classes at SLU in 1938 – a time when many women from her hometown of Madison, Illinois, did not go to college and only 5% of the SLU student body was made up of women. Little did she know, her undergrad years were only the beginning of her SLU story.
Bruemmer’s trailblazing reputation followed her throughout her four years at the University as she excelled in class and earned top positions at the U. News and Fleur-de-Lis literary magazine. By the end of her college career, SLU offered her a job as its first dean of women. Feeling the need for more life experience, Bruemmer turned the job down.
“I said, ‘Dean of women?! That should be an older woman who knows how to have parties and things,’” Bruemmer recalled.
She went on to have a colorful career, beginning at the Red Cross and then moving to Springfield, Illinois, where she took turns at jobs including a Catholic youth organization, a radio station, and in publicity for organizations such as the Springfield public library and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. She would go on to turn down the dean of women position another time before agreeing to a new role as the director of Marguerite Hall, SLU’s first official residence hall for women, in 1956. That job marked the beginning of a career at SLU that would span decades.
Bruemmer did eventually accept the role as dean of women in 1967, followed by positions as the University’s first dean of students and then in advancement to work with alumni and donors. But that’s not all: She also founded the University’s Women’s Commission and advised its Oriflamme spirit organization, as well as its chapter of Alpha Sigma Nu. Even after retiring in 1990, Bruemmer continued coming to campus every day as a full-time volunteer. All the while, she became a beloved figure at the University, going out of her way to make newcomers feel welcome and support students in any way she could.
One of those many ways was through her generosity, making sure to make a financial gift to SLU every year. One such case was when students were looking to start an ability exhibit to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities.
“I heard that the students wanted this project. Their teacher told me about it, and they were unable to get [the funding] from their dean, so I just decided I would make it possible,” Mary recalled. Since its inception in 2010, Allies for Inclusion: The Ability Exhibit has grown and traveled to dozens of colleges and universities throughout the U.S.
Bruemmer also worked to help students who fell on hard times. One such situation was when a student came from India to study nutrition at SLU, with a goal of eventually returning to her home country to teach. When the student faced unexpected obstacles upon her arrival, Bruemmer made sure she received the financial assistance she needed to make her SLU education possible.
Bruemmer recalls how amazing it felt to see the student succeed after graduating from SLU. “The day that woman picked up the phone and took a job in Texas, I just couldn’t believe that we’d done it,” she says.
Bruemmer even started a scholarship in 2018 to support tomorrow’s teachers. Known as the Mary Bruemmer Endowed Education Scholarship, it provides assistance to full-time undergraduate students in SLU’s School of Education, with a focus particularly on students minoring in Catholic education. An education major herself, Mary discovered while she was student-teaching that classroom teaching wasn’t for her. But she never forgot the importance of resources for education.
“I want any student from grade school on who wants to be a teacher [to] have encouragement in the form of money if possible,” Bruemmer said. She witnessed the value of education firsthand in her own family, where she said education became a kind of hallmark. Her brothers both earned education degrees, and her parents, while students only until 8th grade, had beautiful handwriting and encouraged the same from their children.
“Although I decided I did not want to teach, I did not for five minutes forget the importance of providing money when I could for that reason,” Bruemmer said. The scholarship has benefited three students each academic year since its inception.
As she nears her 100th birthday, Bruemmer’s love and generosity toward all areas of SLU have not ceased.
“I guess the mere fact that I kept going forward and finding something new and interesting was key to wanting to give more to the students,” Bruemmer said, thinking back on the journey she’d taken throughout her education and career. She encourages others who want to help to consider specific ways in which students’ needs are not being met simply because of a lack of funding.