A Beautiful Legacy

By Jodi Blake

The Grenners: Leaving a mark nearly a century later. 

The first gas station in the United States, opened by the Automobile Gasoline Company in St. Louis, founded by Henry Grenner and Clem Laessig. (First gas station in St. Louis, “east side of Theresa Street just south of Market.” Photograph, 1939.)

Legacy. The word conjures thoughts of historical figures who gave their lives to change ours, or of people from our own past that live on in our hearts because of what they did or how they lived. At some point in your adult life, you begin to think about leaving your own legacy. What will that be? How will you be remembered? How do you want to be remembered? And, most importantly, how will you make that happen?

During my school years, I was given the exercise to write my own eulogy. What an interesting thing to think about at such a young age. I would love to see that document now; how did I want people to remember me, and have I lived in a way so far to make that a reality? 

As an adult, it may be time to revisit those thoughts and put them on paper. I would recommend everyone do this. How would you answer questions about remembrance? About you own legacy? What are you doing to make that a reality? 

You control your legacy. Deciding what that means to you is the first step, and it doesn’t matter your age ­— you are never too old or too young to decide how you want people to remember you and to take action to make that happen. 

Begin by creating a list of words that you want people to use to describe you. Take a good look at those words. Are you living those words, if not, why not start today? What actions can you take now? Do you want to be remembered as friendly, but don’t have the time to chat with your neighbors — make the time. Do you want to be remembered as compassionate, caring or generous – donate your time, talent or treasure to those in need.

If generous is on your list of who you are or who you want to be, there are countless ways to share with others in need. Some financial options include direct cash or non-cash donations to a charity, gifts of appreciated assets (e.g., stocks), matched gifts (e.g., through your employer), and charitable trusts. Depending on the type of charitable trust, the trust can provide retirement income to you, income to an individual or entity you choose, and a charitable distribution for a cause that is important to you. Each comes with a partial charitable deduction for you as the donor. Charitable trusts can provide one-time gifts, income over the life of the trust, or income in perpetuity for the charity. All trust options provide a way to leave a legacy of generosity.

The decisions made by Henry and Gussie over 100 years ago are beautiful examples of foresight and generosity.


At the Masonic Home, no conversation about legacy, generosity, or charitable trusts can take place without remembering Henry C. and Gussie Seabury Grenner, who included the Masonic Home of Missouri in their wills in 1918 and 1922. 

Gussie L. Seabury married Henry Clay Grenner in New York in 1875. Henry began his career in printing and publishing, but after moving to the oil regions of Pennsylvania during the height of the region’s success, he entered the oil industry. 

The Grenner’s moved to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1886 “for the purpose of developing the independent oil trade throughout the west and southwest” according to Henry’s biography in The Book of Missourians, published in 1906. There he built an International Oil Works branch. In 1905 Henry, along with Clem Laessig, formed the Automobile Gasoline Company in St. Louis and opened what is generally agreed to be the first gas station in the United States.

The Grenner’s were well-known and highly respected members of the St. Louis community. Henry was a member of Tuscan Lodge No. 360. The Grenner’s had no children. Henry amassed his wealth through his oil and other endeavors. Gussie possessed “a large amount of property apart and independent of her husband’s estate” according to court documents.

Henry died unexpectedly in the lobby of the Hamilton Hotel, where the couple resided, while attending a meeting of the Republican Party according to an October 24, 1922, report in the St. Louis Dispatch. Henry’s will directed that his estate be held in a trust for Gussie, passing to the Masonic Home of Missouri upon her death.  

The Hamilton Hotel where Henry and Gussie lived, and where Henry unexpectedly passed away. (Hamilton Hotel, 956 Hamilton Avenue. Photograph by W.C. Persons, 1920s.)

Gussie would live until March 29, 1932. Through her will, she provided bequests for various family members and friends, 10 charitable organizations and 23 clerks who assisted her over the years at her favorite stores in St. Louis, with the remainder of the funds being set aside in a perpetual trust for the benefit of the Masonic Home of Missouri. 

Upon Gussie’s passing and the will made public, newspapers all over North America, from Palmyra, Missouri, to Honolulu, Hawaii, covered the story of her gifts to the clerks. Over the years, Gussie had told her favorite store clerks that she would remember them in her will. They reported that they smiled at the pleasantries, but never expected anything. Gussie kept her word, and each store clerk was surprised when notified of the gift in the amount of $200 each, with one clerk receiving $500.  

When Gussie passed, the $253,675 that was intended for the Masonic Home from the Henry C. Grenner Trust was distributed to the Masonic Home and set up as “The Henry C. Grenner Endowment Fund” with instructions that the Masonic Home could only use the income earned. In addition to Henry’s gift, Gussie also included the Masonic Home in her will. She created a perpetual trust to be held by St. Louis Union Trust Company, with the entire net income to be paid to the Masonic Home in perpetuity. 

The St. Louis Dispatch article mentioning the clerks Gussie left gifts for in her will.

Both trusts had the same idea — preservation and growth of the corpus of the trust and income to the charity. Henry’s was given directly to the Masonic Home, but with restrictions. Gussie’s was set up through a third party, with restrictions. Both trusts provided asset growth and perpetual income for the Masonic Home to manage its operating and program expenses. The original value of Gussie’s trust in 1932 was over $377,000. As of December 2022, the Masonic Home has received nearly $2.2 million in distributions from Gussie’s trust. 

The decisions made by Henry and Gussie over 100 years ago are beautiful examples of foresight and generosity. Their legacy has served tens of thousands of people for nearly a century, from the residents of the Masonic Home on Delmar in St. Louis, Missouri, to the residents of the Masonic Home’s Residential Living Facility in Kansas City, Missouri, to today’s Outreach clients, children and veterans all across the State of Missouri. Last fiscal year, the nearly $88,000 in distributions received from Gussie’s Trust provided the assistance for the first 5,000 children helped during the year. 

Every month we receive a distribution from Gussie’s trust. And, every month, 90 years after her passing, I think of her, the amazing woman she must have been and the legacy that she has left. I wonder, 90 years after I leave this earth, will I have made any contribution to it worth remembering.

Life is busy and passes by much more quickly than we would like. Make the time today to ensure that you are remembered as the person you want to be.

Call Jackie Walters, Sr. Engagement & Major Gifts Officer, at 800.434.9804 to see how you can leave a legacy of impact for the clients of the Masonic Home. The Masonic Home does not provide tax or legal advice. Consult a qualified estate planning attorney and tax accountant to discuss gift structures that are right for you.

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