CHARLES H. HEER. No other country upon earth can point to a great army of self-made men, the United States standing alone in the pre-eminence of having an array of citizens, who, without adventitious aid or accident of birth, attain to wealth or distinction in public affairs. This is the glory of the country, that every one has a chance to make and prove himself a man if he has it in him. This reflection naturally suggests itself when one considers the success that has attended the footsteps of Mr. Heer, of Springfield, who, from a small beginning has won a first place in the thriving city of Springfield. Mr. Heer was born in the Kingdom of Hanover, Germany, April 30, 1820, and is a son of Gerhardt W. and Mary E. (Klecker) Heer, the former of whom was a landed proprietor and for many years a justice of the peace in his native land. He died there at about the age of seventy- five years, a devout member of the Catholic Church and a man of honorable and upright character. Charles H. Heer never saw his father, who died three months before he was born. In his youth his advantages were excellent for acquiring an education, and while preparing himself for the priesthood in 1835, his mother married again and came with her husband to America, and, as a natural consequence, this cut short his educational career, for he accompanied his mother to this country. The family settled in St. Louis, making the journey from the port of landing, Baltimore, to Wheeling, Va., in a large, old-fashioned Pennsylvania wagon, the journey to that point occupying. three weeks. At that time Charles H. was but fourteen years of age, but can well remember the journey, which was made from Wheeling to St. Louis by water. The family at that time consisted of seven persons: Louis Heer, the stepfather (of the same family name as Gerhardt W. Heer), Mrs. Heer, Charles H. and his half brothers and sisters, Edward, Francis, Mary and Agnes. At St. Louis a situation was procured for Charles H. in a wholesale and retail queensware house, with which he remained until he was twenty-two years of age, when, having gained a thorough business education and some money, he determined to put both to his own use, and he at once started in business for himself, in company with R. Heitcamp, in the grocery and provision trade. Two years later Mr. Heer sold out and became a partner of D. L. Myer in the grocery business, which in a few years was enlarged to include a fine general line of goods. By over exertion and great devotion to his business, Mr. Heer greatly injured his health, and was threatened with consumption, but he at once gave up his labors, cast aside dull care and went South to battle with the grim destroyer. He received no benefit there, however, and taking the advice of a distinguished French physician then practicing in St. Louis, he left that city in 1847 and paid a visit to his parents in Illinois. During the few months that he remained there he so far recovered that he purchased a large farm in that State, near the home of his parents in Monroe County, which he conducted until 1850, at which time he rented the farm and engaged in the general mercantile business at Waterloo, Ill., where he continued to make his home until 1871. He had visited Springfield in 1868 and bought the lot now occupied by the Heer Dry Goods Companv, and upon which there was no building at that time. Shortly after buying the property lie erected the brick store building now occupied by the company, which he rented until his removal to that town in 1871, and he then stocked it with a general line of goods and has since done a wholesale and retail business. The business was incorporated in 1879 under the name of Charles H. Heer Dry Goods Company, all the stock being held in the family of Mr. Heer, and embraces all lines of dry goods, trimmings, notions, and boots and shoes It is the oldest as well as the largest business of the kind in the city, but is now entirely retail, tile wholesale department having been discontinued several years since. Mr. Heer has been uniformly prosperous, and owes his success to his own industry and economy. and to the fact that he has always kept out of debt. He has made it a rule of his life never to spend a dollar until he had earned it. He was one of a company of Springfield capitalists who bought the old Springfield & Western Missouri Railroad, now a part of the Gulf Railroad, and which was then only graded a short distance, owing to the fact that the company engaged in its construction had failed. The Springfield company built twenty miles of the road to Ash Grove and ran trains to and from this city. At the end of two years Mr. Heer and his friends in business sold out their interests to the present company, having taken up this project only to get the railroad in running order for the benefit of Springfield. Mr. Heer has been an extensive holder of real estate in Springfield, much of which he has, however, divided among his children. He was married January 6, 1846, in St. Charles County, Mo., to Mrs. Mary E. Bunnenan (nee Koenig), and to them seven children have been given: Charles H., Henry L., who died at the age of thirty years, a married man; Mary E.; Louis H., who died at the age of seven years; Agnes, Francis X. and Celia. All his life long Mr. Heer has been a devout Catholic, and for many years it was his earnest desire to found a Catholic college, and in 1892 this desire found fruition in the establishment of St. Joseph College at the corner of Jefferson and Chestnut Streets, Springfield, to which he donated $12,000 in property and money. He is a firm believer in the cause of education, both spiritual and mental, and it was his heartfelt desire in founding this institution that it should be a benefit to mankind and should testify to the power and glory of the Supreme Being. He believes in the higher education of the young, and by his generous gift has placed it within the power of many to gain thorough educations. The institution is now firmly founded, and is under the able management of that thorough scholar and perfect gentleman, Rev. Father Maurus Eckstein, a member of the religious order of St. Benedict, an organization devoted to the education of the young. He has always also liberally assisted the parochial Catholic schools, and has done his full share in assisting the Protestant institutions of the city, such as Drury College, etc. As a man and citizen Mr. Heer stands high above reproach and his whole course through life is a living and lasting lesson to the young. He is one of those remarkable men possessed of self denial, prudence and sagacity, who grow up a benefit to mankind, and surely in the establishment of a noble educational institution he has performed an act which will remain to his credit through all time to come. His father was a man of considerable wealth, but when Charles H. left Germany he was considerably under age, and his stepfather could not draw his share of the estate, and since that time he has never applied for the money due him, preferring, with characteristic independence, to make his own way in the world. He began as an errand boy in the establishment in which he first worked after coming to America, carefully saved his wages, and eventually he and a brother clerk, a former schoolmate in Germany, started out for themselves, and in this manner he laid the foundation of his present ample fortune. His mother was one of those noble-minded women who wielded a strong influence over the life of her son, and to such a noble use was her influence put, and so ably and intelligently did she guide his footsteps, both by precept and example, that to this day he has his unbounded gratitude and undying affection and respect. She was a devout Catholic, and instilled this faith into the hearts and minds of her children. Mrs. Heer, the first wife of the subject of this sketch, was a devoted mother, and reared a worthy family of children and lent valuable aid to her husband in his business and charitable projects and of her it might be truly said that "She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness." Her husband and children were called upon to mourn her death October 25, 1881, and Mr. Heer afterward took as his helpmate Sarah Barry, an intelligent and kind lady, with whom he is yet living. The life of Mr. Heer has always been regulated by a deep conviction of duty, and he has never sanctioned any measure that he did not believe to be in the interests of the people and community, and has always taken a decided stand on the side of reform in educational matters. His business methods have ever been such as to secure the fullest confidence, and the result is that he holds a position in business circles that any man might envy. He has always been a Democrat in politics, and in 1875 was a member of the City Council, the duties of which position he discharged in his usual conscientious and intelligent manner.
Springfield-Greene County Library