Ask any Washington University graduate why he or she loves the university, and it is likely that a love of St. Louis will fall somewhere on the list. Whether they visited the city for the first time on their campus tour or grew up nearby, students and alumni recognize St. Louis as a great place to live, launch a career or raise a family. These two alumni couples from very different decades share their stories of coming to Washington University and finding their perfect matches — life partners and an ideal hometown.
David Gast, BS ’53, AB ’53, MS ’54, was on his way into a football game at Francis Field on a fall day in 1953 when he noticed the girl in front of him was wearing a skirt that was unzipped. “I debated, should I tell her now and have her be embarrassed,” he recalls, “or should I let her go on and find out about it later, after even more people have seen it?” He chose to take her aside and tell her.
It was a good decision because it was how he met his wife. “I didn’t go out with him then,” explains Carol Gast, then Carol Krauss. “Friends from my sorority and his fraternity set us up later.”
The Gasts grew up in St. Louis and chose Washington University partly because they wanted to stay in their hometown. It was known as a “streetcar school” then, serving mostly local students. They remember a smaller campus, freshman orientation at the chancellor’s home and many students who were funding their education through the G.I. Bill.
Many of David’s memories involve his work with sound systems on campus. David managed sound for the Quad Show, the Bearskin Follies, Thyrsus productions and the Assembly Series, where he remembers speakers such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Linus Pauling. He also designed and installed the sound system in Graham Chapel.
“I loved the technical challenge of it, and I saw myself as an entrepreneur,” David says. “In those days, you didn’t just go to Best Buy and buy a sound system; you had to build it and assemble it yourself.”
Carol, then a sophomore, left school in 1954 to marry David. The couple lived in Texas for two years while David served in the Army before returning to St. Louis, where he joined his father’s mechanical equipment sales company. “We wanted to settle down,” he says, “and we wanted to settle down here.”
The Gasts celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on the Washington University campus last summer. Longtime members of the William Greenleaf Eliot Society, they have returned often for reunions. When asked why they stay engaged with the university, David replies, “We like to be involved with things that are excellent.”
When Milton, West Virginia, Native Joshua Toothman, BSME ’99, MBA ’08, began looking at colleges, he had never heard of Washington University. Valerie Toothman, BSBME ’01, BSAS ’01, MBA ’08, who grew up an hour east of St. Louis in Greenville, Illinois, was familiar with the university but thought she might want to go to school farther from home.
“After I received a brochure in the mail, I came for a weekend visit and fell in love with the university,” Joshua says. “I liked the size and the location in St. Louis.” During her first visit, Valerie says, “The campus felt young and vibrant. I knew I would get an excellent education and be surrounded by quality people.”
Five degrees and more than 15 years later, the Toothmans agree that Washington University and St. Louis have played pivotal roles in their lives. They met in the university’s ROTC program, and their first date included a visit to Ted Drewes. “We sat on the back of my Ford Tempo eating ice cream and talking about everything,” Valerie says.
The couple married in 2001, after Joshua earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and Valerie earned hers in biomedical engineering. Their first jobs in the civilian sector took them to small companies in Louisville, Kentucky. Joshua worked for a firm that produced warehouse management software, and Valerie designed surgical devices. “It was a great experience,” Joshua says, “but after two years, we were ready to broaden our understanding of business.”
They chose to return to Washington University for the full-time MBA program at Olin Business School. After graduating, they joined global firms with strong roots in St. Louis. Valerie, who specialized in marketing, was recruited by Anheuser-Busch InBev. She currently serves as director of innovation for the company. Joshua, who focused on supply-chain management, oversees demand planning for Monsanto’s crop-protection group.
Living in St. Louis allows the Toothmans to maintain a strong relationship with their alma mater. Joshua mentors MBA students. Valerie lectures at Olin, and she has served as chair of the Eliot Society membership committee. “The legacy of WashU is so vibrant in this city,” Valerie says. “It’s a good place to be.”