ST. LOUIS COUNTY — August Anheuser "Gussie" Busch Jr. was a legendary yeller and pounder who didn't get past sixth grade. He led one of the largest breweries in the world, made friends with the likes of President Harry Truman and married four times.
Trudy Busch Valentine is one of his 11 children. She's bold in her own way. She's running for U.S. Senate without political experience beyond growing up in an enormous, wealthy family that was, for a memorable era, the monarchy of Cardinals Nation.
Unlike her father, Valentine is formally schooled. She's quiet, even with a microphone in her hand.
"We can't hear you!" a crowd recently yelled here at Queeny Park.
"I'll try to do better," Valentine, shuffling papers, told them from the stump.
Democratic Party loyalists quickly forgave her. They've experienced a lot of loss during Missouri's metamorphosis from blue to red. Valentine, 65, who won a packed primary, is their best chance at reclaiming a coveted seat on Nov. 8 that
Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, 72, is giving up to retire.
Valentine spoke softly to the crowd, but she wore a blue sport coat and told them what they wanted to hear, believe.
"I am the woman who is going to stop Eric Schmitt from reaching the United States Senate," she said, prompting some applause.
Schmitt, 47, is expected to win the general election. As Missouri's Republican attorney general, he tapped into Donald Trump's farright base, alarming others along the way who first knew Schmitt as a moderate state senator from Glendale.
Valentine criticized Schmitt for "peddling conspiracy theories" about the 2020 election for political gain, for exploiting his law enforcement position by filing lawsuits against public school districts to deflect mask mandates.
Schmitt says he's willing to take heat fighting for what's right. To the delight of his own loyal followers, he calls Valentine "a billionaire heiress," who is trying to buy an election from the peasantry.
"Let them eat cake," goes one online jab.
In 2020, Forbes magazine pegged the entire Busch family's wealth at $17.6 billion. In campaign filings, Valentine reported net worth between $69.4 million and $219.4 million, with annual income between $4.3 million and $30.7 million. She lives in a gated $4 million mansion in Ladue, by an exclusive golf course and polo field. She owns a lot of stock, has a 1,000-acre farm near Rhineland in Montgomery County, and a one-fifth stake in Grant's Farm, the tourist attraction in south St. Louis County.
Though born into wealth, Valentine, a registered nurse, with a master's degree in pastoral studies, described herself as a lifelong learner who prays for God's guidance each day. She said her life has been defined by serving others, a trait she wants to carry into one of the highest elected offices in the land.
"America is in a great time of need and that is why I am running," she told the crowd. "Washington is broken. It is full of too many career politicians like Eric Schmitt. I am not in this for ego or power or money. I can't be bought."
The Roman Catholic mother of six vowed to fight for better access to affordable health care, primarily a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion. Though her eldest son died from an opioid overdose in 2020, she supports the legalization of marijuana, partly because it could bring added revenue streams for mental health treatment.
"I struggled with this issue a lot because addiction runs in our family, but this measure regulates marijuana so it will be a safer product," she said.
She made a plea across party lines.
"Democrats, independents, Republicans, we must stand for compassion, for truth and decency," she said. "And we must defend and protect our democracy and our country with everything we have. This race is not going to be easy. So I am going to need all of your help."
John Gray, 76, was out in the crowd of mainly white retirees at Queeny Park. He'd knocked on doors to get out the vote for Barack Obama. Asked for his main takeaway from the speech, he said Valentine needs to speak up.
"It's going to be a long hard road to beat the Republicans in Missouri," said Gray, a former airline mechanic from Kirkwood. "Right now, she's going on her name. Maybe she should supply out more beer."
Like her father. In one of many publicity stunts, Gussie gave President Franklin D. Roosevelt a case of Bud when Prohibition was repealed. A wagon drawn by Clydesdales made the White House delivery.
Who is that?
Out of all the family leaders at A-B, Gussie seems the most colorful, according to the book, "Under the Influence: The Unauthorized Story of the Anheuser-Busch Dynasty."
In 1949, on the cusp of turning 50, he sauntered into a restaurant in Lucerne, Switzerland, and became enamored with the hostess.
"Who in the hell is that beautiful girl?" Gussie asked.
"That's my daughter," the innkeeper told him.
Gertrude Josephine "Trudy" Buholzer was just 22. Though he proposed on their first date, they wouldn't tie the knot until 1952 because Gussie was still married to his second wife, Elizabeth.
He and his new bride ended up having seven children. They were raised at Grant's Farm, which opened to tourists not long after A-B bought the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953. Their names are Adolphus IV, Beatrice, Peter, Trudy, Billy, Andrew and Christina.
Like relatives before and after, this branch of the Busch family generated headlines. Peter fatally shot a teenage friend at Grant's Farm in 1976. Billy bit off a man's ear outside of a tavern in 1981. Trudy was crowned queen of the Veiled Prophet Ball in 1977. Christina died several days after an automobile crash in 1974 that also killed her driver.
In a latest lengthy interview with the Post-Dispatch, Valentine recalled sitting by her sister's hospital bed as part of what motivated her to study nursing at St. Louis University. She graduated in 1980, and for a little less than a year worked on a surgery floor in Boston.
"It's important to be your own person," she said.
As adults, her siblings represent the political spectrum raging across the country. Billy, 63, who opened up his home a few years ago for a reality television series on MTV, told the Post-Dispatch that he supports Schmitt and his promise to secure the economy and southern border. Though registered to vote in Florida, Adolphus, 69, said he supports Trudy's progressive stance and desire to protect democracy.
Valentine said she wasn't aware of any other Busch previously running for office — nor working as a nurse. She said her parents supported her interest in health care. After Boston, she came back to St. Louis and worked as a volunteer nurse at the former Salvation Army Residence for Children, a home for abused and neglected babies and toddlers.
"She made quite an impression," recalled Sue Stepleton, 74, the administrator of the program then who went on to be national director of Parents as Teachers. "She was very early in her career, but I remember her being very professional."
Valentine left after three or four years to focus on her own growing family. She and John D. Valentine, a prominent lawyer, had five sons and one daughter. In 2002, when John died of cancer at 49, their children were between the ages of 6 and 18.
"It was first hard for me to navigate without my husband, and then also to grieve and make sure I was taking care of my children and their needs," Valentine said. "I did the best that I could. I had a lot of friends that helped out."
About six months into being widowed, she went back to school at the Aquinas Institute of Theology, a Catholic graduate school near SLU.
"I still wanted to be somebody on my own," she said. "I thought it was good that my kids saw me studying."
She said she graduated five years later. She worked as a hospice nurse for Visiting Nurse Association, a role that took her into a lot of homes throughout the St. Louis region.
"I would just get my Google maps out and go," she said. "I was definitely in North City. I was in all different communities."
She said she left hospice after about a year. She had concerns about her two older sons, and her mother, who had Alzheimer's disease. She preferred to focus on lifesaving measures. About 11 years ago, she enrolled at St. Louis Community College in Wildwood to become a licensed EMT. She said she was the oldest person in the class. She said nobody knew her background as a Busch.
She said she raised her crop of children, which includes a U.S. Marine officer and nurse practitioner, as Valentines.
Deciding to run
Valentine has been a financial contributor and facilitator of many causes. She's known for bringing groups together. She's hosted fundraisers at Grant's Farm for anything from Almost Home, a nonprofit that serves teen mothers, to Hillary Clinton's 2016 run for president against Trump.
She supported the last two Democrats who lost bids for U.S. Senate in Missouri — Jason Kander and Claire McCaskill. She said she first started thinking about entering the arena herself during an online fundraiser event earlier this year with Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. They were talking about infrastructure, schools, public safety and the cost of basic necessities.
"I was like these are all the things I am interested in," she said.
Valentine said she reflected on her own life and what she wanted to do going forward.
"Serving others has been so much of what my life is about," she said. "Maybe this is the last time I can serve in a bigger way and reach more people?"
While some analysts believe Valentine was picked by the Democratic Party establishment because she was the only wellfunded candidate with name recognition, she said that's not what happened. She said she caught everyone off-guard with the idea of running, but that good friend and legendary political operative Joyce Aboussie was among the first she called.
Valentine said she told Aboussie to take the weekend to think about the idea before responding with feedback. She said Aboussie eventually had the same reaction as her children.
"Are you crazy? Why? Do you know what this will entail?" Valentine said Aboussie asked.
Aboussie told her that politics is dirty, and there's going to be so much negativity that Valentine would be a part of.
"Those things didn't worry me," Valentine said. "I know my conscience. I can look at myself in the mirror and go to bed and be OK every night because I am not hiding anything, and I am trying to do the right thing."
She said Kander and McCaskill told her to stay true to herself.
On March 28, more than a onth after the first filing day, alentine went to Jefferson City o sign up for the primary. Her husband, John Fries, was with her. "I am not the candidate," Fries said he told officials there.
Lucas Kunce, 40, was well-positioned to win the Democratic Primary. The populist got to work early, touting progressive causes in person and through social media. He had solid funding and told a compelling personal story that started in poverty, passed through Yale and led to a career as a U.S. Marine Corps officer. Rivaling fierce campaign rhetoric from Republicans Eric Greitens and Schmitt, Kunce vowed to be like a grenade in the U.S. Senate — just pull the pin.