niels & mellie esperson
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By: Thomas M. Ciesla
On the 14th anniversary of the Niels Esperson
Building, the Mellie Esperson Building was officially opened in 1941. The two L-shaped structures, while separate are physically joined on all but two floors. Few people who watched Mellie cutting the cake knew that she couldn’t see her grand building. By 1940, Mellie could barely distinguish light from dark due to cataracts, and being a devout Christian Scientist, she refused any medical attention. The blindness quickly progressed, robbing her of her sight by 1941.
She selected a trusted companion to be with her constantly, and continued her control of day-to-day business operations despite her blindness. If a check needed signing, she would sign it, even though she would scrawl across the face of the entire check.
In her later years, Mellie kept a promise shared by herself and her late-husband: to give back something to the city that had been so good to them. The Museum of Fine Arts numbered among the recipients of her philanthropy. In addition to the many works of art that she donated was a sundial she bought from the Charles Schwab estate. Entitled Hercules Upholding the Heavens, it was placed on the plot of lawn across from the Mecom Fountain.
After over two decades of running the business, “Mother Esperson” as she came to be known -- despite never having children of her own -- died in her Warwick Hotel apartment, in 1945 at the age of 75. She was buried in Forest Park Cemetery next to “Mr. Esperson” of whom she once said, "kept our marriage constantly full of surprises."
Mellie, that midwest farm girl, never stopped loving
that big Dane.
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