This past year saw a great change in the life of the Eugene Field House Foundation. After serving on the board for 28 years, including several years as president, many more as chairman of the board and even more as president again, William Piper has left the board. He will remain as trustee emeritus, and all the friends of the Field House look forward to seeing him and all the Piper family often in the future.
Mr. Piper has stepped down from his position in part as a result of the need to reduce stress in response to a cardiac condition. Though some might not associate the word “stress” with a pretty old house downtown, those who have any experience with the Eugene Field House or any operation like it, know that it is a constant burden to the person responsible for keeping the place functioning. William Piper has been that man for the Field House for many years, and so has been at the mercy of unpredictable and implacable forces such as the weather, the highway department, the federal government, and arbiters of historic preservation. All are urgent in their demands—whether for the repairs or reports. Beyond them he has had to face both human malice (in the form of the vandals and thieves) and human charity (in the form of volunteers and donors): in their different ways, all are threats to the smooth functioning and historical integrity of the House.
Mr. Piper has had a hand in keeping the house intact and changing it just enough so that it is a good example of a 19th-century town house, not a perfect example of 20th-century repository of junk. He has been there through the renovations, through the grant applications, through the events that will be remembered as great successes, such as Hal Holbrook’s recent appearance at a Eugene Field House fund-raiser, and events that will be remembered more for the leaky tent than the program. He has dealt with several executive directors, to whom adjectives ranging from “irreplaceable” and “omni-capable” to “ineffectual” and “enigmatic” could be applied. He has presided over a board of directors that has included a number of members who might be described with British term, “a strong colleague,” or in several less euphemistic American locutions. He has dealt with all of them—and with the government officials, the contractors, the reporters, the tourists, the artists, the actors, and little children with tact, good-will, honesty, and aplomb.
He has done all that while pursuing at least two other careers. This year also saw Mr. Piper’s retirement from the U.S. Army Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He has served his country in uniform with the same distinction with which he has served the local community. Most recently, he has held a post in the JAG Corps, and his other career has been as an attorney-at-law. The Field House has constantly been the beneficiary of his legal acumen, even though it has never shown up a single billable hour on the books of his law office.
Having done so much, it is perfectly natural that a man with growing children should want to devote himself to one career, instead of three. All associated with the Eugene Field House can rejoice that while they have lost a model president, they are keeping a good friend. We will look forward to seeing his ready smile and items from his extensive collection of neckties at many gatherings in the future. And when we need free legal or political counsel, some quick information of the Missouri statutes or the Corps commanders in the Army of the Cumberland in 1864, or a word of encouragement, we will know who to call.
On the Board with Piper
by Brian Abel Ragen
(A Marching Song, to be sung to the tune of "I Goes to Fight Mit Sigel"