From her corner market in St. Paul's hardscrabble Frogtown neighborhood, Sally Herbst, 98, took in foster kids, brought sick customers meals, found shelter and jobs for folks and -- in her 80s -- patrolled alleys after midnight with a baseball bat in hand to chase away johns and prostitutes.
Maureen Allen arrived first. Thirty-five other foster children would follow over the decades, escaping crises by squeezing into the little white house next door to the bakery and grocery store at 498 Lafond Av.
It was 1950, and Maureen was just 5 months old. Her teenage parents "were in distress" -- too young for a second baby, too vulnerable to the alcoholism in their family tree.
Until she turned 16 and her birth mom sobered up, Maureen lived and worked alongside Sally Herbst, her husband, George, their daughter, Beverly, and three kids they adopted.
"I got my strength, tenacity and work ethic from Sally," says Maureen. She's now 62, with two grown sons, four grandchildren, a nice home in Minnetonka and a good job with the Minneapolis convention bureau.
"Sally came from hardy German stock, and every memory I have of her she's wearing a uniform," Maureen says.
Sally left the Meyer family farm and her 13 siblings near Pierz, Minn., in the teeth of the Depression, working as a waitress at the original Green Mill and on the line at the Whirlpool factory on the East Side before the Herbsts opened their market.
At her August funeral at St. Bernard Church, Maureen sat toward the back on the right and wondered who all these 150 people were. After all, Sally had outlived her peers.
"They must be her old customers," a niece whispered, "and all the people she helped."
Maureen still has a poem she wrote for Sally 32 years ago. The last stanza reads:
"The benefit of all this care
may not be seen for years
But know that in our hearts and minds
your love dried many tears."