In St. Paul's Frogtown neighborhood, people turned to grocer-baker-coffee shop owner Sally Herbst for more than her juicy roast beef sandwiches, her sweet rolls or her annual sauerkraut dinners at St. Adalbert's Church.
"She'd go out of her way to help connect people," said her oldest daughter, Beverly Aplikowski of Arden Hills. "If someone needed a couch, she knew who was selling their old one. If someone needed a job, she knew who needed their grass cut."
Herbst died Thursday at age 98 after struggling with health issues following a car wreck that broke her neck in 2003.
"This little lady was a force in the community," said Jerry Blakey, a former St. Paul City Council member whose ward included Herbst's business, home and church. "She was a solid citizen, a fierce businesswoman and a real fighter who was concerned for her neighborhood."
The oldest of 14 children born to a family in the central Minnesota town of Pierz, Sally Meyer came to the Twin Cities in the teeth of the Great Depression to find a job, working first as a waitress at the original Green Mill tavern in St. Paul in the mid-1930s. She married George Herbst, and they opened their first business, LaKubin Grocery Store, naming the corner market after its nearest intersection: Lafond Avenue and Mackubin Street.
When supermarkets siphoned away business in the 1950s, they started baking doughnuts and opened the Becky Lee Bakery after someone ordered a birthday cake. "We didn't know how to make those, but my dad told us, 'Well, you have two weeks to figure it out,'" Aplikowski said. "Every since I was little, my mom was always working."
She opened the Colonial Coffee Shop in a brick building on the corner of Dale Street and Thomas Avenue in the early 1970s and ran the place after George's death until 1988, when the city decided to widen Dale. That's around the time, at age 75, that Herbst got her first driver's license.
"She was so excited," granddaughter Lisa Lind said, "because she could deliver Meals on Wheels, and she got her independence and could chauffeur others around."
When regular customers failed to show up at the coffee shop, Herbst called their homes and brought them food if they were ill. She also organized midnight patrols to rid the area of prostitution "johns" and volunteered at the Minnesota Armed Forces Service Center at the Twin Cities airport to help traveling military personnel.
Besides raising or helping raise her four children, 10 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren, Herbst took in more than 35 foster children -- usually troubled teens and often their down-on-their-luck parents -- many of whom stayed with the family for at least two years.
In addition to Aplikowski and all those grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Herbst is survived by sister Alice Claggett of Mitchell, S.D.; brother Cleo Meyer of Little Falls, Minn.; daughters Becky Kimlinger of Lake Elmo and Shirley Wolf of Shakopee, and son Mark Herbst of Maplewood.
Funeral services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Bernard's Church, 187 W. Geranium Av., St. Paul.
Curt Brown • 612-673-4767