David Gast, BS ’53, AB ’53, MS ’54, may have been Washington University’s first sound man.
As a student pursuing his bachelor’s degree in physics and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering, Mr. Gast made a business of installing sound systems around campus, including the first systems in Graham Chapel and the university’s music studios.
He also furnished sound for events such as the Bearskin Follies, the annual Quad Show spring musical, Thyrsus theater group productions, and the Assembly Series, where he recorded lectures by Eleanor Roosevelt, Linus Pauling, and many others. Various university departments paid him for his work, which often required building systems from scratch.
“I preferred to figure things out in a way that I only had to do them once, and I was successful,” Mr. Gast says. “My taxable income was more than my tuition.”
Mr. Gast continued his entrepreneurial streak after a stint in the U.S. Army, where then-Lt. Gast was an instructor in the Guided Missile School at Fort Bliss, Texas. He joined the St. Louis-based electrical and mechanical equipment sales firm the Carl F. Gast Co., which his parents had founded in 1935. After starting as a salesperson, he took charge of the company a few years later.
“My first move was to incorporate the business,” he says. “Many years later, in 1982, we bought an old filling station at McKnight and Old Bonhomme roads and made it into an office building, turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse.”
He retired from the business in 2005, just after he and his wife, Carol, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. They met as students at Washington University.
The couple recently acknowledged the university’s role in their lives by making an estate commitment to endow the David P. and Carol K. Gast Professorship in the School of Engineering & Applied Science.
“We established the professorship because we believe strongly in Chancellor Wrighton’s principle that outstanding professors play a pivotal role in advancing the university and attracting great students,” Mr. Gast says.
Over the years, the Gasts also have generously supported facilities and scholarships at the engineering school, and they are longtime supporters of the Weidenbaum Center for the Economy, Government, and Public Policy. They were the first donors to the Weidenbaum Center’s Benefactor Fund for Student Research Opportunities and provided funds for the center’s Gast Family Meeting Room. They still enjoy attending lectures together at the center.
The Gasts’ commitment to their alma mater reflects their confidence in the university’s quality. “Excellence is in the chancellor’s DNA,” Mr. Gast says. “Nothing at the university is allowed to remain static because everyone keeps pushing forward. That’s why we support scholarships, the Weidenbaum Center, and now an endowed professorship.”