Born on 25 February 1910 in St. Louis, Missouri, John Valentine Sigmund Sr. died on 5 April 1979 in Lonedell, Franklin County, Missouri. John’s father was Johan “John” Valentine Sigmund, who immigrated to the United States on 13 September 1903. His mother was Margaretha “Margaret” Fendt, who arrived on 27 March 1909. Both his parents were Donauschwabians from Setschan, Banat, Hungary. They followed the old German customs, and single or widowed women were expected to be married quickly, usually within a few months.

As a two-year-old child, in 1912, John’s mother took him to Setschan, Hungary, to live with his Fendt grandparents. John returned to the U.S. in 1920, departing from Trieste and arriving in New York. The family lived in Chicago before returning to St. Louis.

John arrived in St. Louis speaking mainly German two years after World War I. The family lived in a rough neighborhood, and he was targeted in school for his poor English and German background. He took up boxing, wrestling, marathons, baseball, and especially swimming. In 1927, at age seventeen, John tried his hand at minor league baseball as a pitcher. His special pitch was the knuckle ball.

Two years later, John took a job with Union Electric in St. Louis, where his father also worked. In October 1931, he ran a marathon as part of the UE team. He played other Union Electric sponsored sports including baseball. After that, he worked as a butcher for Bettendorf’s Market. He became a member of the Meat Cutters Union, Local 88, and remained a member until his death.

In 1934, he married Catherine Dwyer at a ceremony at Creve Coeur Lake Park in St. Louis County. This couple had four children together. They enjoyed family vacations, including one in 1956 to Florida.

In 1938, he set a record for swimming the Mississippi River from Alton to St. Louis, a distance of twenty-three miles. In 1939, he set a record for swimming from Alton to St. Louis with his hands tied behind his back, in more than six hours, breaking his original record time. A lodge friend of his, furniture dealer Walter Jerger, bet a $200 icebox against John buying fifty chicken dinners for the lodge members that he couldn’t retake the record. He swam it on 4 July 1939 in five hours and one minute, shaving eight minutes off the new record.

In 1940, he swam eighty-nine hours and forty-six minutes from St. Louis to Caruthersville, Illinois, a total of 292 miles, a record that remains unbroken. He was inducted into the International Marathon Swimmers Hall of Fame in 1965.

During the 1950s, he refereed Golden Gloves boxing matches at the Pruitt-Igoe apartment complex.

John’s had a meat market in Soulard Market in St. Louis City, utilizing stands one and two. About 1963, he bought three local neighborhood grocery stores in South St. Louis near Tower Grove Park. While living in St. Louis, John was active in politics as a Democrat and served as chairman of the St. Louis 23rd Ward Democrat Association.

John sold his stores in 1969 and bought another located in Brentwood in St. Louis County. Then in 1971, he sold this store and retired to Lonedell on an eighty-acre farm where he raised Black Angus cattle.

Written by Bill Sigmund
December 2016

© 2016 St. Louis Genealogical Society


Sigmund Family
Young John Sigmund with his Parents
Photo in the collection of Bill Sigmund
Used with permission
John Sigmund
John Sigmund, age 23
Photo in the collection of Bill Sigmund
Used with permission

Return to St. Louis City/County Biographies.

Last Modified: 26-Oct-2018 11:33