Jan Baron

Lisa Mandel
Jan Baron in 2013. Photo: Lisa Mandel

By SUSAN FADEM, Special to the Jewish Light

Had her dad stayed in Hollywood, once he passed his screen test, a gaping hole might have been detected, years later, in the fund-raising and religious worlds here. But since Depression-era studios had little money for beefing up raw talent, the Goldenbergs eventually made St. Louis their home.

On local turf, life-shaping lessons abounded. James “Jimmy” Goldenberg, a handsome traveling salesman with a gorgeous singing voice, albeit no knack for remembering lyrics, “made a difference in our lives,” says Jan Baron, the middle child in the Goldenberg family, sandwiched between brothers Ron and Larry. 

Mom, the former Edna Hirsch, not only raised the children, but also was active in B’nai Brith, the world’s oldest Jewish service organization. From her parents, Baron says, she absorbed “a love for people and certainly a love for Judaism.” 

Ambition mattered, too. Of a longtime career that encompasses –- and sometimes simultaneously serves—the nonprofit and religious spheres, Baron says: “My whole philosophy is relationships in whatever you do. Everything is based on the relationships you make, and that’s how you start getting involved.”

To date, Baron estimates she’s raised several million dollars for charity. 

Described as a persuasive powerhouse, often in David vs. Goliath situations, she has spent the past five years convincing employers to allow employees to take payroll deductions for health-related agencies outside the United Way system. This, in brief, is the main part of her job in St. Louis as vice president of income development for Community Health Charities of Missouri and Kansas. 

Previously, she was executive director of the Mid-America Chapter of Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, one of the local Community Health Charities’ 30 plus member charities. Other organizations under the Community Health Charities umbrella, each with a local presence, include March of Dimes, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Variety the Children’s Charity, Down Syndrome Association, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Metro St. Louis, Autism Speaks, Friends of Kids with Cancer and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Baron has also served as director of the Congregation B’nai Amoona’s early childhood center, executive director of both B’nai Amoona and Shaare Zedek Synagogue, executive director of the National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis, director of the Women’s Division of Jewish Federation of St. Louis, and coordinator and consultant for the Mid-Continent Region of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.  

A graduate of Lindenwood University, she received her master’s in education from Webster University. That phase of her training, however, is more convoluted than it appears, Baron says. 

With time out to marry David Robinson and have two children, she started at Indiana University, came back to Washington University and then took a night class, a day class, and also courses now and then at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and what became Harris-Stowe State University. 

Widowed at age 30, she subsequently met and married another widower, Richard Baron, husband of the late Geraldine Goldberg Baron and also the father of two.

Dubbing themselves the Baron Bunch, they adopted each other’s children. “Richard had the boys. I had the girls. He had the boy dog. I had the girl dog,” she says. Both had goldfish, though neither determined the gender.

With her new husband’s encouragement, Jan Baron finished her undergraduate degree at Lindenwood. When she became the director for early childhood education at B’nai Amoona, where she is now president of the congregation, she returned for her master’s.

No matter where else she was working or on what volunteer boards she served, Baron has long taught Sunday School – 10 years at United Hebrew Congregation and a total of 12 years at B’nai Amoona, where she now instructs eighth graders in tikkun olam, or repairing the world.  

Not infrequently, former students who are now grandparents approach her. When he was 7 and she was maybe 16, one man said, he had a terrible crush on her. Her response: “Well darn, don’t cha still?”

Yet beneath some of her humor, healed wounds remain. As a baby, Baron was bathed by her mother in a then-popular canvas bassinet, the kind on legs and deep enough to accommodate a bit of water. 

Babies were strapped to the top as a hose came in from the bottom. “My older brother was probably making mischief, and my mother didn’t realize it was hot water,” Baron recalls. The resulting steam caused third-degree burns, covering her entire back. 

My mother was a very loving, caring person,” Baron says. “I don’t think she ever, ever, ever forgave herself.” To hide the scars Baron has always worn high-back garments.

Normally, she says she doesn’t see her back or think about it. Loved ones never seemed to care. Nonetheless, Baron believes that as a motivator, her wounds made a difference.

“I found out that we all have something, whether external or internal,” she says. “We all have some sort of challenge to overcome. Nobody’s perfect.” 

As if to show that life can come full circle, Baron is a former board member of the Burns Recovery Support Group here. The non-profit charity is among those served by her current employer, Community Health Charities. 

Jan Baron 

AGE:  78

HOME:  Chesterfield

FAMILY:  Both Jan and Richard Baron, soon to be 89 and her husband of 45 years, were widowed when they met. Adopting each other’s children, they have two sons, Alan Baron and Ron (Gayla) Baron; two daughters Lori Baron and Teri (Michael) Rosenblum; and five “wonderful, brilliant, beautiful and handsome” grandchildren.

FUN FACT:  Until age 75, Baron was a runner, usually in five-kilometer events. The older she got, the more trophies she won, not for speed but because she was “the only one in my age category.”