Community honors Millstone at ceremony


The unparalleled 102-year life of the visionary community “Patriarch,” Isadore E. Millstone, was celebrated with a tribute service at his beloved United Hebrew Congregation on Sunday, followed by a warm reception hosted by his family at Westwood Country Club.

Rabbi Howard Kaplansky, along with Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg and Cantor Ronald Eichaker officiated at the service. Dr. William Danforth, Chancellor Emeritus of Washington University, of which Millstone was a distinguished graduate, board trustee and major benefactor, offered words of tribute.

“We have gathered in this sacred place that bears his name, ‘The Millstone Sanctuary’ to pay tribute to Isadore E. Millstone and to celebrate his life,” Rabbi Kaplansky said. “As a rabbi of Isadore’s congregation, I am privileged to stand on this bimah to represent United Hebrew, our community and what must be thousands upon thousands of others who are the direct or indirect beneficiaries of Isadore’s kindness, philanthropy, wisdom and vision.”

The Jewish and secular communities of St. Louis have mourned the loss of Millstone since he went missing on Saturday, May 16. Authorities reported that his caregiver’s car was found parked near the Daniel Boone Bridge and an eyewitness reported seeing an elderly man jump into the Missouri River. On Tuesday, the water patrol announced that the Millstone’s body had been recovered and a family member identified the body.

The Millstone family organized the tribute service at United Hebrew to honor Millstone’s numerous contributions to St. Louis and its Jewish community, and to thank the entire community for its “outpouring of support” during this period.

No one objected when Rabbi Kaplansky asked, “Is it too much to say that Isadore was a Moses? My friends, you who knew Isadore personally, or even by report, will understand that I do not exaggerate when I say that it is not enough. The Torah speaks of Moses in realistic, human terms. Yes, he was chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. But God knew that Moses would need the help of Aaron as a spokesman and to motivate the Israelites to leave Egypt. He regularly required God’s reassurances that the journey, and reaching the goal of the Promised Land were possible,” Kaplansky continued.

“Isadore’s vision helped many of us to move forward…He could show us the way.”

Kaplansky noted that in the early 1950s, when pundits said that locating the Jewish Community Center at Lindbergh Boulevard and Schuetz Road would place it too far west, and that people would never come to it, Millstone purchased the land and gave it as a gift to the community. “When the Board of Trustees of United Hebrew was debating whether our future depended on building a sanctuary in the area of Chesterfield, Isadore shared his vision for our future. As you know, when Isadore spoke, everyone listened. And here we are, paying tribute to him, in Chesterfield, in the Millstone Sanctuary,” Kaplansky continued.

In addition to Moses, the rabbi compared Millstone to King Solomon, pointing out that Millstone’s wisdom was similar to that of the ancient king of Israel. “What Solomon was to ancient Israel, Isadore has been to the modern State of Israel. When the State of Israel was created in 1948, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion asked Isadore to build housing for refugees and to help turn the new country’s desert sand and rock into concrete. Isadore studied the challenge, envisioned how it could be met and completed the task. Israel is but another beneficiary of his wisdom.”

Kaplansky added that while many honors came to Millstone, “he did not want accolades or monuments. He was more interested in the difference he could make in the lives of others…Here we have the Millstone Sanctuary, the Millstone Library, the Louis and Mary Millstone Religious School. Isadore never asked for so much as a special parking space for an event. When he came into the sanctuary, he sat in whatever seat was available. People seated next to him often did not know that they were in the presence of a great man.”

Finally, Kaplansky compared Millstone to yet another major biblical figure, Abraham. “Christians, Muslims and Jews all call Abraham ‘Patriarch.’ Isadore was respected as a patriarch by so many separate communities and institutions. Clearly he was the patriarch of the Jewish community and of United Hebrew Congregation. He had the qualifications. He was a leader in the tradition of Moses. He possessed the wisdom of Solomon and he had the compassion and the vision that are the foundations of trust.

“My friends, when I think of Isadore Erwin Millstone, I will see the modern and progressive version of Moses, Solomon and Abraham. I will think of a man for all seasons, a man who led by example, a man of wisdom and vision, compassion and caring, a man who lived his life with a sense of humility and gratitude for his good fortune, a man who deserved the title of ‘patriarch,’ not because he was the oldest, but because he was Isadore Millstone.”

Every seat in the spacious Millstone Sanctuary at United Hebrew was filled, with an overflow group seated in the balcony. Members of Millstone’s family, his many friends and business and professional associates, Jewish community volunteers and professionals, and fellow alumni of his beloved Washington University in St. Louis were in attendance, including Mark Wrighton, the current Chancellor, and Chancellor Emeritus Dr. William C. Danforth, who offered words of tribute at the service.

“Services for the very aged are almost always sparsely attended. Not so with I. E. Millstone,” he said. “Today’s turnout testifies that we looked on him, not as an old man near the end of his life, but as a vital force in our lives. In that sense he was still in his prime. For over a century, he never stopped learning, never stopped doing, never stopped making new friends, never stopped giving wise and helpful advice, never stopped influencing for the better his beloved St. Louis,” said Danforth.

Danforth noted Millstone’s generous support of the university, establishing numerous scholarships and backing construction of the Millstone Pool, the Millstone Lounge, the Millstone Plaza at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “How fortunate for all of us and his family that he shared his life with us. He inspired us all to be better people, and his life will be a blessing for all of us,” he said.

On a particularly poignant note, Danforth added, “[Millstone’s] last year and a half was difficult…Unlike most his age, his body remained in top shape, his memory remained strong, as did his ability to think and reason and see the future. But age undermined not his physical, but his emotional balance that had been so strong, that allowed him to see reality as it was, and to plan and to act on his plans…To the end, he remained strong in body and mind, and, as I think he would have wished, he stayed in charge of his destiny,” Danforth said. “I believe that if anyone ever earned that right, it was I. E. Millstone. His courage never failed him. And now his wonderful life is over.”

After the service, Wrighton said, “I. E. Millstone will be deeply missed. There was simply no one else like him in terms of vision, generosity and support over such a long and remarkable life.”

Among the many honors and accolades presented over the years to Millstone was his being named Honorary President of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. He had been offered the post numerous times, but always declined, preferring to back whoever was president and not seek kovod (recognition and praise) for himself.

For many years, starting in the Depression years of the 1930s, Millstone was the most generous donor to the Jewish Federation’s Annual Campagin. Barry Rosenberg, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation, said that whenever the community faced a challenge or major decision, “Isadore Millstone was the person we went to for wise advice and counsel.” Rosenberg also recalled that five years ago, when Millstone was 97 years old, he said that he could not join a trip to Israel for just five days.

“Instead, he stayed two weeks in order to show his solidarity with Israel and to be with his many family members and friends,” said Rosenberg. “He was truly an inspiration to all of us.”

Former executive vice president of the JCC Stanley Ferdman and his wife, Rochelle, also recalled Millstone with respect and fondness. “Is Millstone had the combined education in both engineering and architecture, which enabled him not only to conceive of projects, but to bring them into reality. That quality is obvious in all he brought to the Jewish community and the general community,” Rochelle Ferdman said, adding “Mr. Millstone always treated staff people and their families as equals. When Stan was recovering from surgery, he made a special trip to our home to visit with us and encourage us. What a remarkable person he was.”

Local businessman and longtime volunteer for the JCC Harvey Hieken recalled that when he was just starting out in business, he met with Isadore Millstone, and “learned more from his advice in that conversation that was of value than in any other conversation I have had ever since. He truly was a giant in our community.”

Carolyn Amacher, JCC director of development, shared a story with William (Bill) Kahn, longtime former executive director of the JCC and later of the Jewish Federation, about how Millstone visited the new Staenberg Family Complex and tried out some of the exercise equipment even at his advanced age, and was using electronic devices with some of the young people.

“Is Millstone was one of a kind,” Kahn said. “There never has been such a significant and accomplished leader in the entire history of the Jewish community of St. Louis, and no one who equaled his vision, his respect for the past and his embrace of a better future for the Jewish community and the entire community.”