Goldenbergs give back to the community

Goldenbergs give back to the community

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

In St. Louis the name Tommy Goldenberg is synonymous with accordionist. In the St. Louis Jewish community, Tommy and his wife Esther are also well known for their many years of volunteer work, community activism and philanthropy. The couple celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary in September and show no signs of slowing down.

Tommy was proud to say he will turn 85 in December. He was born and raised in St. Louis and has attended Shaare Zedek his entire life. He learned about the furniture business from his father who was a master upholsterer and furniture refinisher. Tommy went to work for the Biederman Furniture Company in the shipping department after graduating from Soldan High School.

“Tommy learned the furniture business from the bottom up,” Esther said.

He served in the Army during World War II and returned to work as a furniture buyer. Later on, Tommy’s brother Bill decided to go into the furniture retail business. The two brothers worked for 32 years as partners of the Golden Furniture Company, until Tommy decided to retire. The store closed last month after being in business for 57 years.

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Tommy admits he could not have accomplished everything he has done without Esther’s cooperation and support. She has been the woman beside the man for her entertainer husband. She has attended many of the shows and performed in some as well. She is an accomplished crocheter and knitter and taught the skills to seniors at Covenant House for over 13 years.

Esther was born and raised just a few blocks from her future husband. She attended Rubicam Business school, where she learned bookkeeping and secretarial skills. The couple met at a dance at Council House.

“It was love at first sight,” Esther said. “We dated from then on.”

Tommy’s other life-long love is the accordion, which he started playing when he was 12 years old. His sister spotted a circular advertising an opportunity to receive free lessons when you leased an accordion. They leased the accordion, and Tommy had his free lessons. He showed a great affinity for the instrument and continued to teach himself over the years.

After his service in the war, Tommy had the idea he wanted to serve the community. He decided to play his accordion and donate any money he received to various causes. He began entertaining at the Jewish Community Center when it was located on Hanley Road. His relationship with the JCC has continued for over 30 years.

“I played for dances, programs and all the clubs; there were over 15 clubs at one time,” Tommy said.

The couple’s pet project has always been programming for seniors. They wanted to have a way to make larger amounts of money for big projects. They created a fund at the JCC which is made up solely of money given by Tommy from his performances throughout the community. He donates 100 percent of the money he receives to the fund. Decisions regarding the disbursement of the money are decided by Tommy and Esther.

Their first big project was “The Silver Liner,” a custom-made bus for the JCC Adult Day Services (ADS). Musical notes were painted on the side of the bus, as were the words “look for the silver liner.” Unfortunately, the project had a couple of problems.

“The bus was supposed to be painted silver,” Tommy said. “But is looked more like an olive drab. And it caught fire and had to be sent back.”

Over the years the fund has raised over $100,000 with the honorariums Tommy receives for his entertainment. It has been used to pay for various things at the JCC and ADS including: a big screen television, video players, sound systems, movie equipment, a stove and a microwave oven. Tommy and Esther also continue to furnish matching funds in conjunction with the state of Missouri to help purchase ADS buses, which need to be replaced periodically. The Goldenbergs recently dedicated another bus for the program.

“Tom and Esther have been so giving to the Jewish Community Center Adult Day Services program,” Adult Day Services director Jennifer Bell said. “They have provided matching funds for three buses, fantastic entertainment and served on the lay committee for many years. Our program is very grateful for their continuing support and generosity.”

One of the entertainment highlights for the couple was their involvement in Main Stage musicals. The original shows were send-ups of well-known shows with titles like: Miami Weiss, Cohen Mutiny, Katz and Tsouris Line. They showcased the talents of seniors in the Jewish community. The shows always drew large crowds when they were performed at the JCC, Tommy said. The entertainers even took the show on the road performing excerpts at senior centers and for various organizations.

“We didn’t refuse any senior,” Tommy said. “We had more than 35 performers. It was unbelievable. Many of the people in the shows are gone today. The people who are still around say they miss they shows. I wouldn’t have given it up for all the tea in China. The camaraderie, the friendship, still stay with me today.”

The couple’s home in Chesterfield is filled with awards and articles highlighting their contributions to the community over the years. The awards are from local organizations including: B’nai B’rith, United Service Organization, Jewish Center for the Aged, NA’AMAT and many others. They have also received numerous awards from the state of Missouri for their volunteer activities. The Missouri State Department of the Jewish War Veterans honored Tommy with their Americanism Award. The couple were charter members of the Jewish War Veterans and have remained active in the organization for 56 years.

Besides the many awards filling their walls, the couple has many display cases to showcase the figurines they enjoy collecting from their many travels. Of course, Esther is quick to point out they do not go on any cruises, just day trips. If it is within 300 miles round trip of St. Louis they can tell you everything about the place you are planning to visit. They like to save their time and money to share with the community.

“I think if you have a talent it is a God-given talent,” Esther said, “I feel you should share it. You can give such joy to people when you share your talent.”

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