Longtime ‘Light’ board member brings rocket scientist skills to the table

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Bill Motchan, Special to the Jewish Light

Talented, dedicated volunteers are worth their weight in gold. That’s especially true of Jeffry Golden, who has worked behind the scenes on the St. Louis Jewish Light’s Board of Trustees for a decade, sharing his business and financial expertise. He also has helped the organization navigate the choppy waters of new media.

“When Jeffry joined the board, he really shored things up and gave people more confidence,” said Laura Silver, the immediate past president of the Jewish Light Board of Trustees. “He was also a real proponent for expanding our digital presence early on. But he is really humble and quiet. He’s very easy to overlook because he’s not a braggart. He literally just picks up the pieces and puts everything back into place.”

To effectively govern a nonprofit organization, a board needs to tap into the skills of its volunteers. Silver said the Jewish Light was fortunate to benefit from Golden’s unique background.

“He had a lot to offer in terms of the skills that we needed,” Silver said. “He had board experience, and we really put it to use. He’s a detail-oriented guy. So he’s really been able to do a lot of that detail work with bylaws and with our mailing audits. He put a lot of work into our processes and procedures. He is a behind-the-scenes expert, a quiet person who just gets a lot of things done without fanfare but it’s really important stuff.”

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Steve Gallant, also a Light past-president, echoed Silver’s assessment of Golden.

“He is the most selfless individual I have ever met,” Gallant said. “Without Jeff, we wouldn’t be where we are from a governance standpoint. He has organizational acumen. He has attention to detail and a willingness to dive into things that others would find uninteresting, arcane or boring. That is what has allowed the organization the freedom to do the things that it has done.”

Golden, who belongs to Temple Israel, is a semiretired scientist and engineer. He also has 32 years of corporate management and business experience, which has been especially useful in his volunteer board governance work. Through his career, he was responsible for the proposal and management of more than $130 million in research and development projects.

He is also quite literally a rocket scientist, with bachelor’s degrees in physics (from the University of California), aeronautics and astronautics (from M.I.T.) and a Ph.D. in plasma physics from M.I.T. In 1989, he joined Berkeley Research Associates Inc., where he directed R&D support for the Army Research Laboratory’s high-power microwave and nuclear weapons effects facilities. In 1995, he co-founded CET, a St. Louis-based defense and homeland security firm.

Golden’s volunteer board experience began when he was treasurer of the Good Government for Missouri political action committee, geared to improving social services in the state. He dove into nonprofit volunteering further when he met Lewis Chartock, who was then CEO of MERS Goodwill.

“We were having dinner, and I said it bothered me that I met folks in business who were not engaged in the community, that a lot of us have the means and life experiences and skills to get more engaged,” Golden said. “Then I got a call asking if I’d like to be on the Goodwill Industries international board.”

That was a positive experience for Golden, and he discovered how much could be done by volunteers. One year later, in 2010, Chartock called him and said there was an opening coming up on the Jewish Light board.

“I said, ‘I like the Jewish Light, it’s fun to read, but what can I do there?’ ” Golden said. “He told me newspapers were changing, and in 10 years the landscape would be a lot different. I asked what the Light was about, and he told me the mission was to inform, inspire and connect. To connect, that’s a really important thing.

“I’ve studied network theory, and I learned that social networking is a really important element of self-identity, and that the cohesion of the Jewish community and the continuation of the heritage and the community as an entity depends on social capital. Social capital is really built on self-identification.

“If you can’t get people to self-identify with a community, you’re not going to engage them. So you have to connect, inspire and inform and, to add one more element, to educate. I learned that the tangible good is the Jewish Light newspaper and email blasts and that they reinforce or introduce self-identification. Social capital of a community really depends on its news network.”

Golden dove into the world of publishing and newspapers and learned all he could. His motivation was to strengthen the St. Louis Jewish community. He said the Jewish Light’s evolution to a digital-centric news distribution source was inevitable and necessary. He pointed to a trend in media consumption in which consumers in their mid- to late 50s now receive most of their news from digital devices. It wasn’t long ago when the “digital divide” was somewhere in the late 40s.

“The majority of people who get most of their news digitally is now half of the boomers and the silent generation,” Golden said. “That is a big change, and that’s where the market is.”

A scientist studies data, and Golden is pleased with the data he sees from the Jewish Light.

“Our real circulation has gone up by a factor of three,” he said. “The platform has changed radically. We retooled our staff and our goals, so a lot of things have been put in place. It’s a work in progress, but so are community newspapers across the country. They are morphing, some are going away and some are successful, and I hope the Jewish Light will be in the latter category.”

The role of Unsung Hero is one Golden accepts with some unease. He suggested that his recognition might be called “the perseverance and trusty attendance award.”

“It’s a team effort, and I’m part of the team, and what a great gratification that the Light is in a good spot now,” he said.

Gallant said Golden’s contributions are much more significant.

“Jeff is such a cool guy,” Gallant said. “The world can’t exist without the Jeff Goldens who do what’s right for an organization, and who don’t clutter the process with their ego.”


Jeffry Golden

Age: 74

Family: Golden and his wife, Eve, have two daughters, Kate and Chana.

Home: Creve Coeur

Fun Fact: Golden is an inventor or co-inventor with more than 30 patents. One of his inventions is a device to prevent water in chicken coops from freezing.