The ‘patriarch’ will turn 100 in January

The ‘patriarch’ will turn 100 in January

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

When Isadore E. Millstone was born on Jan. 6, 1907, Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House, and the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair had opened only three years earlier. Millstone, who reaches the almost biblical age of 100 next week, has been called The Patriarch of the Jewish community of St. Louis, and his countless admirers in that community and in Greater St. Louis at large, are unanimous in their high esteem of Isadore Erwin Millstone, whose accomplishments include securing the campus for the Jewish Community Center on Lindbergh and Schuetz Roads back in the late 1950s, when he was almost alone in his strong belief that the Jewish community would move from suburbs like University City, Clayton and Olivette farther west.

William (Bill) Kahn, the longtime Jewish Community Center executive director at the time, recalls that Millstone had to overcome “the doubters and naysayers” to press ahead with plans to acquire 108 acres of prime real estate on Lindbergh and Schuetz, which is now known as the I.E. Millstone Jewish Community Campus. The campus now includes not only the JCC, but also the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building, the JCC Pre-school, the Vaad Hoeir and the Covenant/Chai Apartments for older persons, as well as the new headquarters for the St. Louis Jewish Light.

Previously, the JCC, then known at the Young Mens/Womens Hebrew Association, had been located on Enright Avenue just north of Delmar Boulevard in the City of St. Louis. In 1954, when Milton Greenfield Jr. was installed as president of the renamed Jewish Community Centers Association, he announced a timetable for the relocation of the JCC in order to better serve the Jewish population. Originally, the JCC Board focused on a a 14-acre tract in Olivette on Delmar Boulevard and Price Road. Local opposition from Olivette residents caused the city’s board of trustees to reject the proposal and then it was back to the drawing board.

Greenfield wasted no time in seeking an alternative site, and according to the late local Jewish historian, Ruth Fischlowitz Marget, “Through the resources and imaginative thinking of I. E. Millstone, the search was ended with the acquisition of the 108-acre site on the northwest corner of Lindbergh Boulevard and Schuetz Roads. The acquisition was announced on July 6, 1956,” said Marget in her book, The Y Story. Millstone purchased the land and donated it to the Jewish Community Center.

Marget also noted, “JCCA was once more the recipient of unpleasant criticism, very vehemently expressed. ‘What will we ever do with the 108 acres? Lindbergh is the end of the world. What Jews will go that far for any Y affair?”

Always a visionary, Millstone was never one to be discouraged by what Bill Kahn recalls as “naysayers,” who raised the above and other objections. The criticism recalled that against Wiliam Henry Seward, secretary of state under Presidents Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, when he decided to purchase Alaska from the Russians. The purchase became derided as “Seward’s Folly” by the doubters and nay-sayers of the time. But just as Seward was to be vindicated by the incredible value of what is now the state of Alaska, so has I. E. Millstone’s decision to go forward with the decision to purchase the 108-acre Millstone Community Campus, which evolved into the nerve center of the Jewish community.

In September, when Bill Kahn was honored by the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, he noted “I am only 80 years old, but Is Millstone will be 100 years old in January. His energy, vision and leadership continue to amaze and inspire all of us who have had the privilege of knowing him and working with this truly unique and remarkable human being.”

In a wide-ranging interview for this article in his Clayton office, Millstone was asked the secret not only to his long life but his apparent vigor and incredibly good health.

“As far as my health goes, I never smoked. The rest of it was just plain good luck,” he said with a wide smile, reflecting his unquenchable sense of humor and optimism.

Indeed, even at the age of 99, Millstone keeps on moving like the symbol of the Eveready Energizer batteries.

“He just keeps going and going and going,” recalled a fellow volunteer. Those sentiments were shared by Michael Litwack, former president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. Litwack, aware of Millstone’s numerous leadership positions locally and nationally “went down to the gallery of photographs of the past presidents of the Jewish Federation, wanting to know what years he served. To my amazement, Is Millstone, who had been offered the presidency numerous times, had always turned it down, preferring to play a vital behind-the-scenes role while others got the kovod.”

On Litwack’s recommendation, the Jewish Federation Board of Directors, unanimously elected Millstone Honorary President of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis in 1992, the only individual to be accorded that honor since the Federation was founded in 1901. One can now find Millstone’s photograph among those of other presidents of the Federation in the board room of the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building.

Millstone continues to astound, amaze and inspire members of the Jewish and general communities of St. Louis with his boundless energy, his unquenchable optimism and his visionary outlook on the future needs of the community. In his late 90s Millstone went on a strenuous trip to the State of Israel, often leaving the younger members of the Jewish Federation St. Louis Mission to Israel in the dust with his fast-paced approach to travel.

On his return from that trip, which took place when Jay Sarver was president of the Jewish Federation, Millstone sat down with the St. Louis Jewish Light for what was supposed to be an interview in his office on his trip to Israel. That first interview was expanded into several hours, with Millstone opening his vast files of letters, memorabilia and photographs not only on his visit to Israel, but on all aspects of his long and illustrious career.

In all, there were about 12 hours of taped interviews, which Millstone said could be used by the Jewish Light “at the appropriate time.”

Among the highlights are, among many:

* When Millstone was a young lad growing up in St. Louis, street lamps were lit each night by teamsters in horse-drawn carriages. On Veterans Day Parades, “on one side of the street would march Union Army veterans in blue, and on the other side, Confederate veterans in gray,” he said.

* Two of Millstone’s major role models were both named Louis — his father, Louis Millstone, longtime executive secretary of United Hebrew Congregation, where Millstone has been a member since childhood, and is now an honorary life member, and Louis Gollin, his father-in-law through his first marriage to the late Goldie Gollin Millstone. Louis Gollin was a successful insurance executive and was a passionate Zionist, who helped inspire his son-in-law Isadore Millstone to be an early and significant supporter of the establishment and later the upbuilding of the Jewish State in what was then called Palestine. His father Louis Millstone inspired him with his work to assure a strong local Jewish community, including synagogues, temples and the Jewish Federation, which Millstone has generously supported all of his adult life.

* The “Two Louises” would inspire Millstone to support Jewish and general causes locally, nationally and internationally. In addition to spearheading the successful drive for the JCC Campus, Millstone was elected to several terms as JCC President back in 1963. Later, he would serve several terms as president of the World Federation of Jewish Community Centers and YMHAs. In addition to his lifetime membership in United Hebrew, which will honor his hundredth birthday with its Jan. 5 service, Millsone has been a major benefactor of the Reform movement’s Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

* Back in 1998, when Israel celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding, the St. Louis Jewish Light dubbed Millstone and two other veteran supporters of the Jewish State, the late Melvin Dubinsky and the late Alfred Fleishman, “The Three Patriarchs” in recognition of their numerous trips to Israel, and continued support through the years.

* Millstone, Fleishman and Dubinsky literally led the first official delegations of the St. Louis Jewish community to the State of Israel in l948, the very year of its founding, traveling there at great personal risk to help David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister assure the survival of the Jewish State, even while it was at war with five invading Arab armies.

At Ben-Gurion’s urgent request, Millstone assembled a group of experts to “help develop an Israeli industry to develop housing for the immigrants streaming in from Europe and the Arab and Muslim nations. I recruited the world-famous architect Louis I. Kahn and a half-dozen other builders, engineers and architects who traveled to Israel on an old DC-10 on a circuitous route through Iceland, Ireland and Athens on the way to the new State of Israel,” he recalled.

Millstone, Kahn and their colleagues rejected suggestions that they advise Israel to build pre-fabricated units as had been done in Europe after the war. “Temporary housing has a way of becoming permanent,” Millstone said. “What we did was to help Israel set up a brand new industry, using indigenous materials to not only build housing, but to provide jobs for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants starting new lives in the new country.”

* Millstone was also an early supporter of the establishment and upbuilding of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, “to assure that Israel would have a world-class university from the very beginning, at the urging of none other than Albert Einstein,” recalled Millstone.

* In his interview with the Jewish Light, Millstone brought forth from his files a copy of the campaign contribution list from the l93l Jewish Federation Campaign, in which he was already a major donor even in those early Depression days.

* Millstone personally headed the company he founded, Millstone Construction Company for over six decades. Under his leadership, were such major projects as Busch Memorial Stadium, Highway 64/40, major public housing projects including Laclede Town, the Federal Building downtown and the B’nai Amoona synagogue building in University City designed by the world-famous architect Eric Mendelsohn.

In an earlier interview, Millstone recalls his impressions of the State of Israel when he first traveled there to help Ben-Gurion.

“The whole country was virtually desolate,” he recalls. “It was desert and swamps with a few Arab villages here and there. The land had little lumber and metal, but abundant sand and limestone. From limestone you make concrete blocks, roof tiles, floors, pipes, and in the process create jobs.”

That observation is vintage Millstone. When others would see desolation and desert, Millstone would see building materials which would help assure adequate and immediate sturdy housing and jobs for hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

Similarly, when others in the St. Louis Jewish community in the late l950s scoffed at his idea of purchasing land for the Jewish Community Center “way out” on Lindbergh and Schuetz, “where no Jews would ever travel,” Millstone saw the wave of the future. In the most recent interview with the Jewish Light in his office at The Millstone Company in the Pierre Laclede Building in Clayton, Millstone walked over to the window and looked west.

“The future of this region is in places like St. Charles County.” He proceeded to describe some unique partnering between the private sector and governmental entities to provide recreational set-aside space in industrial developments.

Asked to recall some of his fondest memories, Millstone smiled and said, “I was blessed with terrific parents and in-laws. I grew up in the neighborhood of the Clark Elementary School and Soldan High School. We could not afford private schools, and in my neighborhood we went to those excellent public schools. My wife Goldie and sister Ceclia both taught in those excellent public schools,” he added.

Millstone also recalls his years at Washington University in St. Louis, from which he graduated in 1927 with a degree in engineering. Millstone has been a member of the Washington University Board of Trustees for many years and was recently honored, on the night of the recent ice storm by the university for his generous support and for being the “first Centenarian to serve on the board.”

The man who will be 100 years old on Jan. 6, 2007, managed to brave the ice and made it to the dinner, which he said was attended by about 100 people, “one of the most enjoyable and intimate evenings I have ever spent.”

The university sent Millstone a framed resolution congratulating him on his approaching centennial and thanking him for establishing numerous scholarships and generous support of the university for many years.

Millstone married his sweetheart Goldie Gollin in l930. They had two children, a daughter, Maryann Millstone Kuhn, who died in l977at age 45 of breast cancer, and David S. Millstone, who died in 2000 at age 64. He has eight grandchildren, ranging in age from 39 to 50. He is proud of grandsons Tom Kuhn and Bob Millstone, both of whom left other successful careers “to come back to run family businesses.” Tom is president of Millstone-Bangert, and Bob heads the Millstone Company, involved in real estate transactions. Both are very active in community and charitable activities.

Goldie Millstone died in l997. Eight years ago, Millstone married Helen Levis. During the interview, Helen called her husband to discuss dinner plans. Like any other happily married couple looking forward to an evening together, Millstone and his wife decided to go out for a Chinese dinner, as always looking forward to each event in his life with gusto.

Millstone, who followed the advice of Horace Greeley to “go West” back in the l950s, continues to look forward to the future more than reminiscing about his fabulous past. A long-time admirer of Millstone, looking at his unique and far-reaching career, quoted Christopher Wren’s famous tribute to his father, “If you seek his monuments, look about you,” whether they are vital facilities for the Jewish community, a strong and vibrant Jewish State or major progress in building projects and charitable causes, Millstone has always been at the front of the line.

At 100, Millstone remains the Eternal Optimist, on the way to the Jewish blessing “May you live to 120, the age of Moses. His vigor and his vision, like those of Moses remain un-diminished and undimmed, said a fellow volunteer, and in his own words, the key to remaining forever young at any age is “You always have to look forward.”

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