David M. Grebler, 65; headed Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Light boards

David M. Grebler

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

David M. Grebler, highly respected for his leadership of the Missouri/Southern Illinois Regional Advisory Board of the Anti-Defamation League and as president of the St. Louis Jewish Light Board of Trustees from 2005-2007, died Thursday, Feb. 16, at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston after a five-month battle with cancer. He was 65 and lived in Clayton.

“Throughout his ordeal, David maintained a calm, positive attitude,” a family member said. “He faced his illness with humor and love and concern for his wife and family.” Those qualities of determination mixed with a calm and compassionate demeanor were remembered with respect and fondness by family members, friends and his associates in the ADL, the Jewish Light, and at Central Reform Congregation, which was filled to capacity Sunday for his funeral service.

David Mark Grebler was born May 8, 1946 in Springfield, Ill. He lost his mother to cancer when he was 14.

He was president of his high school student council and editor of the school newspaper, where he learned skills that would play a critical role his entire life. He had a mind and eye for detail, whether applied to reporting, writing and editing, or developing games, toys and business plans.

Mr. Grebler graduated from Washington University and pursued his long interest in journalism at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, at first working the police beat because that was the only open position, and then later on to the business desk, where he worked under the tutelage of Ted Schafers, “an editor he respected and admired.” Mr. Grebler was proud that the Globe-Democrat frequently “scooped” the larger and more prestigious St. Louis Post-Dispatch in covering the local business scene. He later completed a business fellowship at Carnegie-Mellon University.

Mr. Grebler was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, which he had joined after graduation from the university. He rose to the rank of major and took pride in being a Jewish officer in the U.S. Army. He maintained his service even after he was of retirement age.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Grebler joined two cousins in a partnership managing the licensing of the game Jenga. The company was named Pokonobe Associates, the licenser of the game. Originally a part-time effort, the enterprise became a huge success and provided him with the financial resources to pursue volunteer and philanthropic activities, inspired by an uncle’s maxim that, “The more you give, the more you get back.”

In 1990, Mr. Grebler met his future wife, the former Debbi Holtzman. On their second date, they went to the bar mitzvah of the son of Mr. Grebler’s boyhood friend, Marty Oberman. “David’s younger brother Dan, in town for the weekend, tagged along and gave his emphatic approval,” a family member added.

The couple worked from home, he in the game business and she in catering. Mr. Grebler credited his wife for encouraging him to pursue volunteer opportunities.

Mr. Grebler became active with the Missouri/Southern Illinois Chapter of the Anti-Defamation League. His calm and thoughtful demeanor endeared him to his fellow board members who elected him to two non-consecutive terms as chair of the board. He was serving in that second term at the time of his passing. He also served on the ADL’s national executive committee. Karen Aroesty, regional ADL director, said that Mr. Grebler’s leadership and friendship would be missed. She said that he enjoyed fighting bigotry, and often used his verbal skills in writing and in conducting the meetings of the board. “His advocacy was very quiet, determined and strong,” she said.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Mr. Grebler’s fellow board members at the ADL and at the Jewish Light. During his tenure as president of the Jewish Light Board of Trustees, which was a challenging transitional period for the newspaper, Mr. Grebler deployed his diplomatic skills to provide thoughtful leadership and mediation skills.

“David was not only an incredibly kind and intelligent man, but an integral member of the Jewish Light family,” said the newspaper’s Publisher/CEO Larry Levin. “His leadership, ideas and inspiration contributed greatly to the Light’s mission. And he had a great way of lending his personal skills and passions to the needs of the Jewish community. We shall miss him deeply.”

Mr. Grebler was remembered with fondness and respect Sunday at Central Reform Congregation, where Rabbi Susan Talve officiated. Rabbi Talve noted that Mr. Grebler paid attention to details not only in his volunteer work, but his congregational life as well.

“He could notice a crack in our building’s tuckpointing and make helpful suggestions on all aspects of our congregation’s activities,” she said.

After the service at CRC, burial was at Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery in Ladue.

In addition to his wife, Debbi, survivors include: a daughter, Sarina Grebler, and two sons, Joshua and Joel Grebler, all of Clayton; two brothers, Daniel Grebler of Closter, N.J., and Peter Grebler of Springfield, Ill., and a sister, Jane Vaknin of Ramat Gan, Israel.

Contributions are preferred to the Anti-Defamation League, 34 N. Brentwood Boulevard #2. St. Louis, Mo. 63105.