Morris Sterneck, past president of Federation, JCC, dies at 84


Morris H. Sterneck, a longtime community leader who was a past president of the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Center, died Wednesday, Oct. 4, after a brief illness. He was 84 and a longtime resident of greater St. Louis.

Morris Herschel Sterneck was born at Jewish Hospital in St. Louis on March 31, 1933, the son of Ben and Beatrice Allen Sterneck of Salem, Ill., where he was brought up. His family moved to St. Louis in 1955. He was a graduate of Salem High School and the University of Illinois-Champaign, where he was captain of the university’s basketball team. He was also an active member of the university’s chapter of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, where he made lifetime friends.

Mr. Sterneck was affectionately known by the nickname “Mush”, which is a version of the Hebrew or Yiddish name for Moses — Moshe or Moishe. His wife told the Jewish Light that his fellow citizens of Salem pronounced his nickname as if it rhymed with “rush.” Mr. Sterneck embraced the nickname but pronounced it to rhyme with “whoosh.”

He was married for 62 years to the former Rosalie Librach, with whom he partnered on numerous leadership positions in the Jewish community. The Sternecks were co-chairs of the historic Show-Me Israel trip in which a record number 136 St. Louisans participated and which took place in a time of great tension in the Middle East in the 1995 aftermath of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Mr. Sterneck served as president of the Jewish Federation from 1995-1997. During his tenure, major changes were occurring in the Jewish community locally, nationally and internationally. Record numbers of Jews from the Soviet Union were able to leave the USSR to start new lives in Israel or the United States.

Previously, Mr. Sterneck served as president of the Jewish Community Center. He was a former member of the boards of the National Conference for Community and Justice, the United Way, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Board of Trustees, and the national board of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He was also a former member of the Jewish Light Board of Trustees and chair of its Business and Advertising Committee.

He served for 40 years as executive vice president of the Hycel Properties Co., a shopping center firm. Mary Rollins, Mr. Sterneck’s longtime executive secretary, told the Light that he was “an ideal boss who really personally cared about all of his co-workers — executives, janitors, store owners — all of us.  He also kept up with us after he retired in 2000.” 

When he became president of Federation in 1995, Mr. Sterneck told the Light that he viewed being president of the Federation to be more of a “stewardship” than a leadership role.  

“Our success depends upon each and every member of our community, no matter what the size of their gift,” he said. “We all need to give back to our community to assure its future.”

Barry Rosenberg, then-executive vice president of Jewish Federation, told the Light in 1995, on the occasion of Mr. Sterneck taking office,“There is no more decent person in our community. Morris Sterneck’s vision, sense of mission, enthusiasm and natural ability to bring people together will propel us forward. His focus on community building and resource development is exactly what we need at this point in time.”

Enthusiastic, a ready smile, willing to take on any challenge and strong character were descriptions of Mr. Sterneck by his fellow community leaders as well as his family members who movingly paid tribute to him at his  funeral service Sunday at Congregation Shaare Emeth.

In addition to his wife, survivors include three children, Sheryl (Jonathan) Layne, Frank (Robin) Sterneck and Steven (Carol) Sterneck, and nine grandchildren.  He was the brother of the late Dorris Jeanne (the late Milton) Zorensky and the late Marcia “Sissy” Sterneck.

Funeral services were held Sunday, Oct. 8, at Congregation Shaare Emeth, where Rabbi Jeffrey B. Stiffman, Emeritus, along with Cantor Seth Warner officiated. Following the funeral  service, burial was at the Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery on Ladue Road.

Contributions preferred to Jewish Federation of St. Louis, 12 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, 63146, or the charity of your choice.