Thomas ‘Tommy’ Goldenberg, 96; combined love of music with community service, philanthropy

Tommy and Esther Goldenberg in 2006. File photo: Kristi Foster

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

Thomas “Tommy” Goldenberg, whose joyous and festive accordion music provided a virtual “soundtrack” to countless events in the St. Louis Jewish community, and who with his wife Esther Friedman Goldenberg was a philanthropist in the local Jewish community, died Tuesday, March 13. He was 96 years old and a lifetime resident of greater St. Louis.

Thomas Goldenberg was born in St. Louis on Dec. 13, 1921, son of Harry and Frima Deutch Goldenberg. Mr. Goldenberg was raised here and was proud of his lifetime association with Shaare Zedek Synagogue (now Kol Rinah).

Mr. Goldenberg learned about the furniture business from his father, who was a master upholsterer and furniture refinisher. He went to work for the Biederman Furniture Company in the shipping department after graduating from Soldan High School. 

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Mr. Goldenberg served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and returned to work as a furniture buyer. He joined his brother Bill in the retail furniture business, where they were partners for 32 years at the Golden Furniture Company until Tommy decided to retire. The firm closed in 2006 after 57 years in business.

The Jewish Community Center’s Tommy & Esther Goldenberg Senior Adult Fund purchases items to support senior activities throughout the J. This includes the purchase of six passenger buses, with assistance from the state of Missouri, to transport seniors to various programs.

In addition, the Goldenbergs provided entertainment—without charge—to local and statewide sponsored senior citizen centers, retiree groups, nursing homes, hospitals, veterans homes, the former Jewish Center for Aged, Crown Center and the Middle East Agency on Aging. 

Mr. Goldenberg started playing the accordion when he was 12 years old. His sister spotted a circular advertising an opportunity to receive free lessons when leasing an accordion. They family leased the accordion, and he showed a great affinity for the instrument and continued to teach himself over the years.

After his service in the war, Mr. Goldenberg 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 J, where he would continue to perform for more than 30 years. 

A 2006 story about the Goldenbergs in the Light noted that the couple donated more than $100,000 from the honorariums they received for performances, which then were used for a variety of purchases at the J and its Adult Day Center. 

Fellow St. Louis entertainer Mark Richman expressed his sadness over the passing of Mr. Goldenberg, calling him “Mister Accordion in St. Louis.”

The Goldenbergs were also supporters of B’nai B’rith of St. Louis and its Alfred Fleishman B’nai B’rith Institute of the B’nai B’rith Missouri Institute of Judaism.

Mr. Goldenberg was honored by B’nai B’rith of St. Louis in 2012 with a program called “Honoring a Music Master” at the J.  At that event, Mr. Goldenberg’s longtime musical partner, Jerry Gotler, recalled that he and Tommy played for an event sponsored by the Sammy fraternity (Sigma Alpha Mu) back in the late 1950s. 

“Tommy was not really into rock and roll, and the most ‘current’ song he could play was ‘Mack the Knife.’ He also could play ‘The Anniversary Song’ very well, and so these 18-year-old fraternity boys danced to that old tune a total of 19 times that one evening. And no one complained,” Gotler said.

Survivors include Mr. Goldenberg’s wife of 75 years, Esther Friedman Goldenberg; children Stanley (Andrea Pevnick) Goldenberg and Marsha (David) Karney; six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Graveside services were held March 16 at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery on White Road, where Rabbi Howard Kaplansky, Emeritus of United Hebrew Congregation, officiated. Contributions in Mr. Goldenberg’s memory may be made to the charity of the donor’s choice.