Veteran B’nai B’rith leader David R. Blumenthal dies at 91

David R. Blumenthal

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

David R. Blumenthal, longtime passionate leader in B’nai B’rith at the local, national and international levels, and a retired specialty advertising salesman, died Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at the Delmar Gardens West, where he had resided since 2009.  He was 91, and had suffered from advanced Alzheimer’s disease for about seven years, his daughter, Marcia Blumenthal Lyons, said.

Mr. Blumenthal was born in St. Louis on Aug. 20, 1920,  the son of the late Jennie Sislen and Harry Blumenthal.  “That was the exact date when women received  the right to vote in the United States,” Lyons said.  “Our son Jay impressed his teacher when he was able to give that exact date when his third grade teacher asked if anyone knew when women got the right to vote.” 

 Mr. Blumenthal was a strong advocate of human rights for women and minorities; his son, Ronald Blumenthal pointed out that his father was a member of the University City Human Rights Commission.

Mr. Blumenthal had to drop out of high school to help support his family.  He sold newspapers and later worked as a salesman for Banner Hardware and 905 Liquor Stores.  “For most of Dad’s life, he worked in specialty advertising at Goldman & Gipson House of Ideas,” Lyons said.  “We still have pencils, notepads, rulers, etc. with his name on them as samples for his customers.  He traveled in St. Louis and surrounding states.  I remember Dad returning home with a shirt that was drenched because he didn’t have air conditioning in his car.”

During World War II, Mr. Blumenthal served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in the Pacific Theater of Operations, from 1944-1946.  “He left just before I was born and returned when I was 2 years old,” said Ronald Blumenthal.

Mr. Blumenthal met his future wife, the late Betty Jacobs, when they were in the fifth grade.  They married on June 7, 1942 and would have been married nearly 67 years when Mrs. Blumenthal died in 2009. They were members of United Hebrew Congregation, and Mr. Blumenthal served on its board of directors and was active in the U.H. Men’s Club.

Mr. Blumenthal’s great passion was his volunteer and leadership work for B’nai B’rith.  “Dad was always so active in B’nai B’rith I honestly can’t remember any other Jewish organization in which he was so active.  He was active with the Anti-Defamation League, which originally was part of B’nai B’rith,” said Lyons.

Michelle Gralnick, former executive director of B’nai B’rith St. Louis, compiled a partial list of Mr. Blumenthal’s B’nai B’rith activities. Mr. Blumenthal became a member of the then National B’nai B’rith Bowling Association Board of Governors in 1957, as a member of the Inter-Lodge Bowling League in St. Louis.  He also belonged to the B’nai B’rith Missouri: Lodge #22, and was a very active board member. He later served as president of District 2.

He was instrumental in working with the Grand Lodge (B’nai B’rith International) to make B’nai B’rith Bowling a full member of the B.B. Board of Governors, and served as its representative to the BBI in the 1980s and 1990s.  After several terms as vice president, Mr. Blumenthal became 26th president of the IBBA, and was awarded life membership in 1979.  He received its highest honor, the Service Achievement Award, in 1980.

“He was a true Ben B’rith, as evidenced by his 70-plus years of membership and the many leadership roles he fulfilled at the local, regional, district and national levels of B’nai B’rith,” said Gralnick. “Professionally and personally, Dave was an inspiration to me.  He exemplified the true spirit of volunteerism, demonstrating dedication, commitment and perseverance at the highest level of integrity at all times.  It was my honor to have known and worked with him since my hiring by B’nai B’rith International in 1990.

“Without Dave and his dear wife Betty, the B’nai B’rith Cares for Kids program would not exist in St. Louis,” Gralnick continued. “They chaired the pilot project in the mid-1990s, and under their loving supervision the program provided ‘furry friends’ to thousands of children in hospitals and care facilities, including the Ronald McDonald House and Shriner’s Hospital. This is why in 2007, I recommended we expand the name of the program to recognize their extraordinary contributions, adding David and Betty Blumenthal Community Service Project to the letterhead.  Dave Blumenthal’s passing marks the end of an era for B’nai B’rith St. Louis.”

Similar expressions of gratitude and admiration were expressed by Diane Maier, current director of B’nai B’rith St. Louis, and Harvey Gerstein, a current veteran B’nai B’rith leader.  “Dave was a vital force for all things B’nai B’rith, and a member of a great generation of leaders and volunteers,” Gerstein told the Jewish Light.

Graveside services were held at Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery in Ladue on May 11. Rabbi Jay Lyons, David’s grandson, or Boca Raton, Fla., officiated.

Survivors include, his daughter, Marcia Blumenthal Lyons (Hesh), of St. Louis; a son, Ronald Blumenthal (Barb) of Chicago; four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.  He was preceded in death by two brothers, Leonard Blumenthal and Syd Blumenthal.

Contributions in Mr. Blumenthal’s memory may be made to B’nai B’rith Cares for Kids, c/o Diane Maier, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, Mo. 63146 or to the Ronald McDonald House, 3450 Park Avenue, St. Louis, Mo. 63104.