In Memoriam: Burton Alan Boxerman – Teacher, Friend and exemplar


Burton Boxerman

Rabbi Joseph Fred Benson*

Where does one begin in discussing who Burton Boxerman was?  Perhaps one should begin this late spring day of remembering Burton doing 168 laps in his pool every morning during the warm months of the year.  Yes, Burton exercised in the morning by doing laps — swimming a mile before beginning his day.  As he approached 80 years of age, Burton slowed down, just a bit – doing only 84 laps in the morning.

Many remember Burton as their high school history and government teacher.  Burton taught American history and government at Ritenour for more than 30 years.  During the 1960s, Burton earned his master’s and Ph.D.  A pioneer in the field of what is now called oral history, Burton’s doctoral dissertation in American History from St. Louis University in 1969 is titled “The Rise of Anti-Semitism in St. Louis, 1933 – 1945.”  (On File, Pius XII Library and in the Department of History, St. Louis University.)

As a young graduate student in American history at St. Louis University back in 1976, I read Burton’s doctorate, and Burton and I spoke about who the mysterious Mr. X was.

Burton’s dissertation was posited on interviews of St. Lous rabbis ranging across the theological spectrum from Rabbi Ephraim Epstein, z’l of Shaare Zedek Synagogue (then Orthodox) to Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman, z’l of Temple Israel (Reform), as well as other rabbis and individuals during the period from 1933 to 1945.  This is a must-read for all for it transcends time.

When Burton retired from the classroom, and not having to awake at six o’clock each morning (you see, Burton was not a morning person), he did not retire from life and living.  In retirement, Burton published articles in the Jewish Light, and he and his beloved wife Benita, z’l, went on to publish five books in baseball history.

He also was retained by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri to author its history titled: “And Justice for All: A History for the Federal Court of Eastern Missouri” (Southeast Missouri University Press, 2014).

Whether Burton published on the history of baseball or the evolution and history of the Federal District Court in St. Louis or on local Jewish history – the teacher in him told a story of our social developments as well as our missives – he was an exemplar of what not only it means to be an historian, but also a true mensch!

I shall miss my friend of six decades; but I know that we are all the better for having known Burton Alan Boxerman.  His presence was great, and when I dine at Kohn’s, I shall order an extra pickle or two.  Right Burton?

Rabbi Joseph Fred Benson grew up in University City, and attended Shaare Zedek Synagogue, serving as the last Shamash in the shul’s history from 1998-2000. He retired in 2015 as the Supreme Court Archivist and Legal Historian to the Supreme Court of Missouri. Rabbi Benson teaches Hebrew to adults in Jefferson City and performs life-cycle events throughout mid-Missouri.