Alice Ludmer: Longtime volunteer is go-to asset at J’s Adult Day Center

William Motchan
Volunteer Alice Ludmer dances with participants at the J’s Adult Day Center during a Cinco de Mayo celebration. Photo: Bill Motchan

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

When in doubt, go ask Alice.

“That’s our motto around here,” says Ashley Stockman, director of the Adult Day Center at the Jewish Community Center. “Alice always has the correct response and, if not, she will do the research and not stop until she has an answer.

“She genuinely cares about the people we are serving. She’s such an asset to the J, to the Jewish community and to the St. Louis community at large. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have Alice as my mentor, my partner in crime and my friend.”

Stockman is talking about none other than Alice Ludmer, who has volunteered with the Adult Day Center at the J for 16 years, the last 10 of which as chair of its adult services committee. The committee helps raise money and awareness about the J’s older adult services, including the Adult Day Center; NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community); and Kitchen J, which supplies kosher meals to the J’s clients and delivers kosher meals to homes. 

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The committee also helps to advise the J’s IN program, which serves young adults 18 and older who are on the autism spectrum, have Down syndrome and/or other intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Ludmer, 69, says she does what she does because “people in the Adult Day Center touch my heart.” 

A native St. Louisan, she explains that she was raised in a home that supported Jewish causes and Israel, and where the importance of older adults was always valued.

“Today’s culture is so focused on youth and physical beauty that we forget to look beyond the wrinkles,” she says. “There’s no one at the Adult Day Center who doesn’t have some story worth hearing. We need to offer them not only the opportunity to share their stories but also to live with dignity and respect. So many other cultures put their elders above their own needs out of respect and love. That’s something we need to bring back to our culture.”

Ludmer has the same kind of empathy and compassion for the young adults in the center’s IN program. Recently, she cheered on several participants as they enjoyed a supervised free swim at the J’s indoor pool.

“Once these young adults place out of their school district, there is nowhere for them to go,” Ludmer says. “They would be at home, isolated. We provide them with the opportunity to learn new skills and to socialize.”

With that, Ludmer mentions one young woman who just mastered grooming skills such as drying and styling her own hair. That might not sound like much, but the confidence boost it gave her was priceless, Ludmer says. 

“You could see the joy in her face,” she says.

Stockman credits Ludmer as the driving force behind helping to add and expand programs the day center offers, such as IN.

Ludmer also championed a recent Dine with Dignity initiative that ended with an open house April 7. The hope was to replace chipped, institutional-looking dinnerware, Styrofoam cups and plastic utensils to create a dignified dining experience for the 60 or so day center participants. To make this happen, Ludmer mobilized her committee—and anyone else she thought could help to get the word out about buying place settings, similar to what one might do as an engagement or wedding present. She creatively suggested, because the open house was just a few weeks before the start of Passover, that people buy place settings in honor of guests who have passed away or could not make it to the seder table this year. And what happened? 

“We exceeded our expectations by a lot,” says Stockman, adding that the center was not only able to buy both meat and dairy dinnerware and utensils in keeping with kosher dietary laws, but also tablecloths, centerpieces and adaptive accoutrements for those who need extra assistance eating.

“Once again, so much of our success was because of Alice. She is the mover and shaker that makes things happen. She has been a voice of power and progress.”

Sheri Sherman, who serves on the adult services committee, says Ludmer’s personal motto is, “Make a Difference.” Sherman points to Ludmer’s more than four decades of volunteer service at organizations such as the J, St. Louis Crisis Nursery, National Council of Jewish Women, J Associates, Hillel, Hadassah, the Jewish Community Relations Council and Congregation Shaare Emeth, where Ludmer belongs. 

She’s co-chaired events for many of these organizations, including the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival twice and the Jewish Book Festival and the NCJW Couturier sale in 1987, which raised $100,000.

“Alice never says no and is always willing to use her creativity and leadership to help others,” Sherman says. “Her dream is to make our community one that will attract people to live and work here and to see St. Louis as a city where once again we can age gracefully. She is a one-woman volunteer dynamo.”

Perhaps the best thing about Ludmer, say Sherman and Stockman, is the joy she gets from seeing others able to enjoy life just a little bit more. 

Stockman tells  a story about the day center’s pet-therapy program, which is very popular among clients. During a gap between pet-therapy providers, Stockman found a cost-effective, hypoallergenic, robotic tabby cat that looks, feels, sounds and moves like a real cat. Day center clients even voted on a name for her: Princess Peaches, Duchess of Cambridge, or Peaches for short.

Stockman showed Ludmer a video of one of the center’s clients interacting with Peaches. 

“This client has aphasia, so it’s very hard to understand her when she speaks,” Stockman. says. “When she started petting and playing with the cat, and Peaches responded, the client’s speech cleared up and she was completely understandable. 

“We came to find out from her husband that she has a tabby cat at home she adores, so Peaches was a natural extension. It was just so amazing to see this client light up and change before our eyes.”

Soon after at a day center committee meeting, Ludmer asked Stockman to share the story and video and let everyone take a turn petting Peaches. So amazed were committee members at the real-life likeness of the cat and the good it was doing for clients, that Sherman decided then and there to donate another one, but on one condition.

It had to be named Alice. 

Alice Ludmer

Age: 69

Family: Married to Alan, has two adult children and three grandchildren

Home: Ladue

Fun Fact: Loves to travel with her husband and recently climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia.