Former Ferguson restaurateur ‘pays it forward’ as a volunteer

Steve Rosenblum is shown with signs from The Kaufman Fund golf tournament, which he helps arrange. Rosenblum is a board member of The Kaufman Fund, an organization that works to assist veterans. Photo: Bill Motchan

BILL MOTCHAN

Steve Rosenblum can trace his commitment to volunteering and giving back to the community to his father, who was fond of saying: “If something good happens to you, send 10 bucks to the rabbi.”

“What he meant was, be appreciative, be grateful for what you have,” he said.

Rosenblum took that advice to heart and, years later at Jason’s, his popular Ferguson family restaurant, he often hired workers with disabilities. He donated goods to area food pantries. And when Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club founder Martin Mathews was looking for banquet space for a mentoring event, Rosenblum quickly volunteered to host it at no cost.

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“Mr. Mathews — great guy,” Rosenblum said. “He used to come in the restaurant all the time with Barbara Washington, his PR director. They had these two programs, computer literacy and mentoring, and we could hold about 80 people in our banquet space, so we hosted their banquets for a number of years.”

Rosenblum loved working in the hospitality industry. Jason’s had strong support from the community and employees from businesses in and around Ferguson, such as Emerson Electric. He ran the restaurant after graduating from Michigan State University, where he earned a degree from the School of Hospitality Business.

“My dad was in the Venetian blind business with my uncle when they got back from the war,” Rosenblum said. “My dad liked real estate, and he got into commercial real estate. He found this restaurant opportunity, and he thought it was an interesting business. But he never ran a restaurant ­— he couldn’t make coffee. I worked there when I was 14, and I liked it.”

Now retired, Rosenblum has more time to spend spoiling his grandkids, but he also spends many hours volunteering. He’s a board member of the Kaufman Fund, which helps veterans; a board member of Temple Israel, a past board member of the Miriam Foundation, and he volunteers with Caring for Kids and the National Council of Jewish Women’s Back to School! Store, another of this year’s Unsung Heroes.

“I find it makes me feel good, and I’m happy if I can [provide] some benefit to someone else who doesn’t have the things I have,” Rosenblum said. “It’s satisfying personally, because you’re helping someone who needs help. I’m paying it forward. It sounds corny, but you want to try and leave the world a better place.”

Being in the spotlight doesn’t suit Rosenblum. He’s more comfortable working behind the scenes. Still, reliable volunteers occasionally get recognized for their efforts. There was the time in 1983 when he was honored as Person of the Year by Mathews-Dickey.

“The other Person of the Year was Craig Schnuck, and we’re about as different as possible,” Rosenblum said. “They did it at America’s Center in front of 1,000 people, and I had to speak and I thought, ‘Oh, no!’ I was so nervous that day. But if there was something I could do at the restaurant – take disadvantaged kids and bring them in for a meal – I’d do that all day long.”

Rosenblum’s connection to Temple Israel is a family tradition. His great-grandparents were among the congregation’s founding members.

The Kaufman Fund is an organization with special meaning to him, too. As a military veteran, Rosenblum works to improve the lives of other vets.

“I’m very busy with the Kaufman Fund because we’re a small charity and we have no employees,” he said. “We have programs for veterans, like pro bono legal assistance and a dental program. We started a mental health collaborative with the VA and Jewish Family Services, Catholic Family Services and Provident Counseling. We’re trying to get veterans more access to care for their families.”

Four years ago, he also helped coordinate a collaboration between the Kaufman Fund and CHAMP Assistance Dogs, an organization that places service dogs with veterans. That involvement was beneficial for veterans with physical and cognitive disabilities, according to Pam Budke, executive director of CHAMP.

“When I met Steve, he was welcoming, friendly and genuinely concerned about CHAMP and our mission,” Budke said. “He listened and asked many questions. We shared how both the Kaufman Fund and CHAMP Assistance Dogs are similar. We are both passionate about helping veterans.

“Steve attends and supports our special events on a regular basis. He is happy to help CHAMP make important connections. Thanks to Steve and his strong support, the Kaufman Fund has provided financial support to CHAMP for the placement and training of service dogs for veterans.”

Rosenblum brings a similar level of commitment in his volunteer work for Caring for Kids, said Jan Abrams, the organization’s executive director.

“Caring for Kids is unusual in that we do not use volunteers as most organizations do,” Abrams said. “But as a close friend, Steve asked as soon as I began my association with the group what we might need. As we chatted and he learned that so many of our kids had no safe places to sleep, he immediately put me in touch with our current bed vendor. For a really good price, we now are able to give about 250 beds and cribs each year to deserving kiddos, all from the conversation of a willing and interested community member, Steve Rosenblum!”

Abrams compared Rosenblum to the Energizer Bunny for his seemingly unlimited energy. He admits that after working 70-hour weeks in the restaurant business for decades, retirement offered more free time than he was used to having.

Karla Rosenblum quickly corrected her husband about his work ethic, suggesting he worked closer to 90 hours a week running Jason’s restaurant.

“He’s a mensch,” Karla said. “If I could use one word to describe him, I’d say ‘devoted,’ because whatever he gets into, he’s devoted to it. As a volunteer, he shows up. He was also a very devoted son to his parents.”

Steve Rosenblum responded: “I’m a committed person. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it.”