Susan K. Goldberg wears a big V for volunteer

Kristi Foster
2016 Unsung Hero Susan K. Goldberg. Photo: Kristi Foster 

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

If Marvel created a superhero for volunteering, she’d probably look like Susan K. Goldberg. A self-described professional volunteer, Goldberg learned at a young age from her parents, Nancy and the late Jerome “Jerry” Kalishman, the importance of tikkun olam and giving back to the community.

“Susan is one of the most inspiring and effective leaders I have ever known,” says Rabbi Amy Feder of Temple Israel, where Goldberg is on the board of trustees. “When she becomes interested in a cause, she almost immediately finds a way to take a leadership role and inspire others to do the same.”

Honestly, it’s hard to keep track of the number of organizations for which Goldberg has volunteered because she often stays involved with them even after she rotates off their boards, or has finished a campaign or project. 

That said, in addition to TI, she is serving on the boards of Jewish Federation of St. Louis and the BJC Foundation, and is on the executive committee for the Parent Association of Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School. And while she is no longer a board member, she volunteers regularly with Ready Readers, and remains active with the Magic House (as a member of its President’s Council) and the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis.

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Lisa Greening is the executive director of Ready Readers, which works to inspire low-income preschool children to become readers (and was started in 1997 by Pat Simons, a Jewish Light Unsung Hero in 2012). 

Greening says 10 years ago, when Ready Readers was still a relatively unknown organization, the board was considering whether to host a gala to raise money. At the time, Ready Readers had an annual budget of less than $100,000.

“Susan brilliantly championed the idea of having a Non-Event,” Greening says. “With (help from) a graphic artist, she wrote and designed clever invitations based on classic children’s stories. The Non-Event asked people to stay home, spend time with their family, read a book and give to Ready Readers.”

Greening says that in its first year, the Non-Event raised $38,000. Ten years later, under Goldberg’s continued leadership, the Non-Event raised $165,000.

“Ready Readers is now able to serve 10,000 preschool-age children from low-income communities a week and give more than 65,000 new, high quality children’s books annually to children because of our solid revenue source of our Non-Event,” Greening says. “Ready Readers is making a tremendous impact in early literacy in the St. Louis community because of the hard work, dedication and commitment of Susan Goldberg.”

Simons adds that not only does Goldberg continue to read to preschoolers in low-income neighborhoods every week, she also “has recruited her husband, mother, cousins and friends as well.”

Goldberg grew up in St. Louis (Clayton High, Class of 1978), but was living and working in Atlanta when her father became ill and she decided to move home. She took a job as director of marketing and cultural tourism at the Regional Arts Commission (RAC), and within the course of three years lost her father to brain cancer, met and married her husband, Paul Goldberg, got pregnant with her first daughter, built a house and moved into it, and then got pregnant with her second daughter. 

She left RAC to stay home and raise her daughters but knew she wanted to do something useful with her time.  “After working for 20-plus years, I was lucky enough to be in a position where I could volunteer and take what I learned as a professional and use it to help organizations that I felt passionate about,” she says.

Goldberg and her two brothers grew up watching their parents actively support both Jewish and secular organizations. 

Nancy Kalishman is a past president and lifetime supporter of the Scholarship Foundation, as well as a past president of the Temple Israel Sisterhood, and has served on the boards of the Jewish Family & Children’s Service; National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis Section; Beyond Housing, and the local Girl Scout Council. 

Jerry Kalishman was active in Federation and served on the Washington University Law School’s National Council.

“My parents led by example, and that’s how I am trying to teach my children,” Goldberg says. 

She explains that when her daughters were very young, they made bracelets from pipe cleaners and sold them to raise money for the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry because their Aunt Lori (Goldberg) works at JF&CS (as manager of senior services and adults with special needs).

“The girls wound up donating $36 to the food pantry from the sales,” Goldberg says. “The staff (at JF&CS, which oversees the food pantry) made such a big deal when they delivered the money and made them feel so good about what they had done. They learned at an early age how good it feels to give back.”

Goldberg says most of the causes she supports are educational or have an educational component. She taught first grade in Kirkwood early in her career and has a degree from Tulane University in speech pathology and language development. Prior to her job at RAC, she specialized in marketing to children for several corporations, including Ralston-Purina and the National Olympics Committee.

“I also have to be passionate about the organization and what it is doing, and I have to know that I can make a difference,” she says. “If I can’t make a contribution, it’s not worth their board seat or my time.”

Those who have worked closely with Goldberg as a volunteer make note of her organization skills, dedication, razor-sharp focus, and ability to problem-solve and accomplish whatever goal is at hand. They also mention how she prefers to fly under the radar and do what needs to be done without fanfare or special recognition.

“Susan gets involved because she sees holes in the community that need to be filled, and she steps in and fills them,” Feder says. “She does not do anything for the title. She is an absolute powerhouse and changes every project she touches for the better.”

More evidence, in fact, that she is indeed a superhero if not Wonder Woman.

Susan K. Goldberg

Age: 55

Family: Married to Paul Goldberg. Two daughters, ages 14 and 15

Home: Ladue

Occupation:  Professional volunteer

Fun Fact: Goldberg ran a leg of the Olympic Torch Relay in 1996 when it passed through St. Louis.