Marion Lipsitz may be an Unsung Hero, but almost everyone sings her praises and has a story about her – and many of those stories are worth retelling. For example:
In 1938, Walt Disney chose Lipsitz as the ideal Snow White for the campus Snow White Ball at Connecticut State College (today known as the University of Connecticut at Storrs).
While rearing her five children, Lipsitz completed her undergraduate degree in psychology at Washington University—at age 56.
Lipsitz worked at the Jewish Community Center for 43 years, leaving at age 85 only because she was “retired” by management.
Lipsitz was recently elected a trustee of her subdivision, which will require going to meetings, but “not too many.”
A life member of the St. Louis Chapter of Hadassah since 1942, Lipsitz is a past president, serves as the chapter’s representative to the Jewish Community Relations Council and currently sits on the board.
“Every year, Marion says she’s getting too old to be on the board and every year, we tell her we need her,” said Judy Kramer, vice president of public relations and immediate past president of the St. Louis Chapter of Hadassah. “Marion has tons of experience—and she’s not afraid to say what she thinks. Everyone loves working with her.”
Many people have had the opportunity to work with Lipsitz. For the past four years, she has served as a docent at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center. She is a past board member of the Jewish Federation. Lipsitz is a life member of the National Council of Jewish Women, Jewish Hospital Auxiliary, and Brandeis University, and she also is a member of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League.
“I do what I can,” Lipsitz said. “I’m an ardent Zionist and since way, way back, I’ve been involved in the community. Of course I’ve slowed down a lot. You do know how old I am, right?”
Assured that we do, Lipsitz added, “They say as you get older, you have to exercise, so I go to water exercise classes at the J two or three times a week. With working at the museum and making calls for Hadassah, that’s about all I can handle.”
After growing up in Stamford, Conn., Lipsitz moved to St. Louis in 1941 after marrying her husband, Abe, who was in the photographic manufacturing and distribution business. He died in 2000. The couple’s son Kenneth died in 1993 at the age of 46. “We lost him to multiple sclerosis, which he got right after college,” Lipsitz said. “He was a great entrepreneur.”
After their son was diagnosed in 1972, Lipsitz and her husband started a support group for people with MS. “Once a month on Sunday, people would come to our house in wheelchairs and with walkers,” she said. “Eventually the group got so big we had to move the meetings to a church.” After their son’s death, the Lipsitzes established an environmental fund at Camp Sabra in his name.
All three of Lipsitz’s younger siblings live in the Midwest, and she also is in constant touch with her four grown children, who are “spread from New Hampshire to Seattle,” she said. Her daughter Babette Rittmeyer, who lives in Concord, N.H., was happy to speak about her mother.
“My mother is the gem in all our lives,” Rittmeyer said. “We feel so fortunate that she is so active and so articulate and so involved in our lives. She is such an example of resiliency and inner strength, and she has always been beautiful, too. When she turned 90, she started going through a box of old letters, and there was one love letter after another.”
Rittmeyer revealed that Lipsitz will be featured in “Thin Threads,” a commemorative book celebrating Hadassah’s centennial at the national level. “They are publishing my mother’s story in the book, one of just 100, chosen from submissions from all over the country. What a great legacy for her,” Rittmeyer said.
Lipsitz, who was honored with the Myrtle Wreath award from Hadassah here in 2007, said the national organization had requested stories about how women first got connected with Hadassah, which has some 300,000 members. “My story was about how I met acclaimed Israeli artist Reuven Rubin at an event and how I maneuvered getting a painting from him—all because of Hadassah,” Lipsitz said.
In 1951, Lipsitz met Golda Meir—who was friends with Lipsitz’s mother-in-law —when Lipsitz visited Israel, a trip she made every decade for a long time. “I was in Israel for Hadassah’s 95th anniversary, but I’m not going to be there for the 100th,” Lipsitz said. “That’s a hard trip.”
Though her traveling days may be over, Lipsitz said she will not give up on the hope for world peace. “I am very chagrinned at the world situation, and deeply involved in hoping that Israel survives,” she said. “If I have any unmet goals, it would be for peace in the world. Maybe in my lifetime? Maybe.”
As for being honored as an Unsung Hero, Lipsitz said it was something of a fluke. After the fact, Lipsitz learned that her sister Evelyn Portnoff had nominated her. “If my being part of this serves as an example for other people to be involved and to do good things, it will be worth it,” Lipsitz said.
FAMILY: Widow of the late Abe Lipsitz, five children (one deceased), six grandchildren, five great-grandchildren
HOME: Frontenac for 57 years (“It wasn’t Frontenac when we moved here.”)
OCCUPATION: Former membership director at the Jewish Community Center and volunteer extraordinaire
FAVORITE PASTIME: Volunteering, water exercise class, occasional entertaining