Giving back to Fort Wayne community a way of life for Goldsteins

2016-09-10 | The News-Sentinel

Sept. 10--Leonard and Rikki Goldstein both grew up in families where giving back to the community and to others was just part of what you do.

The Goldsteins carried that experience with them to Fort Wayne, where they have been active for decades in areas such as women's rights, social justice, health, education, the arts and more.

"It basically has to do with our religion," said Leonard, 96, noting justice is a basic belief of their Jewish faith.

He and Rikki, 91, will move soon to Carmel, north of Indianapolis, to be closer to family, but their impact in Fort Wayne will be felt for a long time to come.

"They are icons in the community, and the likes of them are not going to be seen too often," said Ben Eisbart, a longtime community leader.


The Goldsteins, who met at Ohio State University in Columbus, moved to Fort Wayne in 1945, the same year they married.

Leonard, who was from Cleveland, had taken a job here at Platka Export. The company later went through two sales, the last one to Dana Corp. The death of a colleague pushed Leonard into the role of leading Dana's international division.

He didn't enjoy working for a large corporation, however, so he resigned a year or two later and started his own company, Midland Inc., which represented small and medium-sized companies trying to sell products overseas.

At the time, Rikki, who was from Sioux City, Iowa, was a stay-at-home mom, and they had two children in college and two children at home. Leonard's business soon became successful, however, and he led it until some health problems prompted him to sell it about 22 years ago, he said.


Rikki had been active in Parent Teacher Association and other activities at their children's schools. After their youngest child started high school, she went to work.

She had helped found what is now the Women's Bureau in 1976 and worked there for 20 years doing counseling and supervising programs that helped women re-enter the workforce after a divorce or death of a spouse.

"That whole 20 years, we were always doing something," she said. "One of the most important was we got a federal grant to pay for women who were single parents to get a GED (high school-equivalency degree) or certificate degree in college. We helped a lot of women get enough education to get into the workforce."

Rikki also helped organize and coordinate volunteer peer counselors, who worked with women who came to the Women's Bureau, said Harriet Miller, a co-founder and the organization's first director. Leonard helped the Women's Bureau raise funds to create an endowment, and he coached Miller on how to approach potential large donors.

Always generous with their time and resources, the Goldsteins made a big difference in her life by being such wonderful role models, Miller said.

In 1996, at age 70, Rikki moved to Neighborhood Health Clinics in Fort Wayne, where she served as director of social work, outreach and other programs for 20 years before retiring in late August.

"As far as patients, she really related to them as people," said Mary Haupert, Neighborhood Health Clinics president. "She tried to take them where they were ... and say, 'You can't change where you are now, but you can take small steps to make things better.'"

Rikki, who speaks Spanish, also helped the nonprofit organization's doctors and dentists by working with patients' mental health and social issues, leaving the medical staff free to treat their health problems.


In the mid-1970s, Leonard served one term on the Fort Wayne Community Schools board of school trustees. As board president, he led the majority as they pushed FWCS to desegregate its schools.

That was "just a wonderful example of doing what is right," said Eisbart, a former Fort Wayne City Council member and former FWCS board member.

Eisbart met the Goldsteins when he came to Fort Wayne in 1972 to lead what is now the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, and Leonard was on the organization's board of directors.

Eisbart said he and Leonard both worked to help start the Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University in Bloomington, which has become one of the top programs of its kind in the country. The Goldsteins also were very generous in their giving to Jewish and other causes.

Leonard has stayed active on the Jewish Federation board and its Community Relations Council committee, said Jaki Schreier, the federation's current executive director. He always is a resource of great ideas that are helpful and doable, Schreier said.

Leonard also has been involved for about 30 years with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana (ACLU), where he still is a board member. He called it "a natural thing for me" because of his strong passion for ensuring people receive just and fair treatment. That same passion also had made him a frequent contributor of newspaper letters to the editor and guest columns on justice and fairness topics.

Ken Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana, praised Leonard as a strong advocate for civil rights, and particularly for First Amendment protections guaranteeing separation of government and religion.


The Goldsteins also have been active in other areas of the community.

Rikki helped found the Fort Wayne Ballet and served on its board of directors. Leonard has served as board chairs at both Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. He also is a longtime member of the board and committees at The Phil.

Leonard had a real passion for the orchestra and led a very successful fund drive in the 1990s to boost the Phil's endowment, said Eleanor Marine, a former Philharmonic board chair and a current board member. Marine described him as a friend who is a very graceful man who also can be forceful, and someone who "did the hard jobs with dignity and integrity."

The Goldsteins both served on the board of directors of the local Planned Parenthood organization during its early years in Fort Wayne.

Rikki has served as chair of Fort Wayne's Metropolitan Human Relations Commission, as a member of the Fort Wayne Board of Park Commissioners and as a speaker for the Panel of American Women, the latter of which provided panels of five women of diverse backgrounds to speak to various audiences about their lives.

The Goldsteins also have been active at Congregation Achduth Vesholom, the city's Reform Jewish congregation, for more than 70 years, including each serving on its board of directors. The congregation planned to offer a special blessing for the couple at its Shabbat service Friday evening and to celebrate their longtime membership afterward.

Looking back, "I hope our being in the community made a difference," Leonard said.

People who know and have worked with the Goldsteins answer unequivocally: Yes, it has.

More Information

Special recognitions

-- Rikki and Leonard Goldstein each were presented Sagamore of the Wabash awards in 1994. The award is the highest honor the Indiana governor can give, and it typically is presented for distinguished service to the state or governor.

-- Leonard is scheduled to be honored next month as one of the 2016 recipients of the Hoosier Jewish Legend -- A Hall of Fame award from the Indiana Jewish Historical Society. The city's two Jewish congregations, Achduth Vesholom and B'nai Jacob, joined with the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne to nominate him.