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Bagels & Bytes for February 6th, 2004
February 6th, 2004
We shared a bagel with Milwaukee mensch Dr. Harry Blumenfeld a mentor, community activist and supporter of humanitarian causes.
Harry Blumenfeld is a mover and shaker on wheels! At 89, he is still operating on fast forward.
He can be found zooming around on his motorized scooter at Laurel Oaks Retirement Community in Glendale, where he is affectionately dubbed, the mayor. His definition of retirement is redirection.
Living at Laurel Oaks since 1993, the retired dentist has coordinated many events for his fellow residents, including a Veterans Day program that drew more than 100 people, a monthly talk show on current events that attracted a standing-room-only crowd, and other programs such as book signings, speakers including former Gov. Tommy Thompson, and birthday parties.
The Laureate Group [which owns Laurel Oaks] has been wonderful in providing funding for my programs. It seems they agree that such activities offer healthy stimulation for the residents, he said.
Further, at meals, he enjoys discussing current events with his peers. Although we attempt to solve the problems of the world, unfortunately, our success rate remains at zero, he quipped.
Also, the Milwaukee native organized a celebration in 2002 in honor of the Clark Street Schools 100th anniversary. The 1927 graduate launched a drive to collect 100 books, which were donated to the school. And he served as a consultant to a wellness center that was created through a federal grant at Washington High School.
One of the things I did was arrange for Marquette Dental School to donate a used chair and light to the center. This project was really a labor of love because I graduated from both Washington High and Marquette, he noted.
In a recent interview, he likened life to a parade. Some watch, some march, some lead and others dont know its going on. I guess I started out as a marcher and hopefully developed into a leader.
Like many little boys, Blumenfeld wanted to be a firefighter when he was growing up. But his father, after a lengthy wait for a dental appointment, determined that being a dentist would be more profitable for his son.
By the age of 22, Blumenfeld had earned both his bachelor of science and doctor of dental surgery degrees from Marquette University.
He served in the U.S. Navy Air Force during World War II, stationed in the western Pacific. After his discharge, he returned to Milwaukee and established his dental practice.
In addition to practicing his profession for 57 years, he was active in the local, state and national dental associations and in the Marquette University Alumni Association, chairing its All University Golden Jubilee Celebration in 1986. My dear wife, Belle, and I hosted many Marquette events, he recalled.
As a member of the Greater Milwaukee Dental Association, he held every office, including president. Also, he was elected speaker of the Wisconsin Dental Association House of Delegates. And he presented numerous papers on hospital dentistry to the American Dental Association.
Calling himself a little Jewish dentist, he said, My many years in professional associations allowed me to help a lot of young dentists reach their goals. My elected positions and status provided me with the opportunity to mentor, which has given me great satisfaction. It also earned me the nickname, Kingmaker, around Marquette.
For his long-standing efforts, he received the Marquette All University Service Award in 1980, the MU Distinguished Alumnus in Dentistry Award in 1990 and the GMDA Service to Dentistry Award in 1994.
Further, as chief of staff of the Mount Sinai Hospitals Dental Clinic for 20 years, he commandeered some 25 colleagues to volunteer to treat indigent patients. I always liked to be the boy with the bat and the ball, he smiled.
Oddly, it was his professional affiliations that led Blumenfeld to another interest. Being an officer in so many organizations made him realize the importance of knowing how to run a meeting. So he studied Roberts Rules of Order and became a nationally certified parliamentarian. Blumenfeld said he still advises several local organizations today, at no charge.
Without procedural rule, said the impish octegenarian, there would be injustice and confusion. Being a parliamentarian requires constant review and study, which I really enjoy. Its sort of like being an umpire at a baseball game. You have to know the rules.
And because this particular hobby was so removed from his profession, it was both a means to a different type of mental stimulation and a form of relaxation, he said.
Blumenfeld was also a pioneer and an advocate for dental insurance. A Delta Insurance Company official, in praising my early work in the field, said my findings resulted in better oral health care for millions of people.
Obviously still enjoying being active in the community, he said, A productive life need not end at retirement. Ones retirement years can be really creative and rewarding.
While acknowledging his accomplishments, he said he is most proud of his family.
Losing my wife three years ago after 62 years together was a big loss. But, my daughter, Bobbe, and her husband, Dr. Stuart Fine, and my three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren are so supportive. Everything else in life is window-dressing.
Blumenfeld turned the tables on The Chronicle and provided the coffee and plain toasted bagels with cream cheese in the Laurel Oaks dining room.
By Mardee Gruen