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Remembering 'Rock 'Em Sock 'Em 'Rosenblum
February 20th, 2004
Lou Rosenblum, who escaped a turbulent Russia with his family in 1921 and spent a lifetime inspiring youngsters at his Camp North Star near Hayward, Wisconsin, died early this month at 88. His death in Florida was peaceful, with his wife, Renee, and his daughter, Linda, nearby. He was buried in Milwaukee.
I am his nephew. I loved and admired him.
Lou was 6 when his mother, Anna, took her five children away from a Russian revolution gone wrong. They fled Borisov, near the White Russian border with Poland. After a saga of courage and cunning, Anna replanted her family north of Milwaukee.
A favorite story from those early days rats out Lou as a car thief. He loved to tell it. It seems my dad bought a car from his earnings at a grocery store, and he drove it home for lunchtime naps. Lou would filch the keys to go for a ride, and their mother stood lookout to signal him when his older brother began to stir.
The message was clear: Anna knew that young Lou, in whatever circumstance, would do the right thing.
The family scrapbook soon filled with his exploits. He was a football star, later courted by the pros. He ran track, swam, played baseball and basketball.
Name it, and he did it. On a dare, he entered a boxing ring with no experience and won a Golden Gloves title. He learned to ski on a single run by following an unwitting skillful stranger down the steep slope.
At 19, “Rosy” was the youngest athletic director ever at the Milwaukee Jewish Community Center. “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em” Rosenblum was an all-conference halfback at what is now the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
At a roller rink one evening, however, he managed to smack into a wall. He had spotted a local beauty on a trip home from her job in Chicago. Showing off, he kept his eyes on her too long.
They were married in June 1944 and remained young lovers — ask anyone who watched them together — ever since.
Lou missed the war because of a leaky coronary valve. But anyone who met him soon learned that, on the larger plane, nothing was wrong with his wonderful, warm heart.
Beyond his own skills and athletic prowess, he felt a strong need to help others. With a degree in education, he started North Star in 1945 as a summer camp for boys. Campers often moved up to be counselors and then, almost invariably, lifelong friends.
After Lou and Renee passed North Star on 36 years later, he devoted his energy to the Jewish community and the wider world. I’m a foreign correspondent used to the fact that a limited number of Americans really care about people beyond our borders. Lou cared, passionately.
When I asked Renee about her memories of Lou, she told me, “He had this amazing ability to get inside a kid’s head, to know exactly what he was thinking, to see what he could do to help if anything was wrong. He listened like nobody else listened.” That is, he cared.
In Renee’s scrapbook is a letter Lou wrote that appeared in The Milwaukee Journal excoriating, in understated Lou-like tones, someone who advocated spanking in schools.
“People should live up to our best opinion of them,” he counseled. “Discipline is essential and should be consistent, firm and gentle. Controls such as spanking, fear, etc. make one feel inferior and degraded.”
At his funeral service in Mequon — an uplifting memorial, really — we sang some wisdom from Harry Chapin, which had meant a lot to Lou. In essence, it said that life is a circle that we fill with people we touch.
Looking around the room, and remembering how many times people halfway around the world asked me if I was related to Lou Rosenblum, I couldn’t help thinking: Ol’ Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em left us all a very big pair of shoes to fill.
Mort Rosenblum is a native Milwaukeean and works as special correspondent for the Associated Press, based in Paris.