Harrisburg philanthropist Louis Lerman Grass died early Wednesday morning at the age of 90, as a result of a stroke, leaving a legacy of volunteerism and fundraising for causes that changed the city’s landscape.
A pillar of the city’s charitable giving, it has had a hand in seemingly every major institution in the Harrisburg area, including the Rose Lerman Center for the Arts, the Whitaker Center, the Jewish Family Service of Greater Harrisburg and the Harrisburg Area Community College.
Louis Lerman, daughter of Benjamin and Rose Lerman, grew up in Harrisburg and inherited her love of the arts from her mother. herb He once told The Burg “My mother used to say, if you can’t be an artist or a pianist, you can be the audience.”
In 1950, she married Rite Aid founder and co-founder Alexandre Grass, with whom she had four children. The couple divorced in 1972. Later Alexander Grass Dies in 2009.
Martin Grass, son of Louis, described his mother as a “pioneer, setter,” who was already active at the age of 31, organizing the Aurora Club (today known as Aurora Social Rehabilitation Services) in 1962.
“This is back [in in a time] When this was a very conservative town.” “I got involved in many different organizations. And the thing about my mother is that this is not a woman who was writing a check, even though she did write a lot of checks. I have been involved. It was completely hand-operated. She wanted to be involved, and she wanted to make a difference. and I did “.
“It’s easier to say what it is no said Jeff Lynch, commercial filmmaker and personal friend of Grass. “She has done so much for a long time. She is a beautiful woman.”
said Mike Greenwald, co-founder of public radio station WITF in Harrisburg, who first met Grass when she took up a position on the board. “She was a first-class volunteer, in my opinion.”
Greenwald, who has become a personal friend of Grass, said her definition of philanthropy runs much deeper than giving money.
“That was never what she wanted to be known for,” he said. “I think what Lewis identified were the people and organizations she thought were promising and a purpose, the talents she nurtured, the jobs she nurtured, and the community organizations and institutions she helped build and maintain. That is the most important thing to her.”
Some of the institutions in which Grass will take an active hand, whether in direct construction or preservation, include the Greater Harrisburg Foundation (today the Community Strengthening Foundation), the Aurora Club, the Hamilton Health Center, the Jewish Family Service of Greater Harrisburg, the Harrisburg Branch of the Red Cross, Harrisburg Area Community College.
Grass was the principal donor to HACC’s Rose Lerman Center for the Arts, named after her mother and opened in 1975. As with Grass, Greenwald said, her business did not end with the building’s completion, as she helped coordinate programming for the center in its early days.
Grass has also been instrumental in the development of the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts, with former Harrisburg Mayor Stephen Reed telling the Central Penn Business Journal that “Louis Lerman Grass was right about this whole process,” to help revitalize the city with similar projects.
“She’s a national role model,” Reid said. In a 2011 interview. It has been a catalyst in bringing about very significant improvements in the cultural and civic sectors in this entire region. One could legitimately argue that she did so without equal.”
According to Greenwald, Grass was “a true shepherd [of the arts] In the classical sense, “direct commissioning of artwork or music from painters, sculptors, or composers, as well as supporting groups ranging from the Harrisburg Theater to Market Square Concerts and the Central Pennsylvania Friends of Jazz.”
“She’s been able to make a lot of impact to affect the things she cares most deeply,” Greenwald said. “She has lived in the community for a long time, and has known a huge number of people who have great resources and influence, and who can help achieve good things. And that is how she has used her position – it has always been for the benefit of something and someone else.”
Greenwald also noted that none of the buildings she helped fund had her name on it, and that “a lot of what I did was very, very special.”
Greenwald said the causes and organizations that supported her extended beyond central Pennsylvania, with donations to groups such as the National Holocaust Museum, of which she was a founding donor. She was also a founding member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts and a member of the National Advisory Board.
She was committed to the Jewish community in her region and throughout the world, and through her donations named the Lehrman Chapel at Temple Ohev Sholom in Harrisburg and the Rose Lehrman Wing at the Hebrew University School of Education in Jerusalem after her mother.
“[Lois] “He’s been a lifelong member of Ohev Sholom, and behind the scenes of every fundraising project we’ve done, generations back,” said Rabbi Peter Kessler, a former rabbi of Temple Ohev Sholom. “It was Lewis who said to me, and the rabbis before me, ‘Let’s meet at my house, and let’s form a committee together.’ And Lewis knew everyone how to raise money. She was great at that.”
For Kessler, whose family lives in New York City, Grass became his “Harrisburg mum” while at Temple Ohiv Sholum. He said her mentorship of his son, an art student at CASA, was emblematic of her desire to educate and nurture not only the next generation of artists, but the next generation of arts patrons.
Additionally, Kessler said, supporting the Jewish community in Harrisburg “means the world to them,” as have education projects, especially those focused on Holocaust awareness.
“If we were working on a project where we didn’t reach our goal, it would match it,” Kessler said. “Because of her guidance and oversight, she really helped our congregation, and many other Jewish organizations in the city, with fundraising. That was a big part of what it was.”
Someone asked me earlier today, ‘Do you know how much money she’s given in her life? Martin Grass said, How many million? “I said, that’s not really important. What she will tell you is important is how much money you want Starchyou know, for arts and culture, healthcare, mental health and the like.”
Among other awards for her charitable work, Grass was selected for Honor by the Distinguished Girls of Pennsylvania in 1988, she was awarded the inaugural Distinguished Service to the Arts in the metropolitan area by the Harrisburg Theater in 1989, and she received the Governor’s Award for the Arts in 1999.
Her friends said that in recent years, one of her biggest passion projects has been the Capital District School of the Arts. Tim Wendling, principal and CEO of the Charter School of the Arts in Harrisburg, said Grass has “lived a lot and breathed CASA” during his 10-year tenure so far, and well before that as a practical fundraiser and board member for several years.
“She was very caring and emotional,” he said. “She had a big heart, especially for children. I think she taught people that it’s not just about giving money, it’s not just about writing a check. It’s about committing to something you’re passionate about, and she was passionate about children.”
Wendling said that Grass could be a “fiery spirit,” that her guidance was useful for his fundraising raids, and that “if [Lois] She said she would do something, and she would make absolutely sure it got done.”
It would be hard to move forward without her generosity and support,” Wendling said. “But I think what drives us now is to make sure that whatever we do in school, we continue to make her proud, and find ways to move forward and carry on her legacy.”
“Our city lost one of its giant hearts today,” Harrisburg Mayor Wanda Williams said in a statement.
“We are saddened in the city to hear of the death of Louis Lerman Grass,” Williams said. “We will remember her in eternity the way she embraced her in life, as someone who was a tireless giver and giver. Her name can be found throughout the city thanks to her charitable work, particularly her endless work for art students and the Jewish community in Harrisburg.”
Grass is survived by her children Martin Grass, Roger Grass and Elizabeth Wiese and their families, including 15 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren. She died by her daughter Linda Grace Shapiro, sister Barbara Weinberg and longtime companion Bowman Brown.
Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. on September 23 at Temple Ohev Sholom, 2345 N. Front Street, Harrisburg. Burial will follow at Mount Moriah Cemetery, located on Strouse and Fritchey Streets. To honor Lewis’ memory, her family has asked for contributions to be made to any Jewish, art, or healthcare organization of your choice.
Kessler referred to the upcoming Jewish New Year holiday, where tradition states that God writes the names of the righteous in the Book of Life for the coming year.
“If he keeps you for about a year,” he said, “that shows your right.” “This is definitely Lewis.”