The Helen Weinger Doors to Learning are actual doors; they open to the early childhood wing of the Jewish Community Center she created to honor her late husband, Bernard. His photo is on a nearby wall.
Helen Weinger died Sept. 21, at the age of 101.
"Helen loved having built a community center that is used by all ages," said JUF President Lonnie Nasatir. "She was very proud to have her husband Bernard's name on a facility so well-used by our community. She was incredibly dedicated to the Jewish community, and to fostering and enhancing Jewish engagement and continuity."
Weinger was born in Chicago to Alex and Lena Silverman, who immigrated from Eastern Europe as teenagers. She grew up on the Near West Side. She had two sisters, Annabelle and Arline. After high school, she worked at Goldblatt's department store.
Her family summered in Michigan. "She met my father, Bernard, in Union Pier; they were married shortly thereafter," recalled Helen's daughter, Susie Spector. "She traveled with him for business throughout the country, becoming an important asset in developing business relationships that became friendships. They were a charismatic team."
They bought their first home in Oak Park, near their families in Austin.
"I joined the family in 1948, my brother Mitchell a few years later," Spector continued. "My mom loved gardening and entertaining. She was a wonderful cook. Seats at our dinner table often were filled with last-minute guests. Mom could make amazing food containers out of wax paper too. I called them the forerunners of Ziploc bags."
Outside the home, Weinger volunteered at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital as a buyer for the gift shop, and led a Girl Scout Brownie troop. She also took up bridge and golf and joined Bryn Mawr Country Club with Bernard.
"Jewish philanthropy was very important to both my parents," she continued. "My father often lamented that there was no JCC on the North Shore for his grandchildren. When my mom learned that JCC was looking for a donor to help build one, she knew it was the perfect way to honor the memory of her beloved Bernie."
The Bernard Weinger JCC became a favorite place for Weinger, said Spector. She loved to drop by and visit the center. She especially loved the early childhood wing and visiting the babies in the nursery. Afterward, she loved to take some of the staff out to lunch.
Addie Goodman, President and CEO of JCC Chicago, recognizes Weinger's personal involvement. "She saw a need and was moved to fill it," Goodman said. "It's very special to be able to celebrate someone's support as well as their continued commitment." The family most recently helped upgrade the early childhood wing and enhance security measures for the building.
And creating the Bernard Weinger JCC had its intended effect. "I was privileged to meet her a few times, mostly when Helen attended J-Hawks basketball games to see her great-grandson play," Goodman said.
Spector herself served on JCC Women's Board for 40 years, and on its Board of Directors for 25. Her husband, Laurence "Lory" Spector, served on the JUF Board as well.
"For me, it's personal," Susie said. "Supporting our JCC allows us to set an example for our children and grandchildren and make a true impact on their lives."
Helen Weinger was a Golden Giver to the JUF Annual Campaign. A private service and interment have taken place. Memorials may be made to the Bernard Weinger JCC.
Helen Weinger (nee Silverman). 101. Beloved wife of the late Bernard Weinger. Loving mother of Susan (Lory) Spector and the late Mitchell (Mary-Lynn) Weinger. Proud grandmother of Chad and Judd (Jillian) Spector and Lindsey (Max Volfson) and Ross (Debora Pollack) Weinger. Loving great-grandmother of Ryder, Cooper, Mackenzie, Jacob, Harley and Wyatt. Dear sister of the late Annabelle (the late Nathan) Hoff and the late Arline Silverman. Chicago Jewish Funerals.