Couple seeks to ‘make a difference’ in the world
by ED WITTENBERG CJN Staff Reporter
Both serve on the board of directors at Montefiore in Beachwood. Steve, who has served 10 years on the board, is in his second year of a three-year term as chairman, and Judy is in her fifth year.
“I’m very attached to Montefiore, not only from an advisory standpoint, but also emotionally as well,” he said.
A $2 million gift from the Willenskys has helped make Montefiore’s new assisted living memory care pavilion possible.
In December, Montefiore announced it would name the pavilion The Willensky Residence, A Montefiore Assisted Memory Care Community.
“Over the last several years, Judy and I have been thinking about how we can make a major impact to the community,” Steve said. “When Montefiore made the decision to build this (memory care pavilion), there was an extremely high need for it in the community, and we thought it would be a perfect fit for the Greater Cleveland community.”
“We certainly recognize the need for facilities to care for (the segment of) our community who suffers from early- to mid-stage dementia,” Judy said. “We’re very passionate about what they are doing and about this incredible, beautiful facility. We were happy we were able to help.”
The Willensky Residence opened in October. It offers services and specialized programming for those whose needs go beyond the care a traditional assisted living facility offers but who do not yet need services at a nursing home level.
While Judy is a Cleveland native, having grown up in University Heights, Steve was born and raised in Bayonne, N.J. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Brown University in Providence, R.I., and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Ill.
He came to Cleveland in 1987, when the General Electric Co. transferred him from Rhode Island. Steve worked at Nela Park in East Cleveland, world headquarters for GE’s lighting division, and became vice president of global marketing for GE Lighting in 1994.
A 1971 graduate of Cleveland Heights High School, Judy has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. After college, she taught first grade for four years at University School.
Then Judy decided to make a career change, so she returned to Michigan to earn an MBA.
Judy was hired by GE in 1981 in marketing and worked 16 years for the company. She eventually became GE’s general manager of business development.
Both were working for GE – Steve in Rhode Island and Judy in Norfolk, Va. – when they met in 1986.
“They flew me to Rhode Island to interview to be his boss,” she recalled. “They sent him to the airport to pick me up.”
“I was the gofer,” Steve quipped.
GE offered Judy the job, but she turned it down. About six months later, GE offered her a job in Cleveland, and she accepted. Six months after that, GE promoted Steve to his new job in Cleveland.
“So they fly me into Cleveland and say, ‘We want to introduce you to the new boss,’ and in walks Judy,” Steve said. “She was my boss for exactly three weeks, and then they reorganized.
“But for three weeks, I was working for her, and now I work for her full time.”
Married at Park Synagogue
Steve and Judy kept in touch and became friends. “We had common backgrounds, common values and common interests,” Judy said.
On May 3, 1992, they were married at The Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights, where Judy has been a member since her childhood. Her parents, Harvey and Millie Klein, were married there as well.
Shortly after their wedding, GE transferred Steve to London to run marketing for its lighting division in Europe. Judy joined him there after she was assigned to run business development for GE.
In 1994, GE transferred them back to Cleveland, and they bought a home in Bentleyville. The couple has lived in Gates Mills since 2003.
In 1998, Steve became vice president of global marketing for Furon Co., based in southern California, so the couple moved there. They remained there until 2002, when the Weiss family offered Steve a job as senior vice president of sales and marketing for American Greetings Corp.
Judy left GE in 1997 to join Heidrick & Struggles, one of the top executive search firms in the country. She started as a consultant and later became a managing partner.
“When Steve came back to join American Greetings, I took over the Cleveland office (for Heidrick & Struggles),” Judy said. “I also ran the Toronto office for a while.”
Steve said he had “a great experience” working under Morry Weiss, American Greetings CEO from 1987-2003, who continues to serve as its chairman.
“I learned more about philanthropy and giving back from that man than anyone,” he said. “He was a tremendous influence for me.”
Joint decision to retire
Judy retired from her job in 2007, and Steve followed her about six months later.
“We were in Florida visiting my mom in late 2006,” Steve said. “Judy and I were walking our dogs around her development, and we talked about our parents and what their needs were going to be over the next several years.
“We talked about the fact that we both had jobs with high demands in terms of time and travel.”
Perhaps it was time for the couple to give more time to their families, devote more energy to nonprofits and “give back to the community,” Steve said.
“We retired, and we haven’t looked back. We love it.”
Judy and Steve are heavily involved in the Jewish community.
She is vice chair of the board of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, vice president of The Park Synagogue’s board and former vice chair of the board of Jewish Family Service Association.
He serves on the boards of the Jewish Federation, Park Synagogue and the Cleveland Sight Center. He is a former Mandel Jewish Community Center board member.
“I think (Judaism) is a critical part of who we are,” Judy said. “What shaped it for me were my parents and their involvement in the Jewish community, and in particular Park Synagogue.
“I grew up in the halls of Park Synagogue. I worked at Park Day Camp for about 10 years (as a supervisor), so it became part of my adult life, too. It’s in my blood.”
‘Elliot and Me’
Steve’s brother, Elliot, an accomplished songwriter and music producer, died in March 2010 at age 66 after suffering a stroke. He composed songs for such artists as Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, including Jackson’s hit, “Got to Be There.”
“Steve and Elliot had been working on a two-man show called ‘Elliot and Me,’ featuring stories about their family and a catalogue of songs Elliot had written,” Judy said. “Elliot passed away very suddenly. Steve had the idea of this show that had not happened.”
Steve said he showed Elliot the outline he had written for the show in spring 2009.
“About six months after he passed away, I found an email he had sent me a couple days before his stroke, with one more story he wanted to add to the script,” Steve said. “Tears were rolling down my eyes.
“It was at that point I decided I was going to write the script and put on the show as a benefit for Montefiore in his memory.”
Steve produced and performed in “Elliot and Me” Sept. 11, 2011, at the Cleveland Institute of Music. The sold-out show raised about $125,000 for the Elliot Willensky Music Fund of The Montefiore Foundation and the Maltz Hospice and Palliative Care Pavilion, for which Montefiore is scheduled to break ground in June.
“It was an incredible tribute to his brother and his music,” Judy said. “Steve played the piano and sang a lot of the songs himself, and he also had professional singers.”
Last summer, Steve received the Board Member of Distinction Award for 2012 from LeadingAge Ohio, a Columbus-based advocate of not-for-profit services for senior citizens in Ohio. It honored his fundraising efforts for Montefiore resulting from the production of “Elliot and Me.”
On March 4, Steve and Judy will be in Los Angeles for the Association of Jewish Aging Services’ annual conference, where Steve will receive the Trustee of the Year Award for 2013. Lauren Rock, Montefiore president and CEO, nominated him for it, again primarily in recognition of the “Elliot and Me” fundraiser.
Steve said he is in contact with a group in New York working on a script for “Elliot and Me” for a possible run on Broadway.
“They’re going to try to do a reading in the spring and see how audiences react to it,” he said. “Then we’ll decide if it’s going to go anyplace.”
‘They lead by example’
Rock said Montefiore is “truly blessed” to have Steve and Judy as part of its family.
“Not only are we fortunate that Steve is our board chair, but that Judy, too, has a strong presence and family legacy with Montefiore that continues to make a difference in the lives of our residents,” Rock said in an email.
The Willenskys have no children, but they do have a third family member: an 11-year-old dog named Samantha.
“We call her Sammy,” Judy said. “She’s a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and she has a lot of energy.
“She had a sister, Maddie, but we lost her about a year and a half ago. They were on a greeting card (from American Greetings).”
Both said they want to continue contributing to the community and discovering ways to make a difference.
“I think in a lot of ways, we’re living our dream, because we set out to do some things, and we were fortunate that we were in the right place at the right time,” Steve said. “Some of it was hard work, but luck is always a little piece of it.
“But I think the one thing we decided to do when we retired was to make a difference, and I think we’re doing that.”
THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED.
PLEASE CHECK BACK LATER FOR INFORMATION ON A FUTURE DATE AND TIME.
ALL ARE WELCOME AND ENCOURAGED TO ATTEND!
Montefiore Auxiliary Game Night!
Thursday, April 4, 2013 from 6:30- 9 pm
Montefiore Maltz Auditorium
Join us for a fun evening of camaraderie, games, refreshments and prizes! Try your hand at mahjong, bridge, canasta, scrabble and more! Win fabulous prizes including spa treatments from John Roberts and gift cards to Heinen’s and Davis Bakery, just to name a few!
Have fun and bring your family, friends and neighbors to join the Auxiliary and learn about all the exciting programs and projects the Auxiliary does to benefit
RSVP to Diane Weiner, Auxiliary & Volunteer Manager at 216.910.2741
or e-mail email@example.com.
Sunday, June 9, 2013 at 6pm
Executive Caterers at Landerhaven
Join us for this special evening–featuring a cocktail reception, dinner,concert, live auction and more–to benefit Montefiore’s Maltz Hospice and Palliative Care Pavilion ! Entertainer extraordinaire Michael Cavanaugh is known as the New Voice of the American Rock & Roll Songbook. A charismatic performer, famous for his piano/lead vocals in the Broadway musical Movin’ Out, he was hand-picked by Billy Joel to star in the title role. He recently debuted a new show, Generations of Rock, in which he performs Elton John’s music and that of other artists who have inspired him. Learn more…
Free and Open to the Community!
Reverend Hilton O. Smith, President of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP, will deliver the keynote address entitled “Moving the Dream Forward” as part of Montefiore’s annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, January 21, 2013 at 2:30 pm in Montefiore’s Maltz Chapel/Auditorium. (One David N. Myers Parkway, Beachwood, Ohio).
In addition to Rev. Smith’s remarks, there will special performances by members of Bedford High School’s Madrigal Singers under the direction of Gary Kaplan, and by Montefiore’s Keynote Staff Choir.
Reverend Smith, the first new president of the local NAACP in over 20 years, is the Senior Vice President for Corporate and Community Affairs at Turner Construction Company. He also serves on the boards of The Cleveland Foundation, University Hospitals, United Black Fund and Urban League of Greater Cleveland. He is an ordained minister and serves as associate minister of the Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church.
Refreshments will be served. For more information, contact Rabbi Joel Chazin at
This event is made possible by the generous support of The Malcolm and Helene Zucker Endowment Fund of the Montefiore Foundation.
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