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Hands-on philanthropist Paul Arenberg dies at age 84

Hands-on philanthropist Paul Arenberg dies at age 84

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Paul Arenberg and his wife, Ann, had a comfortable life in the northern suburbs of Chicago. But in 1965, when they learned that the best educational opportunities for their hearing-impaired son John were at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, they moved the family here. For more than 40 years, Mr. Arenberg commuted weekly from Chicago, where he ran the family business.

That generosity of spirit and concern for others were evident in his civic and philanthropic work as well. Mr. Arenberg served as a hands-on, sleeves-rolled-up board member at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, the Central Institute for the Deaf, the Cancer Support Community of Greater St. Louis, the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, the Radio Arts Foundation of St. Louis, and as a trustee of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, giving of his time and concern as well as of his treasure.

Mr. Arenberg, a longtime resident of Clayton, died Aug. 8, 2016, at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, from complications following a traffic accident. He was 84.

“He was a wonderful father who set a great example for us,” said his daughter, Susan Arenberg. “We’ve been moved by how many lives he touched with his kindness and generosity.”

Paul Maurice Mr. Arenbergwas born in 1931 in Highland Park, Ill., the son of Milton and Frances Arenberg. He received a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College before earning his master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University.

In 1959, he joined his father at Barclay Marine Distributor Corp. in Chicago, building and expanding the company. After his retirement in 2002, Mr. Arenberg was able to focus more of his time and energy on St. Louis community and cultural organizations.

“Paul is the definition of the word ‘mensch,’” said Opera Theatre of St. Louis general director Timothy O’Leary. “He was a warm, welcoming presence, with a really wry sense of humor. His manner put people at ease, and made them feel like part of a family.”

Mr. Arenberg served on OTSL’s board for nine years, and was a member of the marketing committee. “He was the first to step forward to volunteer his time and expertise,” O’Leary said.

When Ann Arenberg was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a decade ago, “Paul realized that there were no support groups or networking groups focused on” that, said Scott Gee, executive director of the Cancer Support Community. “He and his family were instrumental in starting that, and ensuring that it continued into the future. It’s become a vital part of our programming. I always appreciated his honesty and his forthrightness, as well as his sense of humor.”

Mr. Arenberg followed his wife on to the board of the Scholarship Foundation, where, said executive director Faith Sandler, “he loved dreaming of new ways to help students, and ways to connect the organizations in which he was involved.”

One of Mr. Arenberg’s ideas was to underwrite gift certificates to the foundation’s ScholarShop for young people who needed new clothes for educational or employment opportunities. “He was a smart man who did his homework,” Sandler said. “He was always on his toes. Nonprofits desperately need people who will ask the tough questions or stick with the difficult conversations, and Paul was that person.”

On the board of the Central Institute for the Deaf for 46 years, Mr. Arenberg “wanted to be sure that the entrance to our new building would be warm and welcoming,” said executive director Robin Feder, with a space for peace and serenity.” His idea was a pair of gardens, “not only for parents, but for staff, too. We have some intense days; this is a place where parents and staff can go to enjoy the beauty of nature, and regain their energy for all the work they do with the children.”

A memorial service was held Sunday at Temple Israel.

Mr. Arenberg was predeceased by his wife. In addition to his daughter, Susan, of Chicago, he is survived by three sons, Tom Arenberg of Birmingham, Ala.; John Arenberg of St. Louis; and Steve Arenberg of Chicago; two grandsons; and a brother, Kenneth Arenberg of Chicago.

Sarah Bryan Miller is the classical music critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; she has also written on a variety of other topics.

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