[by Phyllis Shaikun, Freelance Writer]
“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.”
That old adage is certainly personified in Madeline Abramson, this year’s recipient of the Blanche B. Ottenheimer Award to be given by the Jewish Community of Louisville at its Annual Meeting on June 3, 7:00 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center. Like Ottenheimer, Abramson has been a dedicated and effective leader in the social development of our community. Since 1960, the annual award has been presented to a litany of distinguished individuals, including her husband, Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson, who have been recognized for their dedication to the entire community.“I am honored and humbled to be given an award named in memory of a person who cared so much about the community,” said Abramson. “I don’t feel that I have accomplished any more than others, but I have done what I could because I felt it was the right thing to do. I became involved in the organizations I did because I believed in their missions.” The hardest part for her, she admits, has been moving on once her time with a particular board has ended. Abramson, a graduate of the University of Louisville (where she served as a student government senator), notes that although she took accounting courses in college, everything she learned about budgets and financial matters was as a result of her activities with not-for-profit boards.
She recalls that when she was first married 24 years ago and became the mayor’s wife, people asked what her “hot-button issue” would be. Rather than adopting a single focus, however, she felt it was her responsibility to determine out how best to make a difference. She began by participating in a broad spectrum of volunteer activities to draw attention to the good things Louisville has to offer, and her positive influence over the past quarter-century has been felt throughout our community.
Recently reappointed to the Kentucky Commission on Women for a second three-year term, Abramson will serve as the panel’s chairwoman. She currently chairs the Kentucky Center Board and also serves on the boards of Kentucky’s Prichard Commission for Academic Excellence and the Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s Foundation. For more than 22 years, she has sat on the Maryhurst organization’s board and served two terms as board chair. She twice chaired the board of the American Red Cross Louisville Area Chapter and still serves on its executive committee.
In addition, she is an advisory board member of the Governor’s School for the Arts; chaired Spalding University’s Adult Accelerated Program Advisory Council and has been a member of the Clifton Cultural Center board for 15 years. She is a past member of the boards of the Louisville Ballet, Stage One: The Louisville Children’s Theatre and the Discover Louisville Orchestra Board. The Abramsons contributed their time and financial support to the first Women’s Habitat House in Louisville.
Also active in the Jewish community, Abramson’s leadership roles include heading the Federation Annual Campaign’s Major Gifts Division; co-chairing the Lion of Judah event; and sitting on the boards of the Jewish Community of Louisville and the National Council of Jewish Women, Louisville Section, where she currently serves as the group’s secretary. She has also served on the Boards of Jewish Family & Vocational Service (today Jewish Family & Career Services) and the Louisville Hebrew School (today Louisville Beit Sefer Yachad).
Often honored for her efforts, she is a past recipient of the Hannah Solomon Award from NCJW and received an honorary doctoral degree in public service from Spalding University. She has garnered many other well-deserved awards including the Ira J. Porter Award from the American Red Cross, the Volunteer Fund Raiser of the Year Award from the National Society for Fund Raising Executives and Metro United Way’s Leadership Award. She was named a Caritas Foundation Community Leader of the Year, was recognized as a Citizen Laureate by the Younger Women’s Club of Louisville and was inducted as an honorary member of the University of Louisville’s Golden Key National Honor Society. The Center for Women and Families feted Abramson as a Woman of Distinction last year and she has received both the Women 4 Women Heart of the Community Award and Metro United Way’s Agency Leadership Award for her work with Maryhurst.
A strong believer in parents “modeling their behavior for their children,” Abramson remembers taking her son, Sidney Robert, now a junior at Bellarmine University, with her to the Red Cross Canteen and to Maryhurst to volunteer. “Both Jerry and I feel it is important to act on your interests,” she says, “and we find ways to include Sidney in what we do so he can see first-hand what matters to us. Because of Jerry, I have had the chance to spend considerable time in local schools talking to children about their role in the community. I also encourage parents to motivate their children to volunteer.”
On reflection, she credits her father, Jack Malloy, with spurring her toward public service. “If you are not part of the solution,” he used to say, “then you are part of the problem.” Abramson is impressed that people like Blanche Ottenheimer had such a great sense of teamwork and community. “She knew she did not have to do all the work herself,” Abramson noted, “she recruited others to work with her. That’s how you get things done.”
RSVP by May 29 to Frankye Gordon, 238-2735 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of the Ottenheimer Awards Committee were Chairperson Robert Kohn, past president of the Jewish Community Center; Cynthia Knapek, Leadership Louisville Center; Cantor David Lipp, Louisville Board of Rabbis and Cantors; Jennifer Mackin, CEO of the Oliver Group; Don McClinton; the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence; Michael Shaikun, Jewish Federation past president; Stu Silberman, JCL president & CEO and Leon Wahba, past chairperson of the Jewish Community Relations Council.