May 20, 2009
‘Patriarch’ of the St. Louis community missing, feared dead
The man known as the patriarch of the Jewish community in St. Louis is missing and feared dead at 102 years old.
On Monday, two days after witnesses saw an elderly man jumping off the Daniel Boone Bridge and into the Missouri River, the authorities were still searching the river for Isadore Millstone after police found an unattended vehicle near the bridge that belonged to his caregiver.
Authorities do not believe the caregiver had driven the vehicle there, and reports have surfaced that Millstone may have left personal notes to family members before he disappeared last weekend.
The circumstances are unclear, but according to a statement issued by his family, Millstone suffered from anxiety and acute shoulder pain. The media have speculated that Millstone’s pain medication could have increased his anxiety and pushed Millstone to commit suicide.
“We are continuing to pray for his safety and we ask the community to join us in our prayers,” his family said in the statement.
Millstone founded Millstone Construction Co., which built office buildings, towers, malls, bridges and highways. In St. Louis he built the first Busch Stadium, the home of the St. Louis Cardinals, as well as the the Mercantile Tower and Laclede Town, a progressive housing project.
But he is best known in the St. Louis Jewish community for building numerous Jewish institutions, among them the Jewish Community Center of St. Louis. The JCC sits on a 108-acre campus that Millstone handpicked during the 1950s.
An engineer by trade, Millstone was among a handful of design and building professionals who helped Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, launch a major series of building projects in the newly founded Jewish state, including a number of housing projects that still stand.
Millstone is a major supporter of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Technion: Israel’s Institute of Technology and the Israel campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He also is a member of the board of trustees of Washington University in St. Louis, his alma mater, where he was a champion swimmer and diver.
As recently as May 3, Millstone spoke without notes and was in apparent good health and spirits at the dedication of the Staenberg Family Complex at the JCC, on the grounds that Millstone purchased and donated to the community some 50 years ago.
But Millstone apparently was in acute pain at the ceremony, according to the JCC’s chairman, Michael Staenberg, a longtime friend and philanthropic peer. The pain resulted from a shoulder injury Millstone suffered during the celebration of his 101st birthday in January 2008.
“He was always telling about what happened in the 1930s, and how fortunate he was and how he wanted to give back to the community,” Staenberg said. “He used his own good fortune to further enhance everyone else’s lives.”
Staenberg added that Millstone “saw his charitable activities as a privilege, not as an obligation.”
In a statement, the Jewish federation said that “The entire Jewish community is united in its deep sadness, sympathy and support for the Millstone family. For decades, I. E. Millstone has been the most respected, admired and loved member of the St. Louis Jewish community. He has shaped the future of the Jewish community of St. Louis, across the United States, in Israel and around the world.”
Robert Cohn is the editor-in-chief emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light.