Interview with Erwin Blonder, 1982-03-10

Material Information

Interview with Erwin Blonder, 1982-03-10
Blonder, Erwin ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Palm Beach County Oral History Collection ( local )
Spatial Coverage:
Palm Beach (Fla.) -- History.


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

Record Information

Source Institution:
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location:
This interview is part of the 'Palm Beach' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
Rights Management:
Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license:
Resource Identifier:
PBC 039 Erwin Blonder 3-10-1982 ( SPOHP IDENTIFIER )


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INTERVIEWEE: Erwin Blonder
INTERVIEWER: Sylvia G. Green

DATE: March 10, 1982

G: Mr. Blonder,you have been chosen to participate in this program
because of your many accomplishments in the Jewish community.

How long have you been living in this area?

B: Well, actually, we've been coming to the Palm Beaches for the
last 15 years. We actually lived in the area as snow birds over
the winter for the last 10 years. We became citizens in the State
of Florida about three years ago. We consider this our permanent
residence at this time.

G': How did you become involved in the Jewish community? Do you belong
to a Temple?

B: No, I don't belong to a Temple. I became involved because Henry
Zucker,who is Executive Director of the Cleveland Federation had
been doing some consulting work for the Palm Beach Jewish Federation,
and one of the things that they were talking about planning was a
home for the aged. Because of my experience in Cleveland, being
President of Menorah Park for a period of five years, particularly
during the time of planning construction for the new facility,
Henry felt I could be of great help to the Palm Beach community
because they had no home for the aged here. There was a need for
the home. They needed someone to give it guidance and direction.

I then met with Al Shulman, who at that time, was President of the
Federation, and Norman Schimelman, who was the Executive Director
and they both encouraged me to take charge of this program. They
gave me their whole-hearted cooperation in developing the present

At the same time, I was also nominated to the Board of the Federat-
ion, and became active in the Federation process itself, particularly
on the Endowment Fund Committee, Planning Process Committee. I
was a member of the Budget Committee, but because it always met
in the evening, it was very difficult for me to attend.

With this Home, I've become very deeply involved with the needs of
the community. We found out that Florida ranks about 49th in all
the states in Medicare and Medicaid programs and many proprietary
homes will not take people who are on Medicare or Medicaid. The
result is that they really have no place to go. I feel that it is a
function of the Jewish community to provide a facility for the
Jewish people who need this type of service. We found 165 people
in the community who were in,what I considered, substandard nursing
home situations. They were actually vegetating, that was the only
thing that was happening to them.

There was no rehabilitation program, there was no occupational
therapy program, they were existing to die and that was all. There
was no attempt made to make their lives purposeful or useful to
themselves. Of course Jewish Homes for the Aged have a reputation


of providing the kind of a bond that allows the elderly, disabled,
and mentally impaired individual to have a chance to come back to
make a useful purpose in their lives, so that they live their last
days in peace and feeling of accomplishment. But, we're starting
from page zero here in PalmBeach. We have no history, we have no
organization. There is a whole process in the community in order
to get the home established.

I was with the Health and Rehabilitation Service Program in the
State of Florida, in which they had to apply for permission to open
the facility of this nature. The Health Planning Facilities need
this permission to open a 120 bed home, which is definitely not
sufficient to take care of the needs of this community. Palm Beach
had 4,500 Jews ten years ago. This is 1982. Today, there is an
estimate at anywhere from 45,000 to 60,000. When I talk about Palm
Beach, I mean Palm Beach County which encompasses Boca Raton all the
way up to Jupiter. Palm Beach County, I've been told, is the
largest county east of the Mississippi River, and it does make it
difficult from a geographic point to satisfy needs in this wide-
spread community.

One of the interesting problems that I became involved with was that
Boca Raton community was supposed to be a part of the Home for the
Aged Program. They wanted certain conditions and stipulations that
I felt that the home could not meet withoutgivingupits integrity.
The result was, they split from us and did not support the building
of this facility, although they have not built a facility for
themselves. It was a disheartening experience in the beginning,
because here is a community that raised 2,500,000 to 2,750,000 dollars
for Jewish Welfare and was going to embark on a five million dollar
capital campaign.

In the history of all Jewish communities in the United States, it
has been impossible to ever have a capital campaign which is
greater than your annual welfare campaign.

We took the leadership of this thing with the idea being that we
needed someone who will lead the drive, raise the funds for all
that, since I don't think I'm a solicitor. We started out looking for
someone to head our campaign, and we found really no one in the
community that was in a position to do it. We also were worried
about hiring professionals to help us. I contacted people I knew
up North, campaign directors in the welfare fund field. They
retired before we could use them as consultants here, and I was
shocked in the amount of money that they wanted for the project. So,
we ended up with a campaign consultant, who is the head of the Miami
Federation Campaign professional staff. His name is Mel Schoenfeld,
and then I was able or fortunate enough to get Bim Adler to take on
the temporary duties of our Executive Director until such time as
we would have an Executive Director.


Between the two of them, and Al Shulman and myself,having made
Nate Appleman our Honorary Chairman, in a period of nine months
we did raise six million, four hundred, twenty-five dollars.

I can remember when we started, we were going to raise 60% of the
m6ney and Boca was going to raise 20 or 40%. So, we're very
gratified with the results, with the response of the community to
the program being tremendous and was supported by segments of the
community; including permanent residents; including those who lived
in Century Village; including snow birds who lived in Palm Beach
proper; including members of the country clubs who really have no
reasons nor feeling towards Palm Beach, because they still feel
wherever they came from is their home. So, we did have tremendous
support for the campaign.

We were also very fortunate to make an application to the Kresge
Foundation for a grant, a matching grant, and we were the first
Jewish Home for the Aged embarking on our brand new building project,
who was given a grant from the Kresge Foundation. That was based on
the proviso that we raise four million, seven hundred and fifty
thousand dollars, and they would give us two hundred and fifty
thousand to make our five million dollar campaign.

As we got along in our campaign and our cost of developing the
project, we realized that five million wasn't sufficient, it would
take over six million. We are pleased that as of now we have reached
that goal.

The Home is now in the construction stages, back in construction.
So, we became deeply involved. I've spent a lot ot time, particularly
in this project. It has been very rewarding to me, maybe because
we have been successful. I'm proud to say that I never asked a
person for a donation. Not yet. Many, many people came to me and
volunteered contributions anywhere from a thousand to one hundred
thousand dollars and it was something that has never happened in any
Jewish community in the United States before. It's been a tremendous
thing. So, that's how I became involved.

Now my involvement will continue because you have to build this
home, and to staff this home, and to furnish this home, and to
program this home. And, I hope by June 1st of 1983, to have the
first residents in this facility, and we will be operational.
So, that's how I became involved here in Palm Beach.

G: Is this strictly a nursing home, or is it also a residence for the

B: The home was planned strictly as a long-term care personal facility.
This home will take care of people who are mentally impaired, senile,
Alscheimers disease, psychotic. People who are medically impaired,
strokes, disabilities, Parkinson's disease which is prevalent in
older people. We will not take care of the well-aged. Well-aged
can tend to themselves in other situations.


One of the programs that we have planned is that we will reach out
into the community and try to keep people in the community and not
bring them into the home if it is at all possible. That means the
development of meals-on-wheels programs, it means development of
home nursing visitation. It means the development of day care
programs. It means the development of even a hospice program, in
order to make sure that we try to maintain people within their
home environment rather than bring them into the home. There does
come a time in life when they might have to come into the home
because they need constant care.

Basically, the people we'll be taking care of are those who cannot
feed themselves or cannot dress themselves, and cannot function in
an ordinary manner for themselves. It will be a long-term care
nursing home.

The interesting statistic about homes of this nature is that the
average age of admission is 84 and the average life per stay is
4 years. Science has learned to cope, to keep people living
longer, but they haven't learned to cope with the illnesses and
diseases of ordinary people. A lot of it is tragic, but we do try
to make people comfortable and try to get them to do things so they
do have a purpose in life and are not vegetating or just withering

We spent a lot of time visiting other home of the aged in this
country. We have a committee, which is basically Al Engelstein,
myself, along with Norm Schimelman and Alan Shulman who took the
time to visit various homes in the country. We wanted to model
ourselves after the bestof what they had.

We visited homes in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and of
course, I visited many homes in the past. We put together a pretty
good outline of what we wanted in a facility of this kind. The
Federation here also hired the Douglas Gardens, the Miami Jewish
Home for the Aged to act as our consultants. Their executive
director is a fellow by the name of Fred Hirt, who is probably
considered one of the outstanding executives in this field. They
provided us with a consultant service which we paid them for. They
are still consulting with us on various bases of the operation.
The design was reviewed by the building committee which was
basically chaired by Alec Engelstein. We were very pleased with the
basic design that Obst Associates presented to us. We had to go
through many governmental bodies and agencies to have this design
approved. Oh, I forgot to mention, when we received our certificate
of need from the health care agencies,we found that we only had
eighteen months to get started in actual construction of the
home. Unfortunately,because of our campaign, because of our
planning and programming,we actually didn't get started in eighteen
months and they threatened to cancel our certificate of need.

G: Why?


B: The time limit was put on because many people apply for bids to
build a home and then don't build them: It ties things up.
Actually, this started because proprietary homes looked askance
upon us because the Jewish home upgrades the quality of care, which
forces them to upgrade their quality of care, which naturally costs
them more money. Through the efforts of Fred Hirt and his
influence in Tallahassee, we were able to continue and we did get
started with our construction. We gave a contract to Shannon R. Ginn
Construction Company for three million, eight hundred and fifty
thousand dollars to construct the actual building. We gave another
contract to Ranger Construction Company for the site development,
sewer lines and roads that were needed at that facility. That
contract was three hundred and fifty thousand dollars. We figure
that our furnishings probably will run close to seven hundred
thousand dollars, and then we will have expenses of our architect
that will run about two hundred fifty thousand dollars before
we're through. We will have expenses of hiring an Executive Director.

Campaign expenses, which are very minimal, but in a campaign of this
nature, were less than fifty thousand dollars. Getting our personnel
organized aid operating our first year at a deficit, because we won't
be fully occupied for maybe six months. This is why we needed the
six million dollars.

At the present time, which is now March 10, 1982, the home is under
construction. The foundation work is completed. The first floor
concrete block is done and the second floor piers have already been
put up, and now they are working on the second floor walls. So, it's
well in sight.

The home is located on Haverhill Road, it's approximately 2 miles
north of Haverhill and Okeechobee, which is near Century Village.

We are also only about 2 miles from St. Mary's Hospital, and we
hope to work out a working relationship. We do need the facilities
of that hospital. We should be able to take care of everything in
our home except surgery, and probably very severe heart attacks
and strokes would probably have to go to the hospital. Also, all
the illnesses that older people get, we will be able to take care
of this in the nursing home.

Gi Who will be eligible to come into this home?

B: Well, that hasn't been 100% determined yet. We have an Admissions
Committee, headed by Bernie Plisskin who worked with me in Menorah
Park in Cleveland and is now a permanent resident of West Palm Beach,
presently. But, I would say, basically, we're talking about
criteria being people who are 65 or older, who have need for long-
term nursing care, who cannot take care of themselves in their own
environment, and who do need constant care particularly in a daily
routine. Now, these are primarily the people who would be helped.
I don't think we would take terminal cases of cancer, I don't think
that we will handle any short-term care convalescents, as a demand
for our beds will really fill the home up quickly with the older


The other requirement will be that the person must be a legal resident
of Florida for three years. That's the present thinking, that
could change.

G: What about the financial?

B: Well, we figure that about 50% of the people in the home will be
full-pay, will pay their own way. Fifty percent of the people will be
eligible for Medicare or Medicaid, and the balance would be subvented
by the Palm Beach Jewish Federation.

The initial preliminary cost, or approximately seventeen hundred
dollars a month per person with care, meaning housing, medical
services are offered. The State, under Medicaid for the type of
people who would be taken care of, will pay approximately eleven
hundred dollars per month. So, about 50 people would be subvented
to the tune of six hundred dollars per month by the Palm Beach
Jewish Federation. The Federation had committed itself of subvention
of at least three hundred thousand dollars per year to the Home for
the Aged, every year. In part, we become a beneficiary agency of
the Federation. We depend upon the Federation for our deficit.
Because of it, some of our finances and our programs would be con-
trolled by the Federation Budget Committee, so that people in the
future don't run amock with the program and make a very expensive
home out of it, because someone is paying the tariff for them.

We do have a responsibility to the community to see that we give
proper care, with as low a cost as possible and develop the type of
program that this community needs. So, it's a tremendous under-

As I stated at the beginning, we started at zero, we had nothing.
We had no home, we had no organization, we had no board and no
personnel. Now we have a board that is functioning as of this
date, we have committees that are functioning, We have Bim Adler who
is acting as our temporary executive director, and I hope in the
near future to find a permanent executive director who will then
come in and begin to work. He has a tremendous job ahead. People
say,,why bring somebody in? He's got to program everything that
goes on. Every function has to be pre-programmed. To be
eligible for Medicaid certain types of records have to be kept. We
have to plan this, we just can't wait until it's upon us to do it.

We need a Director of Nursing who will probably come on four or
five months before we open. Because she will have to acquire
nursing personnel and licensed practical nurses and registered
nurses on duty around the clock. From what I understand, the
nursing personnel is very critical. So, this is going to present a
tremendous problem.


We have to hire an engineer in charge of our maintenance program.
We have to hire a dietician, we have to hire a kitchen man. These
are key people it takes to operate a home. We have none at the
present time. A year from now I hope we will have them all.

So, this is why it's a very, very challenging job. Getting this
organized, getting this started. It's a tremendous undertaking.
I'm thankful that we have other men who come to this community who
have had experience, or else it would be hard to develop our Home.
Particularly these are people like Mike Stein who is presently
with the Long Island Jewish Hospital and Geriatrics Institute; Sol
Kramer who has been involved with a home for the aged in the
Westchester area for many, many years. He's very active in the
community in New York. He's a Fellow at the Einstein College of
Medicine. He's been very, very involved inthe medical care field
all of his life. A fellow like Bennett Berman who is from New York
who runs a business up there, has become very involved with us in the
Home, particularly in the personnel area.

How very fortunate this community is to have people like Heinz
Eppler who has serviced on our board. Heinz, as you all well know,
is a resident of Palm Beach who was originally from Cleveland.
He is President of Miller-Wohl Company and a very successful business-
man. He has spent a lot of time and hours devoted to getting this
home started. I particularly have to praise Alan Shulman more than
anybody else, becuase Alan has been an inspirational leader and I've
worked with him through thick and thin in this thing and there are
times when I had to hold his hand and times he held my hand. We've
accomplished the job, and we're both very, very proud people. With-
out Alan, the job really could not have been accomplished.

G: Well, it sounds to me like you have really done a tremendous job.

B: I've only done it because I had good people to work with. If you
don't have good people to work with, you can never do it by yourself.

G: I think Palm Beach is very lucky to have you and the rest of your
helpers to take on a project of this size.

B: This is a new Jewish community here. .This is basically not a very
old Jewish community, although there have been Jewish people living
here in Palm Beach for a long time. It's a community that needs all
the services of a Jewish community and hasn't had any and a history
of them. All of these things have to get started, have to be done
in the next five or ten years without question.

They have to expand the Jewish Community Center because of the
number of older people we have here. Jewish Family Services has to
be expanded because of the problems of all the people we have in the
community. We must remember the percentage in most communities of
people who are 65 or older is about 11%. In this community it is
35%, so, it's a big problem.


G: Has there been any problem from the Christian area in any of these

B: No. The Christian area doesn't bother us. They have their own
institutions. The Lutherans have a very fine home. The Catholics
have a very fine home. And, naturally, we are all working together
to improve the quality of care required by law, either from the
state level or national level. I found in Cleveland, and I'm sure
the same thing would be true here, that there is great cooperation
between the various denominational homes that exist in the community.
We all have the same basic goal in mind: to take care of our
elderly, and to make them as comfortable as they possibly can be,
and make them feel a useful purpose in life. When you're ill, life
can be very tragic I've been told by a lot of people. A home is a
good place.

There .are many things we can do here in the future. Congregant housing
would be one program I would like to see developed as soon as
government funds become available for such purposes. I feel that
in the next three to four years, we are going to have to expand to
more than 120 beds in that facility to take care of the needs of the
community. Demands will be put upon us. There are shelter work
shop programs that can be developed, where people can work and earn
a little money. They worked very successfully in Northern communities.
There are golden age centers that can become part of our facility,
where people can come and spend the day and get a good meal.

Speaking of meals, our Home will be kosher. It will be under the
supervision of a kashruth by a rabbi and we will adhere to all
religious holidays. We respect the feelings of people and are
sensitive to this, so, that this would become a very major
cornerstone in building this facility. There is still a lot to be
done ahead, we are just beginning. This is only a start.

G: Well, as I said before, Palm Beach is very fortunate to have men like
you, and your type, to be working with them and doing such a
fine job. We certainly appreciate you giving your time to tell
your story. Thank you very much.

B: Sylvia, there is one thing I would like to add that I think is very,
very important for this particular project. That involves the
people who really played a part in this Home.

I mentioned the name Alec Engelstein. I think he should be one
person who should be interviewed by the Oral History Program. Alec
is a very unique individual. He's really put his heart and soul
into this project, particularly into the construction. He has spent
a lot of time working with the architects, developing and finding
the proper contractors for us. If not for Alec, this Home could
not have been built. I think it's very, very important that
people realize that a home is an effort of a lot of people, not just
myself, or just a few people. But it is the effort of a lot of
people in order to complete this project.


G: I just thought of something too that I wanted to ask you about.
You mentioned a split with the Boca Raton community or Federation.
Is that something that is an interesting part of history?

B: Yes, I think it's part of history. This is before I came to Palm
Beach and became active in the community.

At one time, we had one Federation which encompassed all of Palm
Beach County. I believe it was about three or four years ago
that the Boca community began to grow rapidly and they felt the
need of having their own Federation. They broke away from the
Palm Beach County Federation and started the Boa Raton Federation.
It's called the South Palm Beach County Federation. We felt, even
without splitting, that the home would be an effort on both parts,
as it was as critical for them as it was for us, and asked them to
partake in the project. They did cooperate with us in the beginning.
They did attend our meeting. Because of the distance, I imagine,
they felt that we were bypassing them on a lot of decisions.

When the subject came up about board representation, their demands
were such that I felt that it could hurt the integrity of the
institution, so did Alan Shulman.

The result was, they then decided not to go along with us in the
building of the home. It is going to present a problem to us in
the future because we feel no obligation to take care of the people
from that area, so, it is going to put pressure on them to do