Community leader, family matriarch, Doris Rudolph dies at 96
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Community leader, family matriarch, Doris Rudolph dies at 96

The philanthropist and volunteer guided three generations of Jewish leadership

Doris Rudolph. Photo provided by Rudolph family.
Doris Rudolph. Photo provided by Rudolph family.

Leonard and Doris Rudolph were taking one of their many trips to Israel in 1971 when a Jewish agency introduced them to someone claiming to be related to Leonard’s mother, an Eliashoff.

The family needed money. Leonard was reticent. Doris beamed.

“My mother turned to my father and said, ‘Rudy, what’s the difference if they’re related? They’re here in Israel, they’re Jewish – let’s help them,’” recalled Wendy Rudolph, one of the couple’s three children.

“That is 100 percent emblematic of her – down to calling him ‘Rudy,’” said Howard Rieger, who served as president and CEO of the United Jewish Federation (now the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh) from 1981 to 2004, part of the time when Leonard was its chairman. “The first thing I think of when I think of Doris is the tone of her voice. She had a way of looking at something and expressing compassion for others. She was a people person but, when you were with her, you felt like the only person in the room.”

Doris Rudolph, the matriarch of an iconic Jewish Pittsburgh family that boasts three generations of community leaders, died May 6. “Dory,” as she was known by her friends, was 96.

Born in 1924, a twin and one of five children of David and Sylvia Glosser, Doris Rudolph grew up comfortably in a thriving Jewish community in Johnstown, Pennsylvania that then numbered nearly 2,000.

“I had four lovely sisters – Doris, she was always so pleasant,” said Paul Glosser, the youngest of the five children, whom “Dory” would call her “baby brother” when he was well into his 80s. (He turned 90 this year and lives with his wife, Rita, in Sarasota, Florida.)

“ ‘Are we lucky or what?’” Paul Glosser recalled was his sister’s frequent refrain. “That was her mainstay.”

Descended from Jewish Russian immigrants, the family in 1906 opened Glosser Brothers, a one-room department store in downtown Johnstown. By the 1980s, it was a chain – affectionately dubbed Gee Bees – that ran 23 stores in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia. Its original store, which employed several staff members for whom David Glosser served as a sandek, or Jewish “godfather,” is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But the Glossers were always about more than the storefront, people close to the family told the Chronicle.

Johnstown residents sent David Glosser to Washington, D.C. to petition for government relief after the 1936 Johnstown flood, according to Jewish Johnstown historian Barry Rudel. Other members of the family, possibly including Doris Rudolph’s uncle, fought alongside Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in the Jewish Legion in World War I.

“From Johnstown’s point of view, the family and the family’s legacy is treasured,” Rudel said.

Doris Rudolph met her future husband at a Pittsburgh Pirates game at Forbes Field in 1947.

“Rudy was able to get my phone number and called me in Johnstown,” Doris Rudolph told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review when her husband passed away in 2003. “After the third date, I flipped. I knew he was the man for me. We were married a year later.”

The couple had three children – Jim, Bill and Wendy. That generation of the Rudolphs continued to serve Pittsburgh’s Jewish Federation, as well as businesses such as Wendy’s of Greater Pittsburgh, a 60-store organization that once boasted nearly $70 million in annual revenue. They also helped found McKnight Realty Partners, whose properties include downtown Pittsburgh staples like the Heinz 57 Center, the Grant Building and the Oliver Building.

Jim Rudolph lived in Israel for several years after having traveled on a mission there with his parents in 1965.

“This connection to the Jewish community and to Israel really started early – it shaped their lives and our lives,” he said.

“They were a generation that lived through the foundation of Israel and were dedicated to helping it thrive and survive,” said Carol Robinson, a JFCS and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh board member whose father, like Leonard Rudolph, served as a Federation president.

“It’s probably in our DNA,” she added.

Doris Rudolph’s commitment to Israel did not wane in her later years. More recently, she decided she wanted “to donate an ambulance to people in Israel,” her family said. Magen David Adom accepted the offer.

Doris Rudolph was a warm, giving woman who could be highly sociable – she was often the last person to leave a party, friends said – and her Thanksgivings were epic. She frequently hosted guests, with a characteristic Chardonnay in her hand, at the family’s Squirrel Hill home through her husband’s Federation work.

“Every party for my grandfather – it was something,” laughed Mordy Rudolph, Doris Rudolph’s grandson, who heads The Friendship Circle in Pittsburgh. Doris Rudolph was an early supporter of the organization and her name will be added to the Murray Avenue nonprofit’s rooftop donor wall.

“She always had a kind word to share and always was so positive,” Mordy Rudolph said. “You don’t think of her as being a strong woman, though she might have been. She was so sweet, so kind.”
Doris Rudolph also “was blessed with being a twin,” said Cathy Droz, one of the three children of Jesse Cohen and Naomi Cohen, Doris Rudolph’s twin sister.

“They both had a wonderful gift, which was always to be optimistic – and their joy and happiness fed off each other,” Droz said.

They also were inseparable. Paul Glosser fondly remembered them fishing together. Other family members confirmed that Doris actually was invited on her twin sister’s honeymoon.

“Both Lenny and Jessie realized when they were marrying one, they were marrying both,” laughed Droz’ sister, Rochel Shlomo.

“They thought they were the luckiest people in the world,” Shlomo added. “They were raised that you give to community, you give to family. That’s what they did that made them special.”

And Doris Rudolph certainly gave to her community, volunteering and leading campaign efforts for the United Jewish Federation’s Women’s Division, ORT and Ladies Hospital Aid Society. She also shared the philanthropic zeal of her husband, whom longtime friend Arthur Fidel once described as “a man who never found a charity that he didn’t like.”

“Both Doris and Leonard were role models to us,” said Woody Ostrow, a businessman and former Federation president whose father, like Leonard, also led the Federation. “She provided leadership that set a standard and required us to meet it. I was honored to know her.”

Doris Rudolph is survived by her brother, sister-in-law and her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, among others. She was buried May 7 at Homewood Cemetery in Squirrel Hill, next to her husband and across from her twin sister.

Many said it was sad the community could not come out in person, due to COVID-19, to pay their respects to the longtime Squirrel Hill community member.

“You think of Doris Rudolph and you don’t want to think of the services,” said Rieger. “I could just imagine the people who would have come out for Doris. I guess the tribute has to be in our hearts.” PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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