Community mourns philanthropist’s parents

Community mourns philanthropist’s parents

Norma and Kenneth Spungen die within days of each other

Norma and Kenneth Spungen at the celebration of his 83rd birthday in 2011.
Norma and Kenneth Spungen at the celebration of his 83rd birthday in 2011.

Norma and Kenneth Spungen, parents of local philanthropist Elisa Spungen Bildner of Montclair, died within days of each other earlier this month. The couple lived in Winnetka, Ill.

Norma, 87, a former Chicago-area archivist, died Oct. 5. Kenneth, 86, her husband of 61 years, died on Oct. 8, the day after her funeral. 

Norma, as the archivist at the Chicago Jewish Archives at Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership from 1986 to 1996, curated and assisted with several major exhibits at the institute dealing with important themes in Jewish history. She later became archivist emerita and also served on the board of directors of the Chicago Jewish Historical Society.

In 2007, she was honored by Spungen Bildner and her husband, Robert Bildner, with a lead gift in her honor to digitize the Archive of JTA, the international Jewish news service. Spungen Bildner is a past president of JTA and a member of the board of trustees of NJ Jewish News. She and her husband are cofounders of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, a public foundation dedicated solely to the Jewish overnight camp movement.

Norma Spungen’s professional work included an interest in Jewish women who were active in social service and philanthropy. Her research appeared in articles in the Illinois Library Journal and Jewish Social Studies, and she lectured widely on topics in Jewish history.

Said her daughter Elisa: “My mother’s passion was American-Jewish history. She went back to school in midlife to do second bachelor and master’s degrees so she could pursue that interest. My father was very supportive and proud of her. Her love of Judaism percolated down to me and certainly influenced my own involvement in Jewish life, and she inculcated in the whole family a deep respect for scholarship and intellectual pursuits. But — for her grandchildren she was Granny Norma!”

Among his various other business interests, Kenneth was president of the Peer International Corporation, an export-import concern based in Wheeling, Ill. The firm supplied industrial-grade ball bearings to agricultural equipment and automotive, conveyor, and electric motor manufacturers like John Deere, Chrysler, and other major international brands.

In addition to Spungen Bildner, they are survived by two sons, Charles (Amy) and Jeffrey (Joni); a daughter, Andrea; and 11 grandchildren.

Memorial contributions in Norma’s memory may be made to The Foundation for Jewish Camp, 253 W. 35th Street, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10001; Am Yisrael Congregation, 4 Happ Rd., Northfield, IL 60093; or The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center (in care of Dr. Stephen Nimer) University of Miami, 1475 NW 12th Ave., Miami, FL 33136.

Memorials in Kenneth’s honor may be made to Frontotemporal Dementia Research, c/o UCSF Foundation, PO Box 45339, San Francisco, CA 94145 or Am Yisrael Congregation.

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