The University Record, September 18, 2000

Ginsberg gift promotes University’s service tradition

By Britt Halvorson

Pictured (from left) are Barry Checkoway, and Rosalie, Jan and Robert Ginsberg. Looking out at the Ginsberg family, guest speaker Eli Segal said, ‘[These] people have spent a good part of their lives focusing on citizenship and moving the notion of national service from vision to reality.’ Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services
Warm thoughts and words to the family and memory of Edward Ginsberg warded off cool rain that fell Sept. 14 during the dedication of the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning.

A tent outside the Center, which is located at 1024 Hill St., housed the ceremony and protected visitors from the inclement weather. Remarks were made by Barry Checkoway, director of the Center and professor of social work and of urban and regional planning; U-M alumnus Eli Segal, chair of the Center’s National Board, president and chief executive officer of the Welfare to Work Partnership, and founding chief executive officer of the Corporation for National Service; Provost Nancy Cantor; Renee Graef, a third-year English major and member of the Center’s National Board; Adrienne Hunter, a fourth-year sociology major; Regent Olivia P. Maynard, one of the Center’s National Board members; President Lee C. Bollinger; and William Ginsberg, son of Edward Ginsberg.

Each speaker touched on the generosity of the Ginsberg family in remembering Edward Ginsberg, who died in 1997. Ginsberg, a Cleveland attorney and internationally known humanitarian, received his undergraduate degree from the U-M in 1938. He continued throughout his life to feel strong ties to and “affection” for the U-M, William Ginsberg noted, in part because many family members have received degrees from the University. To remember his life-long commitment to community service and unwavering generosity to others, the Ginsberg family, including Ginsberg’s widow Rosalie, sons William and Robert and their wives Inger and Jan, gave the University a $5 million endowment last year.

“The Ginsberg Center continues a long tradition [of community service] at the University of Michigan,” Checkoway noted, naming the many community service projects the Center promotes. “This gift will extend the tradition and it will enable us to engage more students. It will engage more faculty members in research and teaching in a way that involves communities.”

The Ginsberg’s gift will promote partnerships between the University and community organizations, Checkoway said, in a time when many large research universities have lost sight of their civic duty. “Michigan has not,” he asserted. By involving students in community service, the University will continue its commitment to a culturally diverse democracy.

“We’re proud to rename the Center for Ginsberg, who devoted himself to civic causes around the world,” Checkoway said. “He played an instrumental role in the establishment of Israel, and he was as familiar with the person on the corner as he was with the person in the White House.

“His life exemplifies the values that the Center named for him seeks to foster,” Checkoway remarked.

“When I look out at the Ginsbergs today,” Segal said in his address, “[these] people have spent a good part of their lives focusing on citizenship and moving the notion of national service from vision to reality.”

Segal, who was chief of staff for President Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, described the strong reaction Clinton and running mate Al Gore received from Americans to their campaign trail call for public service. The message “resonated” with audiences around the country, he noted. Segal went on to take responsibility for Clinton’s national service initiative and founded the Corporation for National Service. Since its founding almost 200,000 young people have served in AmeriCorps. “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve,” Segal said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.

Segal cited President John F. Kennedy’s 1960 call for a commitment to public service on the steps of the Michigan Union as one of the University’s many ties to national service. Two weeks after Kennedy’s visit a U-M student group formulated the first proposal for what was to become the PeaceCorps.

“As we try to institutionalize national service here at home, our University continues to take the lead,” Segal remarked. After legislation was passed in 1993 allowing students to serve in AmeriCorps while in college, the University became the first institution in the United States to apply for and receive an in-school AmeriCorps grant.

“National service is about ordinary people doing ordinary things but in the process transforming themselves and their communities,” Segal said. “The Ginsberg Center is going to inform and inspire.”

Kennedy’s call to service was powerful because it wasn’t an order, Segal noted. “It was a challenge. This remarkable day, this remarkable gift gives us another opportunity to redeem that challenge,” Segal said.

“The idea and purpose of this Center are deeply rooted in this institution’s identity as a great public research university,” Cantor noted. “Great universities cannot be ivory towers.”

Cantor described the Center as a good “jumping off point” for connecting students to a lifelong engagement in community service. She stressed the importance of sustained involvement with public service that the Center strives to instill in students.

Students Graef and Hunter spoke of their involvement in community service projects through the Center.

“I work with students whose odds are against them,” Graef said. Graef spends several hours each week helping students at Cooley High School in Detroit prepare for college. She hopes to expand her pre-college program, helping students prepare for the ACTs, fill out financial aid forms, and solicit and complete college applications, and someday establish her own non-profit organization.

“Community service has changed me profoundly,” Graef asserted. “It is my passion and stands for who I am.”

Hunter’s family moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor when she was young so she could benefit from better schools and educational resources. Community service she now performs in Detroit schools is important to her, she said, in helping an area she left behind. Hunter asserted that it is the duty of private corporations, universities and individuals to help remedy the inequality in educational experiences.

“Besides the student body and financial support, one of our greatest assets is the human spirit,” Hunter noted. “The Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning [nurtures] a little of that human spirit and the longing in each of us to share in the brightest future.”

Maynard described the Center as an exciting, powerful way to connect “the world and the academic world.” As a member of the Center’s National Board, Maynard helped to choose service programs and hone the Center’s mission.

“You have given to the Center a wonderful gift,” Maynard told the Ginsberg family.

Bollinger said of the previous night’s dinner with the Ginsberg family: “No one had a dry eye. Everyone felt the genuine, deep motivation in the Ginsberg family for what is being done to name the Center in honor of Edward Ginsberg.”

Bollinger spoke of caring for other people as a profound quality of human beings that is at times unpredictable and mysterious in origin. “It is perhaps the most powerful, the most significant feature of human existence,” he said.

The Center focuses not only on community service, but also on the learning that underlies each service experience. “This Center is dedicated to providing a collective experience that will tap into those feelings about caring,” he said. “And then if you can put learning on top of that, you have something really special.”

William Ginsberg offered a response to the ceremony and the speakers that preceded him. “Naming the Center at the University of Michigan for [Edward Ginsberg] is such an ideal way to remember him and honor him,” he said. The ceremony is satisfying and appropriate, but touched with a tinge of sadness since the family and University are paying respect to the memory of Edward Ginsberg rather than the man himself, William Ginsberg noted.

He described his father’s philosophy of giving to others and his strong beliefs in the good that resulted from community service. “For him, giving was not some unpleasant social obligation,” William Ginsberg remarked. “Instead it was positive and enriching and fulfilling in and of itself.”

In addition to participating in large-scale service projects, Ginsberg practiced day-to-day acts of kindness to others. William Ginsberg described the extra $5–$10 his father would add to the fares of taxi drivers because they needed the money more than he did; the story of a pedicurist to whom his father gave enough money to help pay for her daughter’s education and did not expect to be repaid; and another person he only learned of through a colleague and volunteered to help put through school.

“It is with great pride and a sense of fulfillment that we have come here for this ceremony to name the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning,” William Ginsberg emphasized. “We look forward with joy to it maintaining the spirit of generosity, passion and kindness of the person for whom it was named.”