A Tribute to Rhoda Mayerson
“Cultured elegance” is a term describing Rhoda Mayerson, who passed away on May 12, 2021 at home surrounded by her loving family. She was 98 years old.
Rhoda was born in the Bronx, New York on February 10, 1923. She was the youngest of three children born to Morris Weinstein and Fanny Garfunkel Weinstein. Her father worked in the garment industry and taught her the fineries of fashion and quality fabrics which informed what was to become the refined fashion style that characterized her. Rhoda’s exceptional intelligence along with her mother’s values around education led her to not only advance through school quickly, starting college at the age of 16, but also to become a voracious lifelong learner. Her knowledge of classic literature, ballet, and opera, along with details about movie stars and “Jewish genealogy” always amazed her family. She could be counted upon to know who had married whom, and who their children and parents were. Though her knowledge was encyclopedic, her son Neal Mayerson recalls that when, as a child, he would go to her as an easy route to information, she would direct him to books to find the answers instead, trying to instill a value for educating oneself and self-initiative.
This self-initiative led her to become an astute student and buyer of Post-Modern American art, especially the Abstract Expressionists. “While my father was well known for his business success, our mom was probably the most successful investor in the family”, said daughter Arlene Mayerson. The Mayerson’s resulting art collection is well known and regarded in Cincinnati, as is the contemporary art gallery they established at Cincinnati Art Museum, and their generous philanthropy in support of local arts organizations. Rhoda was also a producer of many hit Broadway musicals including such iconic shows as Big River, The Wedding Singer, Jersey Boys, Little Shop of Horrors, Hairspray and the Producers.
But, the most dramatic evidence of her dogged self-determination is encapsulated in the story of saving her husband from the clutches of a terminal illness at the tender age of 29 years old. Her husband Manny had recently ventured into starting his own real estate business and the couple had two young children. Manny was diagnosed with terminal malignant melanoma and the local doctors advised him to get his affairs in order as there was nothing they could do for him. After having been deeply scarred by the sudden and unexpected death of her beloved mother when she was still a teenager, Rhoda was determined to deny Death from taking away her husband, the love of her life. She searched high and low, networking and calling exhaustively until she found a surgeon in New York who agreed to accept Manny into his experimental efforts with melanoma patients. The treatment involved a severe radical surgery to resect the cancer, a month-long hospital recovery, monthly follow-up visits for a year, and prolonged severe chronic pain. She was with him every step of the way while also balancing the demands of their young children. There was no effort too large for Rhoda when it came to her family. In fact, as a statement of hope and confidence to themselves, in the midst of their financial and health uncertainties, they decided to give birth to another child! By doing so Rhoda aimed to convey to her recovering husband that she had complete faith that their future would be a positive one! Rhoda’s unflinching and dedicated support of Manny was key to him living another 60 years until he passed in 2012.
Rhoda and Manny had a pure, fairy-tale love story throughout their 68 year marriage. After Manny passed, her children designed a necklace – an ice cream cone with two straws – to memorialize their very special relationship which began when Manuel noticed “the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on” getting out of a car in the neighborhood. He asked her if she would like to walk with him to the ice cream and soda shop on the corner. At the conclusion of that first date, Manuel asked her out for the following Saturday night… “And then,” he continued, “for every day for the rest of my life!” He went home to announce excitedly to his parents and sisters that he had met the woman he was going to marry. Rhoda thought it was “crazy talk” but, of course -- the rest is history!
While the couple was blessed with Manny’s surviving a terminal illness, a happy marriage, three children and a successful business, they always took the time to be active in their community believing that they had a lot more to contribute than just a check.
Rhoda was a member of B’nai B’rith women and was a frequent model in the organization’s annual fashion show. She sat on the HILB Scholarship board which supported Jewish adults who wanted to further their education after high school and was a member of the Jewish Federation’s Lion of Judah society. In 1980 she and Manuel started the Hebrew Free Loan to help immigrants from the former Soviet Union and others get a start in business. In addition to giving of their time and talent on numerous committees and boards in the Jewish and broader communities, the couple created The Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Foundation in 1986 with the motto “give while you live”.
Over the past 35 years the Mayerson Foundation has had a profound impact on the lives of many thousands of people from all walks of life in Greater Cincinnati, including many in the Jewish community. From programs at HUC-JIR, JNF, the Jewish Federation, Rockwern Academy, Jewish Family Service, multiple congregations, and capital support for the Mayerson JCC, Adath Israel, to numerous Mayerson Foundation-run initiatives such as Access for Jewish young professionals, Shalom Family, Fusion for interfaith families and more, the Mayerson Foundation has helped the Cincinnati Jewish community grow and thrive in many ways over the years.
Thanks to her sharp insight and worldly perspective, Rhoda was asked to sit on the boards of most of Cincinnati’s largest arts organizations such as the Cincinnati Ballet, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Opera. She was a Trustee of the Cincinnati Art Museum to which she and Manuel contributed two contemporary art galleries.
Rhoda was also passionate about passing on the love of the arts to young people in the form of a significant contribution made by The Mayerson Foundation to the capital campaign for the new School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) and the Mayerson Artistic Excellence Program at SCPA, created to support world-class arts education at SCPA which in part helps bring professional artists brought to town by local arts organizations to visit the school and present master classes for the students. An artists-in-residence program was also created, such as the one that brings in professional artists from the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company to enrich student learning of Shakespeare literature. In addition, the Corbett Mayerson Scholarship was established 33 years ago and is a highly sought-after award bestowed upon students in each arts discipline at SCPA by a panel of independent experts and which includes financial support for the students to continue their arts education.
Other Mayerson Foundation contributions to Cincinnati’s arts community have included the Taft Museum of Art, the Fine Arts Fund/ArtsWave, Music Hall Revitalization, Cincinnati Young People’s Theatre, Children’s Theatre, Madcap Puppet Theatre, Elementz Hip Hop Youth Arts Center, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the Contemporary Arts Center, and the Boca Raton Museum of Art.
Rhoda was a remarkable human being who made an indelible mark on her family and all who knew her with the perfect measure of elegance, grace, intelligence and old world wisdom. Her daughter, Arlene says, “Mom was always known for her beauty, grace and verve. To me, she was a steady source of love and wisdom.” She loved very deeply and was a fierce defender of her loved ones. “My Mom was everything. She gave me love. She gave me inspiration and she always had my back,” says the first born of her three children, Fred Mayerson. Her daughter-in-law Donna Mayerson reflects that ““She was strikingly beautiful, completely composed, confident and elegant. She had a presence. She turned heads. But it was her smile that lit up the room… and that twinkle in her eye! She taught me to stand in the light and to claim my gifts. She taught me about the complexities of love, while loving deeply and profoundly. She brought me into her family and held me tight ... and that family was to be fought for and cherished. She thought of herself as a coward, but she was a warrior. She was loved by many and will be missed by all. I will feel her loss deeply.” “My mom loved deeply and was a profound source of wisdom. She epitomized unconditional love”, offers her “baby” Neal Mayerson.
Loving wife of Manuel Manny) (z”l), mother of Frederic (wife Dawna), Arlene (husband Allan Tinker), Neal (wife Donna), grandmother of Amanda, Adam (finance Danyel) and Emma (Ben Richeda)and great grandmother to Maya, Rhoda Mayerson’s light shines on in this world that was blessed with her enduring spirit.
As portrayed in the poem Woman of Valor from the Book of Proverbs,
“A woman of valor who can find? Her worth is far beyond rubies…
She opens her mouth with wisdom and a lesson of kindness is on her tongue.”
May her memory be for a blessing.