Phyllis Lensky’s Story

Sophie and Lou Kaplan, my parents and first generation Americans, were my role models. They married during the Depression and struggled to get by, living with my grandmother to save money.

In 1936, I was born, another addition to an already crowded household with two boarders living in the back bedroom. I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood on Milwaukee’s South Side where my father owned a drug store. My parents made sure I received a Jewish education. For a year, I traveled by bus to the Sherman Park neighborhood to attend a public school with more Jewish children, and eventually we moved there.

In 1958 I earned a degree in occupational therapy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. That summer, a co-worker at a Jewish camp fixed me up on a blind date with the man who would become my husband. Harry was a gentle, loving and responsible man, a voracious reader with a wonderful smile and laugh, and a sharp, analytical mind. His childhood was not easy. He lived at the Jewish Children’s Home for several years because his mother, an immigrant woman who was divorced from his father, could not take care of him.

We raised two children, Mark and Roberta, who have given us nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Harry and I were devoted parents, but we found time to be active volunteers. Harry became president of several Jewish organizations including Jewish Family Services. Our children are dedicated volunteers as well. They grew in their Jewish observance over the years, and Harry and I grew with them.

My mother used to say, “I like to give with a warm hand.” She enjoyed the pleasure of giving during her lifetime. I have enjoyed the same pleasure by creating an endowment with the Jewish Community Foundation to benefit my synagogue and Jewish Family Services, in my husband’s memory. My hope is that JFS will continue to help children and families in the same way it gave hope, sustenance and love to Harry. He would have approved.

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