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Monday, December 28, 2009

Jack Greenberg Parties On... and On

I heard a great story on WLW radio last Saturday morning. It is so unusual that I marveled at the ingenuity and the thoughtfulness of the entire concept. The man who founded the idea was described by many as "considerate, personal, and creative." Jessica Brown (, December 25 2009) originally reported the story under the headline "For a Dead Guy, He Throws a Great Party."

Greenberg was a successful businessman, having operated several companies ranging from real estate, to construction, to aviation, to pizza. Now, he is garnering headlines for the wealth he accumulated from these ventures.

A 2006 article in Cincinnati's Jewish Living magazine described Jack Greenberg as a" mensch" - a Yiddish term to describe a good, admirable person. A normally private man, Greenberg was tickled when the magazine printed the feature article on him, Irwin Katzman, his longtime friend and an attorney for 60 years, said. So, Katzman decided to talk to the media about Greenberg's unusual trust. He thought Greenberg would get a kick out of the publicity.

Jessica Brown of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported the Jack Greenberg story: "Jack Greenberg, of Symmes Township, throws himself one heck of a birthday party every year: lunch and limousine service for 37 friends and their guests, a nice speech about himself, group photographs, and gifts of $1,500 for each invitee. But the party, which takes place today, has one quirk - Greenburg is dead." (December 25, 2009) And, to add to the irony, he never made a fuss about his birthday when he was alive.

At the age of 82, Greenberg died on February 9, 2008. An astute and successful businessman, he had amassed roughly $10 million through his various businesses and investments. He also established a very unique trust to pay for a special birthday annually for 20 years or until the $1.5 million in the trust runs out.

Attorney Katzman helped Greenberg create the trust and is trustee of the estate. "He gave it a substantial amount of thought," Katzman said. Steven Wilhelm, who handles trusts and wealth management for U.S. Bank agreed with Katzman. "I've seen some pretty unique trust provisions," he said. "This caps them all." Katzman and Wilhelm declined to release contact information for the guests, but, according to Katzman, Greenberg knew exactly how he wanted his money to be spent. Greenberg had been meticulous in his instructions for the Jack M. Greenberg Party Trust.

Here, from Jessica Brown's report (, December 25 2009) is how the party was (and is to be) celebrated:

1. Several stretch limousines picked up the invitees and their guests at the Marriott RiverCenter in Covington. They caravaned to the Love Brothers Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery in Price Hill, where the guests gathered at Greenberg's grave and placed a stone on his tombstone.

2. Then, Katzman read a letter from Greenberg. Guests posed for a group photograph at 12:30 p.m. on the dot, then departed via the limousines at 12:35 p.m.

3. The times were stressed in the paperwork because "time is of the essence," Greenberg stated.

4. Then, the group went back to the hotel to eat lunch and reminisce about the guest of honor.

Why did Greenberg create the uncommon trust? "Greenberg thought the memorial birthday parties would be a good way for his friends to get to know each other after he died," said Wilhelm. "He figured that he enjoyed each of them, so they'd probably enjoy each other as well," said Wilhelm. "He wanted to perpetuate the friendship over time." Greenberg was stubborn about the people to be included in the list.

"We had our fights," Katzman admitted. Katzman almost quit once because Greenberg kept changing his mind about whom he wanted on the birthday invitation list. Ultimately, Katzman had Greenberg put the names in a safe deposit box at U. S. Bank. Whenever Greenberg wanted to change the list, he went to the bank and did it himself.

In addition to the birthday party, Greenberg also donated:

• 20 fully-equipped ambulances - one a year for 20 years - to the American Red Magan David for Israel (ARMDI), Israel's equivalent of the Red Cross. The ambulances are manufactured in Indiana at a cost of $75,000 each. Last year Katzman arranged for the donated ambulance to park at the cemetery during the birthday cemetery visit. This year they will view a photograph of the vehicle.

• $75,000 a year for three years to the Jewish National fund, based in New York, to plant trees in Israel. The forest is to be named after Greenberg.

• $1 million to the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati for new construction at the Jewish Community Center/ A plaque in the fitness center bears Greenberg's name.


Here are a few negative replies from readers of the Greenberg story. Of course, many positive comments were written too. I did not include the comments of praise from readers because much is said about the kindness of the man in the article. I'm interested to see what readers think about Mr. Greenberg. Since, I, of course, never knew the man, I do not include these reader comments to detract in any way from the memory of Jack Greenberg. Instead, I am interested in the human reactions to a real story.

"Any psychiatrist would be of the opinion that Jack had perfectly fit the prototype of narcissistic personality disorder. I knew Jack personally, but I am also speaking as a psychiatrist. People such as Jack have cognitive distortions which stem from endless grandiosity. It is no surprise to me that he would have left substantial funds for people to celebrate his life each year, for twenty years after his death, rather than leaving it all to charity and/or family." -- Psychiatrist

"Don't kid yourselves, Jack was a jerk who treated everyone no matter who you were like crap. If you knew the Real Jack then you wouldn't think he was a nice or generous man. The only people who can say this didn't know him that well. The only reason people come to his "party" every year is because they get paid to." -- Denise

"Speaking as his nephew, one shouldn't assume they know a person by reading a sensationalized newspaper story. Trust me on this. For example, although Uncle Jack and my dad Roger weren't particularly close, Jack never saw fit to notify us about dad's death when it happened. Perhaps it was due to the stigma of dad committing suicide, perhaps not, but heck, Uncle Jack didn't even CALL US or put an obit in the American Israelite paper. I received notice about dad's death two weeks after it happened from a friend of a friend who read about it. By then, we didn't even have a chance to give dad a proper Jewish burial because Jack had already had him cremated. To this day, I STILL don't even know where dad's ashes are. As for Uncle Jack's generosity, he never offered my dad any help at all (dad had very little), didn't call US for more than 30 years, and my brother and I weren't left a penny from Uncle Jack's estate." -- Randy

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