Former JCC President Shirley Conston Dies at 94

Shirley Conston (Cindy Savett)

Shirley Conston’s father, Alex Stanton, cared deeply about helping the Jewish community.

Before the United States entered World War II, the Philadelphia businessman traveled to Washington, D.C., with a prominent rabbi to try to convince President Franklin D. Roosevelt to fight the Nazis. He also served as general chairman of the Allied Jewish Appeal, the “overseas complement” to Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, according to the Jewish Federation’s website.

Young Shirley watched her father and absorbed the lesson.

As an adult, Conston served as president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia from 1980 to 1984. In the 1970s, she chaired the host community activities for the Council of Jewish Federations’ General Assembly, the Federation of Jewish Agencies’ annual banquet and the 30th anniversary of the state of Israel festivities in Philadelphia, among other efforts.

So when she died on Sept. 19 at 94, Conston left behind a similar legacy as her father.

“She felt it was extremely important to strengthen Jewish bonds,” said her son, Stuart Conston.

The Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood was one of the JCCs that Conston led as president. On Sept. 23, the Kaiserman board of directors honored her with a resolution.

“Countless individuals, families and community members have benefited from the institution she helped shape and build,” read part of the resolution. It later referred to her as, “The embodiment of Jewish vision, and our value of L’dor V’dor.”

Conston was born Shirley Stanton on Oct. 9, 1926 and graduated from the Friends Select School in 1944. She married Charles Conston in 1947 and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania two years later.

At both Friends Select and Penn, she was class president.

“She was very active,” said Conston’s daughter, Elisabeth Conston.

So after graduating from college, she took maybe the most active job there is: raising kids. While her husband built the family business, 15 Plus and the Charles Shops, a chain of women’s apparel stores, she ran the household.

The couple had three children: Stuart, Elisabeth and their middle sister Cynthia. Elisabeth Conston remembers her mother as a Girl Scout leader and as the taxi service for their friend groups.

But as her children grew older, Shirley Conston no longer wanted to just stay home.

When Stuart Conston neared high school, she started working in a mental health facility for women and girls who had suffered from domestic abuse. By the time her son got to college, Shirley Conston began undertaking advertising and public relations for the family business.

But no cause galvanized her like l’dor v’dor, or helping and preserving the Jewish community from generation to generation.

Charles Conston, like his father-in-law, served as general chairman of the Allied Jewish Appeal. And together, the Constons went on a mission to Israel through the Jewish Federation.

In 1971, though, Shirley Conston took her activism a step further when she was elected to the board of Jewish Ys and community centers. It was the beginning of more than two decades of charitable contributions to the local Jewish community.

Conston grew up in a wealthy family, then helped build one of her own. Since she always had money, she felt a responsibility to give back, according to her children.

“She had a lot of privileges and resources,” Elisabeth Conston said. “She learned you need to take care of people who don’t.”

Shirley Conston, center, with her grandchildren. (The Conston family)

For Conston, the concept of l’dor v’dor didn’t merely apply to the wider community. The matriarch lived long enough to witness the births of seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Through her grandchildren, she had the opportunity to see games, concerts and graduations, among countless other events.

And she attended them all.

“She adored them,” Stuart Conston said.

Shirley and Charles Conston took their grandchildren on some of their many foreign journeys. But more than any other place, the Constons repeatedly brought their grandchildren to Israel.

After Charles Conston died in 2005, Shirley Conston mourned, then “reinvented herself,” her daughter said.

In 2008, she moved to Florida and started going out with friends more. Then, for the past decade, she built a relationship with companion Arthur Glick, although they never married.

“But she wanted to have a life,” Elisabeth Conston said. “She just never gave up.”

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