Ione Apfelbaum Strauss, a longtime philanthropist and, later in life, a journalist, died on Oct. 1. She was 87.
The Coatesville native donated substantial time and support to local institutions with missions both Jewish and secular, giving quietly and consistently for decades.
She led fundraising efforts at her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, where she was the first woman ever elected president of the General Alumni Society, elevating her to the board of trustees. Strauss’ support for the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, along with her leadership as a member of the board of overseers, was crucial to its early successes, according to the center’s longtime leader, David Ruderman. She was a member of the board of overseers of the School of Arts and Sciences, and a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania Press. She served as president of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, and raised money for the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, among other campaigns.
And her support for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia kept her in touch with a family tradition going back to her great-uncle.
“My mother was the type of person who really cared about other people, more than anything else,” said her daughter, Louise Strauss, herself a trustee of Harcum College, where her father was once a trustee as well.
Ione Apfelbaum was the only daughter of Hortense and Louis Apfelbaum, whose names are memorialized in a fellowship at the Katz Center. Her unique name, Ione, was an attempt to name her after her grandfather, Isaac.
Strauss attended Scott Senior High School in Coatesville, where she developed her interest in Judaism and politics that persisted into adulthood. She and her family attended services each Shabbat at Beth Israel Congregation (now located in Eagle, with the addendum “of Chester County”), and she lit candles each Friday for the rest of her life. She was confirmed at Beth Israel, and attended Sunday school there, too.
Strauss commuted to Penn from Coatesville as an undergraduate, but it didn’t appear to be a burden, academically speaking; Strauss, a journalism major, was a member of several honor societies, including Phi Beta Kappa, and wrote for the women’s student newspaper; she’d later work as a Main Line Times reporter.
Following her graduation, she traveled with her parents as she had done since she was a child, spending two years on a grand tour that took the family from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean. With her husband of 60 years, Hilary Strauss, she would continue this tradition throughout her life; and that’s not to mention their summers in Margate, another practice that went back to college summers at her parents’ house there.
It was a European trip tracing medieval Jewish history, according to Ruderman, that helped forge a long friendship between the Strauss and Ruderman families. Ruderman said that the depth of Strauss’ intellect and passion for the project of Jewish history were obvious.
“She had a deep commitment to the Jewish people in her own way,” Ruderman said. Strauss, he added, was always quiet and never “flashy.”
Her daughter has a slightly different characterization: not quiet, but “reserved,” Strauss said, likely a product of her mother’s upbringing. She worked hard to never offend, and refrained from dominating a conversation; consequently, many felt able to confide in her. Even regarding political matters, an arena where she had strong commitments (voting for Democrats since Adlai Stevenson’s presidential campaign), Strauss was careful to take note of present company.
In conversation, in her philanthropy, in family life: “She cared about everybody’s well-being,” her daughter said.
Strauss was predeceased by her husband, Hilary Strauss, and another daughter, Erika; she is survived by Louise Strauss.
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