Known for her vibrant personality, community leadership, sense of humor, creativity and, most importantly, her good work, Mickey Stern succumbed to cancer on July 1, 2016 in La Jolla, California.
Born August 21, 1934 in Sioux City, Iowa, to Mary (Kiser) and Harry Rabiner, Mickey (Maxine Shirlee) lived a purposeful life, enriching the lives of people who encountered her and causes lucky enough to claim her devotion.
Though worldly and wise, she emerged from a small-town background in Storm Lake, Iowa where she forged childhood friendships that lasted her lifetime. The youngest by nine years of four sisters, she was the first in her family to attend college.
Mickey obtained a degree in education from the University of Nebraska where she was a member of Sigma Delta Tau sorority, serving as its President. Ever the elementary school teacher, Mickey became an inspiring educator, in the classroom and later as a mother.
Mickey understood that as a Jew, she was put on earth for a reason involving responsibilities and challenges to meet a higher standard. Throughout her life, she used her voice, organizational acumen and resources to further this aspirational ideal.
In 1963 she settled in Omaha, venturing into communal work where her passion and pluck thrust her into myriad leadership roles and relationships with influential people, including Nebraska Governor Bob Kerrey and Warren Buffett.
It was frequently said, “If you want something done, ask Mickey.” That’s because, as the Omaha Jewish Press noted, “she reached for perfection, and she succeeded.”
In recognition of her many civic accomplishments, she was named to Who’s Who of American Women.
During the 1970s, she rose through the volunteer ranks in Omaha’s Jewish Federation, supercharging its United Jewish Appeal campaign for which she won a First Place national award.
As co-chair of the Federation’s Women’s Division, she hatched the winning idea to bring Holocaust survivor Gerda Klein to Omaha to unfurl her incredible story.
In 1986 she chaired the Holocaust Memorial Nebraska State Dinner, a pioneering fundraiser for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, creating a template for other communities across the country.
When Mickey moved to La Jolla in 1990, following a bout with breast cancer and her divorce, her courage and desire to improve the world helped her forge a new life in California where she made more friends and championed myriad causes.
Notable highlights include: underwriting cultural arts productions; chairing her residential building’s speaker series; orchestrating the 100th birthday celebration of friend Pat Butler; spearheading with Scripps Breast Cancer Center, an outreach program to educate and uplift woman facing the disease she overcame; and funding facility upgrades at the La Jolla Community Center.
La Jolla friends say of her, “You never had to ask Mickey for anything; she just knew what to do. If you had a cold, soon chicken soup would show up on your stoop.”
Entrusted with a beautiful soul, Mickey used it to move through the world with commitment, generosity, kindness and love. She understood the ultimate question of life is not how great you think you are, but how great you think your purpose is. She taught others how to stand out for noble reasons by standing out so nobly herself… and to always try to retain a sense of humor about life.
Her life was a gift.
Mickey’s family gratefully acknowledges the loving support she received over the last year from her remarkable stable of caregivers and doctors.
She was preceded in death by her sisters, Dorothy Dimond, Ruth Fried and Marlys Marion.
She is survived by her children, Bob Sturm and Melanie Sturm; son-in-law, Marc Zachary; grandson, Zane Zachary.
Memorials may be made in Mickey’s memory to the following causes she championed: M.D. Anderson Hospital – designated to “The Mickey Stern Breast Cancer Research Fund”, Athenaeum Music and Arts Library, 1008 Wall St, La Jolla, CA 92037, The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego, CA 92101, La Jolla Community Center, 6811 La Jolla Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037, The University of Nebraska, and Beth Israel Synagogue, 9001 Towne Center Drive, San Diego, CA 92122.