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Chester County Press

Rudolph Steinberger dies at 92

03/06/2017 01:11PM ● By J. Chambless

Rudolph Steinberger, 36-year veteran of Hercules Incorporated (1950-1986) and longtime Kennett Square community activist, died on March 2 at the venerable age of 92.

As he frequently pointed out himself, Rudolph – known to all but strangers as Rudi – was “lucky” his whole life. He was born to Jewish parents in Bad Kissingen, Germany, on May 1, 1924. He and his whole family escaped Hitler with relatively little trauma. His father, Ludwig, the cantor of the Bad Kissingen synagogue, put his two older sons, Herbert and Jack, on the first Kindertransport out of Germany in 1934 and followed them to Chicago with wife, Berta, and son, Rudi, in 1937.

 During World War II, Rudi served with the 117th U.S. Naval Construction Battalion (1943-1944). His Seabee unit was stationed in Hawaii and ready to be shipped out to the Mariana Islands when, due to a bureaucratic snafu, he was shipped back to the mainland as an Enemy Alien. He had just been naturalized as a US citizen in Hawaii, but apparently the news had not yet reached the Naval Brass! Rudi went to Naval Hospital School in San Diego and scored so high that he was one of the first to be allowed to select his assignment. He chose the Brooklyn Naval Hospital in New York City, where he spent the rest of the war giving injections to patients and attending free Broadway shows with his cousin, Hilde.

In 1949, Rudi married Geneva Gaus, also a chemistry major at the University of Chicago, and thereafter a multi-talented artist and craftswoman, active in the local art scene. They had three children (Michael in 1951, Andrew in 1953, and Elizabeth in 1964) and enjoyed 55 happy years of married life together until Geneva’s death in 2004.

Rudi attended the University of Chicago, earning a B.S. in chemistry (1947) and an M.S. (1948) and Ph.D. (1950) in physical organic chemistry. In 1950, he was hired by Hercules Incorporated, where he worked until his retirement in 1986. Rudi held a succession of managerial positions in research and development.

Rudi’s work mostly concerned chemical-based rocket propellants (1950-1969) and polymer fibers for applications such as Herculon carpeting (1970-1986). After his retirement in 1986, he served as a consultant for one year with Aqualon, a Hercules-associated company.

During his retirement years, Rudi really shone. He and Geneva traveled all over the world. At home in Kennett Square, Rudi was extremely active in Kennett Square civic projects. Most prominently, in the early 1990s, Rudi was Chairman of the Kennett Area Parks Authority and was instrumental in the development of Anson B. Nixon Park in Kennett Square. He was very active in the Kennett Area Democrats, writing the monthly “On the Other Hand” column in the Kennett Paper from 1992 to 2009. Rudi served on the boards of the Kennett Square Planning Commission and Historical Commission. In addition, he was active in the Kennett YMCA; tutored ESL at Bayard Taylor Library; and served as a Precinct Elections Judge.

Rudi passed from this life on March 2 at Neighborhood Hospice in West Chester, due to acute renal failure and metabolic encephalopathy. He was “lucky” up to the end – maintaining a normal, healthy, active life until his unexpected and cataclysmic, but relatively painless, demise during its final ten days. Rudi’s body was cremated at Founds Funeral Home of West Chester. His ashes will be interred next to his wife Geneva’s in the Gaus family cemetery plot in Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Ill. Sometime this summer, there will be a memorial service at Rudi’s home in Kennett Square (date and time TBA). For more information, contact Rudi’s daughter, Elizabeth, at 919-360-0593.

Rudi is survived by his older brother Jack (95 years old and a Nobel Laureate in Physics, 1988); his children Michael (wife Kathy), Andrew (Michelle), and Elizabeth; his granddaughters Rachel (husband Tim Ritenour) and Rebecca (husband Chris Braun); and five great-grandchildren (Rachel’s children Katelynn and Tyler; and Rebecca’s children Claire, Susan, and Toby).

Rudi wrapped blazing intelligence and curiosity in a low-key, modest, and open spirit. He had a stunning level of intellectual and moral integrity. He was a wonderfully caring man, with intense community spirit and a fantastic, ever-present sense of humor. Rudi’s passing will leave a very deep, long-lasting, Rudi-shaped hole in the hearts of many.

As Rudi would say, “That’s as good as it gets!”

  • By Elizabeth Steinberger

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