Honoring a talented man: The Martin I. Axelbaum DSL

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Gerald Axelbaum and Ellen Schapiro, former Scholarship Foundation board member, have established the Martin I. Axelbaum Designated Scholar Loan in loving memory of Gerald’s father, honoring his passion for education.

Gerald describes his father as “a kind and gentle man. He was an only child whose immigrant parents depended on him and were very devoted to him.

Martin was a gifted violinist, playing with the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra as a teen. He was concertmaster of both the Soldan High School Orchestra and the All St. Louis High School Orchestra, and winner of a city-wide music competition. He was featured many times on the KSD Sunday afternoon radio production, Stars of Tomorrow, and studied under a nationally-known violinist who saw Martin’s potential.

At the age of 19 while in college at Washington University, Martin was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a disease that would affect many aspects of his life and his studies, as too much stress aggravated his condition. After earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering, he worked for a firm in rural Missouri, taking time off to recover from bouts of illness. He soon realized he would need a flexible work schedule to recuperate, so he returned to St. Louis and spent the rest of his career working at his parents’ business, Axelbaum Loan and Mercantile.

In 1943, Martin married Maurine Rothman. They had three children, Stewart, Gail, and Gerald, whom they encouraged to work hard and get as much education as possible, “academically, musically, and religiously.” Their home was always filled with books, music, and encouragement, and there were frequent visits to the symphony.

In 1959, Martin was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 41. Over the next four years he had a series of surgeries and radiation treatments to address the colitis and cancer. He began night school, working toward a master’s degree in accounting so he could “better himself”, and save as much for the family as possible in case he did not survive.

Prior to major surgeries, he wrote letters to his parents, wife, children, and best friend, thanking them for their love, telling them how much he loved them and would miss them, and insisting that the children go to college. In several letters, he entreated, “Please see that each of the children get a college education; there are funds to help them see it through and they may have to do some work on their own. Do not let my not being here change the pattern of their lives in any way.

In November 1963, Martin died. Gerald was 10, Gail was 15, and Stewart was 18. They remember him as humble, intelligent, hardworking, kind, considerate, and devoted, with a fine sense of humor.

Martin’s love of education came full circle, as Stewart had a career as a radiologist, Gail as a teacher, and Gerald as an engineer, and then science and math teacher. Now, his legacy – his belief in the importance and value of education – will continue in the students who are awarded the Martin I. Axelbaum DSL.