Date of Birth: June 24, 1926

Date of Death: April 20, 2012

Place of Birth: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Place of Death: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Lois (Kollenberg) Kahn

Lifeline Healthcare Advocate

For Lois Kahn, healthcare was not partial to differences of identity, and neither was she.

Growing up in Grand Rapids, a historically majority Christian city, being Jewish meant standing out, and not by choice. She attended K-12 school there, creating years-long friendships with classmates. In high school, however, she recalled the pivotal moment when her childhood friends told her they could not invite her to their sorority because she was Jewish. But she was strong, with strong roots. Her father told her to “go out and show them what they missed.” And so she did, becoming the editor of the school yearbook.

Lois knew the power of human connection and healing, which manifested in a multi-disciplinary, interfaith, intergenerational approach. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1948 with a degree in speech pathology, Lois began her career treating WWII veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries. From there, she transitioned to working in schools, leaving a legacy from Grand Rapids to Lansing to Saginaw. She was the first non-Catholic to teach in the Diocese of Saginaw Catholic schools. During her tenure there, she improved the conversational skills of hundreds of children. In the early 1960s, Lois established a speech pathology program in the Catholic school system. Through this, in time, Lois forged a unity between Saginaw’s Jewish and Catholic communities. She also laid the groundwork upon which employers allowed their employees of various faiths exemption from work on religious holidays.

In the 1970s, Lois helped found Hospice of Michigan, currently the state’s largest hospice provider. Then, in 1978, a close family member was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Inspired to take action, Lois earned a nursing degree from Grand Rapids Community College in 1980 at the age of 52, graduating at the top of her class.

Now, as a nurse, Lois dedicated her time—what would amount to more than 30 years—to the welfare of all: from the hospice patients and their families to the nurses, whose shifts Lois would fill when they were shorthanded, at Blodgett Hospital and Clark Retirement Home. Lois also served on the Hospice of Michigan board, was active in their Speakers’ Bureau, and served as a family volunteer. Her work followed her to Arizona, where she volunteered at Hospice of Phoenix as well as in schools, returning to the classroom to participate in an elementary school reading program in which she had also been involved back in Michigan.

Throughout her time in Grand Rapids, Lois was an active part of the Jewish community. For many years she helped to prepare confirmation students at Temple Emanuel, coaching and orchestrating their speaking. She served as co-chair of the Jewish Federation in Grand Rapids, chair of Federation’s Social Services Committee, and as a member of Federation’s board—a testament to her loving and compassionate dedication to her community.

To her family, as a parent and spouse, Lois was no less loving, compassionate, and dedicated.  She was “in your corner.” After 46 years of marriage, Lois’s husband, Sheldon, was left with severe disabilities from an accident. Lois was unconditionally present and prepared to take care of him. She was a “remarkable woman,” “bright, articulate, giving,” and a “can-do” person, made manifest by her life’s work.

 

Written by Noah Krasman

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