Meet your Neighbors: Jeff & Ruth Stein — South Palm Beach

Being retired and enjoying physical activities outside is great, agree Jeff and Ruth Stein. But, they add, there’s only so much swimming and golfing they can do.

They do not sit around waiting for the world to happen, and even if they were so inclined, “how long can a person sit at the beach?” Ruth asked.

“My background is in physical education,” explained Jeff. “But you have to keep the mind active, too.”

So, on top of enjoying Florida’s great outdoors, they’ve heaped on interesting volunteer work. Ruth is active in her synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, and Jeff is president of his condo association. Both go to Town Council meetings, and, new members of the Community Affairs Advisory Board, they took on chairing Spotlight, the town of South Palm Beach’s 2011 cultural series.

“We wanted to give back a little bit,” Ruth said.

Keeping pace with the world and what’s going on in it is a passion for the two.

“There’s no such thing as the news anymore,” Ruth said. “We only have one extreme or the other. There are the people who listen only to Fox and those who listen only to MSNBC, for example.

“I want to better understand some of the chatter, what the issues are and what’s happening.”

Deepening their understanding of current events is a trait that they share with their neighbors, they found. Which is why the Steins (and their neighbors) have taken
such an intense interest in Spotlight, a 15-year-old program in which
knowledgeable presenters offer insights into today’s local, national and
international issues.

“There are so many bright people from wonderful backgrounds in this town that want this kind of stuff, and that’s why the series has gone on for so long. They are sharp, and that’s what makes the whole thing go,” Jeff said.

The Steins have added new faces to this year’s program. They invited Edwin Black to speak, for example, after learning about him from his father, Harry Black, a friend
they know from Temple Emanu-El.

“When we did call Edwin, he’d already been warned. ‘Oh, you’re the people from that small town that does the lecture series,’ ” Jeff said.

Black, an investigative author will speak on oil addiction and offer a plan, said Ruth. “I think that’s timely. Jeff and I do wonder if we are going to have a beach in the future.”

And a hint as to the plan Black intends to share? “You’ll have to come to the lecture to learn about that. I’m not telling,” Jeff said.

— Christine Davis

10 Questions

Q. Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?

Jeff: I grew up on Brooklyn and Long Island, N.Y. I attended undergraduate school at Adelphi University and majored in physical education. My graduate studies were done
at Syracuse University in counseling. I still enjoy participating in physical activities such as bicycling, jogging and kayaking. I still use the interpersonal skills that I learned in graduate school in my everyday interactions with people.

Ruth: I grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and attended the University of Buffalo for my undergraduate degree in English and education. Jeff and I met at Syracuse University while doing our graduate studies in counseling. We lived many years on Long Island, but I think I still have some of the small town in me. I prefer to be outdoors and be a part of a small community.

Q. How and when did you become involved in the South Palm Beach Cultural Series?

Jeff and Ruth: We bought the apartment in 1998 and did not move down full time until May 2007, when we retired. We bought series tickets for the 2008 season. At the end of the season, we completed a questionnaire and said we would be willing to help. Nobody turns down a volunteer. I don't think that we expected to be chairing it so soon.

Q. What other careers have you had, what were the highlights?

Jeff: I have been involved in education for over 40 years as a physical education teacher and guidance counselor on the elementary and secondary school levels and as a financial aid counselor and admissions director at the college level.

Ruth: I taught English at the middle school level before I was married and for a few years before the children were born. When I was ready to return to work, I decided to make a career change and went back to school for a certificate in employee benefits. I worked for 25 years as a pension administrator for an actuarial firm, then for Barnes & Noble and finally in a law firm. Barnes & Noble was a real challenge. There were over 20,000 employees and about five different entities that had been acquired each with its own different plan. It took a lot of organization.

Q. Why are art and culture important to you?

Jeff: I was brought up in a home where music, art and theater were important. We were exposed to the theater at a young age. I can still remember my mother yelling to be heard to tell my father to turn down the volume on the stereo as he listened to his beloved classical music and opera.

Ruth: As a former English teacher, I still look for not only the entertaining quality of a book or movie or play, but I still enjoy digging a little deeper. This is a way for me to keep my mind active.

Q. Tell us about the South Palm Beach Cultural Series.

Jeff and Ruth: The Cultural Series consists of five musical concerts and a series of six lectures. We bring to the town some of the best singers, performers and diverse musical programs. We have several new lecturers for this year’s series that will cover such topics as oil addiction, foreign policy issues, and terrorism and current legal battles. We
feel it is an exciting and varied program.

Q. How did you choose to make your home in South Palm Beach?

Jeff and Ruth: Jeff's parents bought in South Palm Beach in 1974. We knew we always wanted to live on the ocean when we retired. During one of our visits and on our way to the airport to return home, we decided to make a spontaneous offer on an apartment. The phone was ringing as we opened the front door on Long Island telling us we had just purchased an apartment.

Q. What is your favorite part about living in South Palm Beach?

Jeff: I have always enjoyed the ocean. Growing up on Long Island we always had the ocean close by. As a teen, my friends and I used to spend our weekends at Jones Beach. For me, it’s a real treat to be able to go downstairs and be at the beach. For a small town, South Palm Beach offers so much. This town does so many things for its residents. I can imagine that we are the envy of many similar small towns. From the cultural series to the ice cream socials to the bus trips to the book reviews and more there is always an activity available to the people of South Palm Beach who want to take advantage of them.

Ruth: I love the ocean, the small-town environment and the fact that we are away from the hustle and bustle.

Q. Do you have a favorite quote that inspires your decisions?

Jeff: ‘Poor planning on your part doesn't make an emergency on my part.’ I like to think things through before making decisions.

Ruth: When we were selling our home on Long Island to retire, a dear friend told me she was unhappy about it and did not like change. I responded that ‘you might not like change but if you stand still, change will happen around you.’ I think about that conversation all the time and keep reminding myself that everything always changes. You have to decide how you are going to cope with the change.

Q. Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?

Jeff: My college wrestling coach. After graduating from undergraduate school I would speak to him and seek his advice. If it weren’t for his advice to attend Syracuse University for graduate school I would not have met my wife, Ruth. I might not even be here answering these questions.

Ruth: I fondly remember my third-grade teacher and my seventh-grade English teacher. Both of them taught me that you have to master what is set before you.

Q. If your life story were made into a movie, who would you want to play you?

Jeff: Pat Riley, head coach of the Miami Heat. When I had hair, I was told that we looked somewhat alike. He is a take-charge kind of guy, which I admire.

Ruth: I really enjoy a summer show on TNT, The Closer, with Kyra Sedgwick. I love her character. She is a strong but feminine woman who works hard and is good at what she does. She makes her mind known and is good with words. I think I would choose her to portray my character.

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