Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Community Spotlight: Dr. Max Oppenheimer

Dr. Oppenheimer sits down with Matt Marn
Featured in the Fall 2013 Benevilla newsletter, "Connection."

Longtime Benevilla Supporter Dr. Max Oppenheimer Jr. will be the first to tell you he has lived an incredible life. And what’s more, he is very grateful. After years of serving his country and community in the Army and the CIA; as a professor at a number of universities; and as an author and columnist, he takes every opportunity to give back.

Max was born in New York City in 1916. When his father accepted a job overseas, Max went with his family to live in Europe. He spent time growing up in Germany and France until he was around 21.

“When my father accepted the job abroad, it produced for me a whole other life I never would have had otherwise,” he said.

He attended school in Germany and got his BA degree in Paris. In seven months he learned French and Latin just to get into the university.

“The BA test in France was very difficult,” Max said. “In Paris, the things they did, no American would make you do. Only 17 percent of students passed it on the first try. We really had to be devoted to learning. I have good genes, and a good mind, but a lot of it was very hard work. That helped make me who I am today.”

On his return to the USA, Max followed that first degree up with another Bachelors degree from NYU in 1941 and a Masters from UCLA in 1942. That dedication and commitment was shown in depth when, after Pearl Harbor, Max enlisted in the US Army. He said the Army was amazed at his background and fluency in so many languages.

He was sent a letter that told him that as soon as he arrived at his assignment, he was to be transferred to Military Intelligence. He was very useful to the cause, thanks to his dedication as well as his experience in many languages.

A Bronze Star recipient, he saw five campaigns from World War II. Max was in the pre-invasion maneuvers as well as the invasion on D-Day, where he drove one of the Jeeps ashore onto Utah Beach. He helped the
planning and intelligence gathering through many of the campaigns.

“I’ve spent more time in Europe than America,” Max said. “When I landed on D-Day, it felt like coming home.”

Max married his late wife, Christine, in 1942, and they were blessed with two children: Edmund Max and Carolyn Christine. He earned his PhD at USC in 1947, and went on to work as an instructor in foreign languages at San Diego State College in the mid-’40s and as an assistant professor of Romance Languages at Washington University in St. Louis in the late ‘40s.

In 1951, he was recalled into service to head for Korea. He also spent a number of years working for the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency. At that point he had also learned Russian, and he worked on interviewing Iron Curtain defectors. He remains grateful for his talents and the opportunities he has been given.

“I like to be well-educated,” he said. “I have a good knowledge of what’s going on around me. I am gifted for language; I know how to work the language… But it’s not just brains. You need the brains, but it’s also the willingness to work hard."

The drive inside of him has also taken him to eight universities, where he has served as professor for languages such as German, French, Spanish, Russian, and Latin. He even accepted a teaching position in China.

“It’s not about making a lot of money,” he said. “I was really valuable. I've gotten jobs that really meant something. I have no complaints.”

He not only has taught courses in many schools, but he has spent his time translating texts, plays and poetry into English from their native languages. He even translated a nautical text, and he was compensated for his time by a grant from the US Navy.

“I got involved in many other articles, writing things,” he said. “Now I write a column for the Daily News-Sun. I’m willing to write about anything.”

He attributes his dedication to his mother, who was always behind him. Now he feels compelled to give back, since he has been fortunate himself.

In addition to being a Bronze Star recipient, Max also received the French Jubilee Liberty Medal and several research grants. He also has established a scholarship at the Sate University of New York, the Fiat Lux Scholarship, which is Latin for “Let There be Light.” Max does not specify a required major in the scholarship. He only requires the students to be juniors or seniors – already showing the same devotion to their career as he has shown himself, looking for that same commitment in the next generation of learners.

“I believe in giving back,” Max said. “I don’t know how to say it, I've got my own way. I enjoy what I do. It’s one of the reasons I started that scholarship – I wanted to show my gratitude.”

Community Spotlight: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Offers Help, Information, and Hope for Members

By Matt Marn

West Valley, AZ – Grandparents’ Day is a time to recognize grandparents and their contribution to our lives. For some, that recognition comes with the acknowledgement that the grandparent is the primary caregiver for the grandchild.

Benevilla Family Resource Center’s Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program offers help to grandparents, teaching them to better care for their grandchildren, empowering and educating them.

Some grandparents may feel intimidated by the legal, school and medical issues that face this family dynamic. Teaching them to be their own advocates and to learn as much about the issues as they can truly makes a difference.

“When I meet with other grandparents like me and trade experiences, we all gain perspective; we gain knowledge,” said one grandparent in the group. “It’s nice to hear someone else tell us we are on the right track. There’s so much pushing against them – schools, families, doctors, the legislature. It comforts me, hearing others who have gone through the same thing already. And if that person can get through this, then I can, too.”

Taking in grandchildren sometimes causes tension with the parents. There are countless reasons why the transition may be needed, but grandparents fear the conflict it may cause in the family and the possible stigma from those who do not know the full reasons or jump to assumptions. This can lead to the grandparents growing isolated.

“There’s a lot of stress in our families, and we lose friends,” one member said. “This is a great opportunity to be with other grandparents, and the kids – many of them with special needs – can be around other kids and feel more comfortable.”

A major benefit of the group is the wide range of resources it offers the grandparents and grandchildren.

“It came in handy for me,” said Maureen, a group member caring for a young grandson. “It was still in the beginning of the transition, and I had never been through something like that before. The courts were very confusing, and I spent a lot of time researching and trying to find help. As soon as the facilitator got up there, we were among the first grandparents to join the group.”

Maureen said the information and support offered by the Benevilla group is nothing short of phenomenal. “It’s like a family. And there is no judging in this group – just the opposite. Without this group, some grandparents would be lost.”

Together, the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren group helps each other – and grandparents everywhere – provide a safe, loving home for their grandchildren.

Benevilla’s Family Resource Center is open 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM Monday through Friday at Benevilla’s main campus, located at the Hellen & John M. Jacobs Independence Plaza, 16752 N. Greasewood Street in Surprise. The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program support groups meet in various locations throughout the West Valley. For times or more information, please call 623-207-6016.

Started by the community and for the community in 1981, Benevilla is a not-for-profit human services agency dedicated to enhancing the lives of West Valley residents by providing care services for older adults, intellectually disabled adults, children, and families. Services are provided through a dedicated group of staff and volunteers. For more information on services and volunteer opportunities, call 623-584-4999 or visit www.benevilla.org.