Dorothy Kirsner Obituary

Dorothy Harriet Kirsner
Dorothy Kirsner
Dorothy Harriet Kirsner

May 3, 1919 - May 20, 2013
Born in Minneapolis, MN
Resided in Des Moines, IA
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Dorothy Harriet Kirsner died at the Iowa Jewish Senior Life Center on Monday, May 20, 2013, at age 94. A funeral service will be held 10:30 a.m. Thursday, May 23 at Temple B'nai Jeshurun with burial to follow at Jewish Glendale Cemetery.

Dorothy was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of four children of George and Sara Berman. Described as out-going, direct, diligent, and dedicated to solving problems, Dorothy was also fun loving, stylish, amazingly energetic, extremely social, and a great friend. Although she had no formal medical training, if she heard that you were sick, she would quickly deliver "Jewish Penicillin" (Matzo Ball soup) that cured many ills. She also always found a way to help friends and anyone else in need – no matter what the need.

The Kirsners were surrounded by a group of close friends that expanded over the years who can best be described as "serial entertainers." The number of dinner parties they gave and attended certainly ran into the hundreds. In an article that appeared in the Des Moines Register on the occasion of their 70th wedding anniversary celebration at the Wakonda Club, the guest list was described as a who's who of Des Moines society from the 1970s.

Always stunningly well dressed and appointed, Dorothy was the inspiration for her granddaughter, Sara's, line of designer clothes and bridesmaid gifts ( All of Dorothy's grandchildren adored their grandmother who was a big part of their lives. They will miss her.

Dorothy was best known for her efforts to be the "eyes" for the blind community since the early 1940s. Through the Temple B'nai Jeshurun Sisterhood, Dorothy became a certified Braillist helping transcribe countless volumes of reading material for blind people. Certified Braillists were considered to be so valuable at that time that Dorothy's certificate of capability was signed by then President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. In June of 1957, Dorothy was appointed by the Governor of Iowa to be a member of the board of the Iowa Commission for the Blind and was elected chairman at her first board meeting. Dorothy was instrumental in bringing Kenneth Jernigan to the Commission who, as their director, implemented innovative vocational rehabilitation programs. In 1968 Jernigan was given an award from the President of the United States whose representative stated, "If a person must be blind, it is better to be blind in Iowa than in any other place in the nation, or the world!" In 1966, the conference room adjacent to the Commission Director's office was formally named the Dorothy Kirsner Conference Room to recognize her contribution to the Commission's success.

Dorothy was one of the founders and served on the Board of Directors of IRIS (Iowa Radio Reading Information Service) and was instrumental in getting blind children into the Des Moines Public Schools. She also acted as an education aide to blind children at Smouse School, participating in many orientation classes for parents and teachers of blind students. With her friend, Sis Stein, she organized prisoners at the Fort Madison Penitentiary to record and transcribe books into Braille. Dorothy was active with the Des Moines Symphony Guild and Temple B'nai Jeshurun, was a recipient of the YWCA of Greater Des Moines Woman of Achievement Award, and was a member of the "Know your Neighbor Panel."

She is survived by Alvin, her husband of 72 years; sons, James (Joan) Kirsner, Richard (Mary Kay) Kirsner and Lawrence Kirsner (Joan O'Harra Burke); four grandchildren, Julie Kirsner (John) Griffiths, Sara Kirsner, Hilarey (Brian) Leonard, and Elizabeth Kirsner; great-grandson, Evan Griffiths; and sister, Nessa Lee Laiderman. Dorothy was preceded in death by her parents; brother, Zelig Berman; and sister, Esther Frank.

The family is deeply grateful to all who helped care for Dorothy including the staff at the Jewish Senior Life Center, Iowa Health Hospice, Sheryl Benson, Yael Zachopolus, and Phillip Freedman.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Dorothy's name may be made to Temple B'nai Jeshurun, 5101 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50312; Iowa Jewish Senior Life Center, 900 Polk Boulevard, Des Moines, IA 50312; or Iowa Radio Reading Information Service for the Blind and Print Handicapped, Inc., 100 E. Euclid Avenue, Suite 117, Des Moines, IA 50313.

May her memory always be for a blessing.

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Temple B'Nai Jeshurun
5101 Grand Avenue
Des Moines, IA US 50312
Thursday, May 23, 2013
10:30 AM
Jewish Glendale Cemetery
Des Moines, IA
Thursday, May 23, 2013
11:30 AM


Temple B'Nai Jeshurun
5101 Grand Avenue
Des Moines, IA US 50312
Iowa Jewish Senior Life Center
900 Polk Boulevard
Des Moines, IA 50312
Iowa Radio Reading Information Service for the Blind and Print Handicapped
100 East Euclid Avenue Suite 117
Des Moines, IA 50313