HERBERT TETENBAUM

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TETENBAUM--Herbert, whose boyhood bout with osteomyelitis, a bone-marrow infection that sent him to the hospital for multiple surgeries as a child and engendered within him a lifelong reverence for the practice of medicine, died December 29, 2013 in Palm Desert, CA, after a short illness at the age of 92. A retired obstetrician-gynecologist long active in medical education, Dr. Tetenbaum had moved to the desert community from Long Beach, NY, six months earlier with Sylvia Tetenbaum (nee Balopole), his wife of 69 years, who survives him. He is also survived by his children, Barbara Shepard of Las Vegas, NV, wife of Curtis Shepard; Abraham Tetenbaum of Los Angeles, CA, husband of Elizabeth R. Shafer; and Zelda Yoder, Reading, PA, wife of Mark Yoder. Additionally, he is survived by seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Three sisters survive him: Esther Heller, Mildred Berwitz, and Gloria Gimbel. He was predeceased by a brother, T. Leonard Tetenbaum and a sister, Beverly Schneider. Herbert Tetenbaum was born on March 25, 1921, at Beth-El Hospital in Brooklyn, NY, which later became Brookdale Hospital Medical Center during the 41 years he served on its medical staff. He graduated from Chicago Medical School (CMS), which later grew to become Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science during his tenure on its Board of Trustees. Dr. Tetenbaum grew up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, the third of six children of Eastern European immigrants, Isaac and Anna Tetenbaum. He worked at his father's dry goods store and attended Samuel J. Tilden High School where he led the swing band to a city championship. As "Ted Herberts," he played clarinet and saxophone at school dances and entertained at Catskill Mountains resorts during the summer. Dr. Tetenbaum attended the University of Texas at Austin where he majored in bacteriology, and drove the 1,750 miles back to Brooklyn every chance he got. He believed that attending school so far from home might give him an edge in applying to medical school as there were quotas in place restricting admissions for Jewish candidates from New York, but his admission was not immediate. Even the Army turned him down during World War II because of physical limitations resulting from his childhood operations. He worked in a defense plant before landing a job at the Rockefeller Institute in Manhattan as laboratory assistant to Dr. Karl Landsteiner, who in 1930 had won the Nobel Prize for discovering the blood groups. When Dr. Tetenbaum opened the letter that contained the news that he finally had been accepted to medical school, he was riding in a subway car with his girlfriend Sylvia, who exclaimed, "Now we can get married!" They sealed the bargain with a kiss and received a round of applause from their fellow passengers. Herb and Sylvia proved to be a formidable team in Chicago, together raising funds for the school, which attained its national accreditation the year he graduated. When they returned to Brooklyn and purchased their first home, which included an office for his general practice, the last thing in the world he expected was to be drafted. But the United States Army, now in need of physicians, had changed its mind and sent the growing Tetenbaum family to Fort Brooke in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There, by his own account, Dr. Tetenbaum attained the rank of Major, "fought the battle of the Officers Club" and acquired his medical specialty training. Back in Brooklyn, Dr. Tetenbaum became a Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Surgeons, delivered thousands upon thousands of babies and remained deeply involved in the institutional lives of his school, hospital and various medical groups. For his tireless efforts on their behalf, he was showered with recognition in the form of dinners, tributes, awards, plaques, citations and statuettes. He especially prized his 1985 Distinguished Alumnus Award from Chicago Medical School where for several years he administered the Hippocratic oath to its graduating class. Dr. Tetenbaum earned the esteem and affection of all who knew him through loyalty, generosity, dedication, a Borscht Belt sense of humor and, when asked for it, sound advice. He lived to see his children's lives reflect his values. Barbara became a psychotherapist, Abraham a Broadway playwright and nonprofit executive, and Zelda an educator. His grandchildren and great-grandchildren gave him immense pleasure, and three family "convocations" on cruise ships were among the highlights of his later years. Dr. Tetenbaum was an avid music lover, theatergoer, horseback rider, reader, world traveler, extemporaneous speaker, mixologist and sports fan. He rooted for the home team, and when there was no home team, he rooted for the underdog. Having fulfilled his own dream, he encouraged and supported the aspirations of his family and friends. For someone who was not expected to make it out of childhood, he ended up touching and enriching countless lives.


Published in The New York Times on Jan. 1, 2014
Herbert Tetenbaum
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