Dr. Bertram Jay Oppenheimer was a man of principles and a man of peace. Husband, father, physician – no matter the label, he was an ethical humanist who approached life in a practical yet thoughtful manner. Service to community was an important keystone of his life – and he served Yonkers faithfully as a physician and a hospital administrator for more than 40 years.
Bert was born in Brooklyn, the son of Leopold and Kate (Rosenwasser) Oppenheimer, and moved to Yonkers, NY as a toddler where the extended Rosenwasser family lived in a three-story home on Hawthorne Avenue. Seven boys – Bert and his younger brothers Leonard and Joel, and their cousins Edwin, Seymour, Maurice and Robert Wasserman - grew up together and attended Yonkers Schools.
Bert graduated from Yonkers High School in 1939, earning a full Bausch and Lomb scholarship to Cornell University, where he graduated with a pre-med dual major in Zoology and Philosophy. With the war and the draft in full swing, he enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve Corp in 1942, which allowed him to graduate college before being called to active duty. Before entering basic training, in 1943 he married his high school sweetheart, Elaine Poringer, to whom he remained married until her death in 1974. They had four children – Martin (1951), George (1953), Betty (1957) and Joseph (1963). The family was active in the Riverdale-Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture, where Bert served as a Board President and Chair of the Building Committee when the Society built its first meeting house.
Upon graduation from college, he entered an Army Air Force meteorology training program at New York University, graduating in January 1944 with a Masters in Meteorology. He was stationed in California and in the Pacific Islands in ‘44-’46, forecasting the weather for planes crossing the Pacific. When he received his discharge from the military in August 1946, he was accepted into Washington University Medical School in St. Louis, graduating in 1950.
After completing his internship at Kings County Hospital and residency at Montefiore Hospital, he entered private practice and from 1954-1976, worked as an internist with a specialty in gastroenterology with privileges at Yonkers General, Yonkers Professional and Montefiore Hospitals. During his years in practice, his partners were Lowell Ackiron MD and Herbert Schoen MD. He enjoyed treating entire families, the “detective work” of complex diagnostics, and continued to visit patients at home long after that practice was no longer in fashion. Bert was credited with starting the first Methadone Maintenance Program for recovering heroin addicts in New York State outside New York City, which continues to this day.
In 1976, he married Leatryce Clarke and welcomed her three children – V. Michelle, Cleveland and Gregory - into his life. He also made a career change, taking the position of Administrator of Yonkers General Hospital, a position he held until 1994. His last major challenge in that position was to secure a merge of inner city Yonkers General Hospital with St. Johns Riverside Hospital – a success which was important to him in order to guarantee care for residents of his home town.
He is a past president of Yonkers Rotary, and a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow. After retiring in 1995, he finally had the time to enjoy his lifelong hobbies of philately, crossword puzzles and reading. In addition to his wife and children, he is survived by his grandchildren Zorah (daughter of Martin) and Jordan (son of Cleveland).
Please join us for a wake/service in his honor on Thursday March 24 from 6-8 p.m. at FLYNN MEMORIAL HOME, 1652 Central Park Avenue, Yonkers. In lieu of flowers, please send memorial gifts to any branch of the American Cancer Society.