Pearl Axelrod

November 16, 1913January 16, 2011

Pearl Guttman Axelrod died peacefully on January 16, 2011 at the age of 97. She was preceded in death by her cherished husband and life partner, Solomon (Sy) Jacob Axelrod. Pearl was the beloved mother of Peter (Cathy Davis) and Joan (Mike Peraino), the loving grandmother of Rayna (David) Gill and David Zembala, and the dear sister of Doris Lee and Zelda Damashek. Pearl was born November 9, 1913 in New York City. She entered Smith College when she was 15 and graduated in 1933 at age 19. Before she graduated from college, Pearl met her beloved husband, Sy, when the two of them were camp counselors. Ironically, she was sent to camp by her mother, who thought she was too young to be getting “serious” about another boy she had met at home. Although her parents were at first reluctant, she and Sy eventually married in 1935 with their parents’ blessings.While Sy attended medical school in Philadelphia, Pearl enrolled as a graduate student at the School of Jewish Social Work. She graduated with a master’s degree in 1937. Pearl loved her field of work and became employed as a social worker until Sy finished medical school. In 1944, the couple moved to Tennessee where their son, Peter, was born. A year later they moved to Washington D.C. where their daughter, Joan, was born. Despite her love of social work, Pearl remained home with her children for eight years until both were in school. In 1949, the family moved to Ann Arbor, and in 1953 Pearl resumed her career by taking a position as a social worker at the Psychological Clinic in Ann Arbor. She worked there for 10 years, and in 1963 became a staff supervisor at the Washtenaw County Juvenile Court. After leaving the court in 1969, Pearl was hired as special assistant to Dean Wilbur Cohen (Under Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Johnson) at the University of Michigan School of Education. In this position, Pearl came to be regarded as a visionary in the field of childcare. She ostensibly retired in 1979 at the age of 66. Pearl’s “retirement” was anything but that. Over the next 20 years she branched out in two new directions. Pearl started helping seniors find affordable housing and for the second time in her work life became a pioneer, this time in the field of shared housing for seniors. Together with Dorothy Robb, Pearl helped found the Housing Bureau for Seniors at the Turner Clinic. This program has now become a thriving Ann Arbor institution.In addition, after her retirement Pearl began to paint. She often became absorbed for hours in this newfound avocation. Painting nature scenes in the woods around her home became her meditation. Pearl’s watercolor paintings have found homes in Michigan, Arizona, and New York, and were featured at a Turner Resource Center open house honoring her achievements.Pearl’s beloved Sy died in 1987. She then entered a new phase of her life, one that would last for the next 25 years. Despite the challenge of living on her own for the first time in her life, Pearl continued her work improving the lives of seniors. This included volunteer work as a peer counselor for seniors and facilitating workshops on issues related to aging. Pearl was honored as volunteer of the year at the University of Michigan Hospital and was co-honoree at a dinner celebrating the founding of the Housing Bureau for Seniors. As she entered her final decades, Pearl took pride in the accomplishments of her husband and took great pleasure in the company of her children, grandchildren, sisters, and extended family. In her final years, Pearl attained a state of contentment and graciousness that deeply affected those around her. She will be remembered for her fierce loyalty and pride in her family, her wonder in the beauty of nature, her intelligence and problem solving abilities, her interest in progressive politics, her dedication to making the world a better place to live, and for “kicking tokhes” in Scrabble. A memorial service will be held at Temple Beth Emeth on Thursday, January 20th, 2011 at 4:00 PM. Those wishing may make memorial contributions to the Solomon J. Axelrod/Eugene Feingold scholarship fund at the University of Michigan or to the Housing Bureau for Seniors. Arrangements under the direction of Muehlig Funeral Chapel, Ann Arbor, MI.


  • Memorial Service Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pearl Axelrod

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Paula Lantz

January 18, 2011

The faculty of the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan extend their sympathy to the Axelrod family. Both Sy and Pearl left an important mark on the public health mission of our department.

January 18, 2011

Janet and I have known Pearl for many years and treasure her kindnesses, wit, pursuit of justice, and intelligence. I am sorry for her years when hearing was such a problem as she loved to converse and to hear what others are doing. She was a great credit to the social work world and to all who benefited from her efforts. The Garvins

January 18, 2011

Pearl Axelrod contributed much to the quality of life in our community. She will be greatly missed.

Ross W. Campbell