Rebecca Elsner Alpern

Born November 14, 1926

ALPERN, REBECCA ELSNER Rebecca Elsner Alpern, long time Ann Arbor resident, died on Sunday, February 9, 2014 at the age of 87, after a nine year struggle with Alzheimer's. Her adopted motto was "Walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone." She did just that. Her warmth and kindness touched all she met and none of her friends or relations will ever forget her welcoming smile. Rebecca was the youngest of eight children born to Bonnie and Daniel Bowen. She grew up on a farm near the small town of Sydney, Ohio. She remained a farm girl at heart her entire life. She took great joy in her vegetable garden and caring for her yard. She would much rather be out picking tomatoes, mowing the lawn or shoveling snow than vacuuming the living room; and it would have given her great happiness in her adult years to be able to own a pig (sadly, her property was not zoned for pigs). Rebecca was always a remarkable student; she went from wowing her one room schoolhouse in Sydney, to earning a Phi Beta Kappa Key at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. After completing her undergraduate studies, Rebecca went to work in Columbus, Ohio. There she joined a co-op, which was one of the few places at that time where interracial dining was allowed. It was while traveling in such freethinking circles that she met her future husband, Mathew Alpern. They began their married life in Forest Grove, Oregon where Mathew landed his first academic job. All too soon, Rebecca found herself caring for their two small children alone, while Mathew convalesced in a tuberculosis sanitarium for an entire year. Rebecca would never forget the kindness shown to her during that difficult time, but it might also have been the era that honed her famous "tough as nails" spirit. In the early 1950's, she followed Mathew to Ann Arbor, where he took a research position at the University of Michigan. In addition to raising four children and supporting her husband's demanding career as a research scientist, Rebecca had a full life with many interests. She continued her education and earned a Master's Degree in history from the University of Michigan. She worked as a caregiver and devoted her time to many causes and organizations, and was also an accomplished amateur writer, artist and photographer. She was politically active, writing letters to the editor of the Ann Arbor News and volunteering for Hadassah, the Washtenaw County Jewish News, and Miriam's Friends, as well as being a delegate to the 1972 State Democratic Convention. She was an avid reader, a member of the Faculty Women's Book Club and a leader of the Junior Great Books after school program at Tappan Jr. High. She clocked in many hours as the world's best homework helper when her children were in school, and continued to share her love of learning with her grandchildren. These grandchildren were her greatest joy, but she also loved the two "Cookie" dogs that were her devoted companions in her later years. Her wonderful wit and artistry were captured in the hand painted Valentine's she made for each of her grandchildren, with personalized rhymes penned from the perspective of Cookie I and his predecessor, Cookie II. Rebecca always said she was "Tough as nails!" but it was a toughness softened by her unfailing sense of humor and kind heart. She is survived by her sister, Louise Griffin; her sister-in-law Eunice Alpern; her children, Bowen Alpern (Carol Holmes), Ann Alpern (John Laird), Barbara Alpern and Aaron Alpern (Rebecca Covey); and her grandchildren, Lincoln Alpern, Julian Alpern, Emrigael Alpern, Guinevere Alpern, Emily Bilek (Eli Bilek), Jessica Laird (Phil Shiu), Valerie Laird, Gabriel McGuinness (Laura Marin), Rory McGuinness, Adam McGuinness, Quinn McGuinness, Holden Alpern and Micah Alpern; as well as Andrew McGuinness, Robin Mallison Alpern, and numerous nieces, nephews, cousins and friends. Her husband, Mathew Alpern, and six of her siblings predeceased her. Funeral services will be held at Beth Israel Synagogue at 4:00 on Thursday, February 13, with an informal remembrance gathering to follow at the home of Ann Alpern and John Laird. Rebecca was very generous and donated to many charities including The Diabetes Foundation, Southern Poverty Law Center, Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation, UNICEF and Save the Children. She also donated time and money to several political campaigns and was overjoyed to see Barak Obama elected President. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Rebecca's name to the charity of one's choice.


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Rebecca Elsner Alpern

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December 27, 2014

I am sorry that I didn't find out about your Mom's death until I got Louise's holiday letter. Please tell all of her children that I thought a lot of your mom. When my daughter was in law school at Michigan she was very kind to her.
Jackie Hartzell. (Bill Elsner's daughter)


Barbara Alpern

July 20, 2014

When my mom died in February I forgot that in her 2001 holiday letter she had expressed a desire to have her enthusiasm for kick boxing remembered in her obituary. Aaron tried to get it in there and I cut it. This makes me feel guilty, still. So here is what my mom said in that letter:

"Seventy-five is a wonderful age; I hope to be just that for many years to come. And I have asked those who may be in charge of my obituary, when that time comes, to record this: On the day before her 75th birthday in her kick boxing class she skinned her knuckles hitting the punching bag, (but only because she forgot to bring he bag mitts with her to class that day)....I love my senior kick boxing class and I figure my brother Russell would approve. I have early memories of him shadow boxing in front of our mirror by the kitchen sink and dreaming of a pugilistic career, which never happened. But still..."

So all those who loved my mom, picture her, well into her seventies, wailing on that red kick boxing dummy she had.

I miss you, Mom. I hope I am as powerful as you when I am seventy-five.

Randy Zywicki

July 4, 2014

Mrs. Alpern was a wonderful, cheery lady who had a wonderful gift of hospitality. How I will miss those pickles from my college years!

Lin Wong

February 13, 2014

Rebecca was my backyard girl friend who shared with me many moments of over the fence amity raising children and vegetables. Rebecca never ceased to amaze both in body, wrestling her rototiller, or in her sprightly and gay mind, with delightful limericks to suit the seasons. She was a standout and gym trainer's favorite in the kick boxing class for her contagious senior verve. And it was not just the fun Rebecca brought. She was an unapologetic citizen activist and a marvelous asset to her community and to her friends. Very sincere condolences to her lovely family.
Lin Wong