Northern Star: For more than half a century, Amos Deinard helped lead the Minneapolis Jewish community.
by Iric Nathanson, Twin Cities Jewish Life
In 1922, a young attorney walked from his home near Lake of the Isles to George Leonard’s law office in the Andrus Building in downtown Minneapolis. Accompanied by his younger brother, Ben, Amos Deinard would join Leonard’s law practice and begin a distinguished legal and community service career that would span more than six decades.
Today, one of Minnesota’s preeminent law firms— Leonard, Street and Deinard—bears the name of the two brothers who would walk to work together off and on for more than 40 years. A familiar sight on the sidewalks of downtown Minneapolis from the 1920s through the 1960s, the Deinard brothers, 18 months apart in age, considered themselves "the last two pedestrians in Hennepin County."
Amos Deinard’s career was all the more impressive because he became blind at an early age as the result of a degenerative eye condition. But he rarely spoke of his disability, nor did it impede his work as a community leader and a tireless advocate for Jewish causes—a role he continued to play until his death in 1985.
Deinard was born in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1898, the son of Samuel and Rosa Deinard. The family moved to Minneapolis in 1901 when Samuel Deinard accepted the post of rabbi of the Reform congregation that would later be known as Temple Israel. Despite a busy schedule with his growing congregation, the Minneapolis rabbi found time to take on civic responsibilities in the broader Twin Cities community. At a time when lynchings of African Americans were a regular occurrence, Rabbi Deinard became the first president of the Minnesota chapter of the NAACP.
"I grew up in a home where community service was an important value," Amos Deinard recalled in his later years. "My parents were role models."
The rabbi’s son spent a year learning Braille at the Faribault School for the Blind, but it was a skill he rarely used in later life. For the most part he relied on Ben and other friends and associates to read to him. With Ben at his side, Amos rose to the top of his class at West High School where he graduated as valedictorian in 1915. Ben was the salutatorian with an academic score that was only a few tenths of a percentage point below that of his older brother.
Amos went on to take more academic honors at the University of Minnesota where he won the Phi Beta Kappa key before graduating, along with Ben, from the University’s Law School. Both brothers were attending Harvard Law School’s graduate program in Boston when tragedy struck the family. Rabbi Samuel Deinard died suddenly at the age of 48 on Yom Kippur morning, 1921.
With a widowed mother and a younger sister, Miriam, at home, Amos and Ben returned to Minneapolis. George Leonard had become a family friend, and that friendship helped pave the way for the two brothers to join Leonard’s law practice. Still in their early twenties, the Deinards, together with Leonard and a fourth partner, Arthur Street, established the firm that combined their names on the office letterhead. For much of its first 30 years, the firm remained small, with only a handful of lawyers working together in the small Andrus Building office. Not until the 1950s would Leonard, Street and Deinard begin a sharp growth spurt, a result of mergers and an expanding client list.
Amos Deinard’s former partners remember him as a consummate legal craftsman with a photographic memory that helped compensate for his loss of sight. "He was brilliant," recalls Hal Field. "He had fantastic judgment that got better as he got older. And he was a perfectionist. The precedents were in his head. He could always dictate his edits from memory."
"I was always amazed when Amos would tell his secretary: "Now check out the provision in paragraph 4 on page 13,’" Field says.
"Amos was very courtly— of the old school," recalls Irene Scott, who joined the firm in 1952. "I only saw him lose his temper once or twice while we worked together," Scott says. "In adversarial situations he had the ability to listen quietly and let other people vent. Then he would sum up the situation calmly and deliberately. He always spoke carefully and economically."
The young attorney was only 32 when he was tapped to play a major leadership role in Minneapolis’ Jewish community. In 1930 Amos Deinard became a founding board member of the Minneapolis Federation for Jewish Service—now the Minneapolis Jewish Federation —a post he would continue to hold for the next 47 years.
"I was the youngest man asked to serve on the Federation Board," Deinard said in a 1980 interview with Minneapolis Tribune columnist Margaret Morris. "Most of the others were peers of my father."
Deinard spoke of the painstaking regulations that paved the way for the establishment of the Federation. "There was a period of travail that began in 1928," he said. "It took two years of consultations before we got launched. People have pet causes and interests that they want to protect. We were competing for the same cut of the unexpandable pie."
"The interesting thing is we got started in 1930, in a pretty dark time of the Depression. The actual spark was (Temple Israel’s) Rabbi Albert Minda. He summoned citizens who had been involved in civic affairs."
In addition to his decades-long work with the Federation, Deinard devoted countless volunteer hours to a broad range of local and national Jewish causes, including Minneapolis’ Mount Sinai Hospital and Jewish Family and Children’s Service, as well as Brandeis University and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Like his father, Deinard ventured out into the broader Twin Cities community. In 1951 he made an unsuccessful bid for public office, running for the Minneapolis School Board as part of the "good government" Citizen’s State. After losing the election he devoted much of his civic energies to civil rights issues, a cause his father had championed at the turn of the century. In 1945 Mayor Hubert Humphrey appointed Deinard to the newly-created Minneapolis Fair Employment Practices Commission where he served as a member for 17 years and as its chair for 15 years. In 1955, Deinard helped lead a successful effort to establish a statewide Fair Employment Practices Commission.
Throughout this period, Deinard led an active family and social life. Married in 1933, Amos and his wife, Hortense, raised two children: a son, Amos, and a daughter, Miriam. The couple traveled often to New York to see the latest Broadway plays and were devotees of the Minneapolis Orchestra.
Deinard’s eloquence and his dry wit brought him numerous requests to serve as a guest speaker. "I attended countless dinners where Amos gave the keynote," Field recalls. "I always remember him gazing out at the audience he could not see. Without fail he would incorporate humor in an appropriate way and come up with the remarks that connected with the audience."
"My rule has always been never to memorize a speech," Deinard told Barbara Flanagan in 1969. "But I know my first line and my last. I’ve learned to sense the audience, and I can feel in my bones whether they are reacting favorably or not."
"My father was the best public speaker I have ever heard," Deinard’s daughter, Miriam Kelen, said in a recent interview.
"He was like Garrison Keillor. He could talk for 45 minutes without notes and keep the audience’s full attention," added Kelen’s brother, Amos.
The Minneapolis attorney was often described as courtly—even awesome—in public, but privately he was known to unbend. Friends were regularly amused with the limericks that he could dash off at a moment’s notice.
During an ocean cruise in 1973, he wrote this birthday ode to a friend, Grace Dibble:
"For decorum, express your disdain
With these glasses of bubbling
Since we have no confetti
We shall scatter spaghetti
And bedevil the crew, raising Cain
First, a toast to the provocative Grace
Who excites every man to the chase
On her birthday at sea
Let us go on a spree
I shall start with a festive embrace."
In his later years, Deinard received numerous public accolades, including honors from the Jewish National Fund and the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, as one organization after another recognized the community leader for his long-standing efforts.
As Deinard entered his early 80s, even illness and hospitalizations did little to slow him down. His son, Amos, remembers visiting his father at the University of Minnesota Hospital while the elder Deinard was still recovering from a major operation. "There was Father in a wheel chair at a pay phone in the hallway, conducting business with one of the partners back at the firm."
Deinard continued to work from his home almost up until the very end. When he died in June, 1985, at the age of 87, the entire Minneapolis Jewish community mourned his loss even as they celebrated his lifelong accomplishments.
Although he has been gone for nearly 20 years, Amos Deinard has not been forgotten. In 2001 the Minneapolis Jewish Federation established the Amos S. Deinard Award to recognize outstanding leadership in the local Jewish community. Marvin Borman, the award’s first recipient, talked about his friend and former colleague at the Federation’s annual meeting in August, 2001.
"When I first came to Minneapolis," Borman said, "Amos was already a bright star on the community horizon—a brilliant mind with a deep love for his community and a commitment and a dedication to serve both the Jewish and the general community."
Related Files and Links:
* Amos Deinard
( JPEG 16K)
* Amos Deinard (2)
( JPEG 16K)