Date of Birth: May 26, 1934
Date of Death: November 5, 2018
Place of Birth: Detroit, Michigan
Detroit History Maven
Adele Beverly Weinberg Staller was born in Detroit to immigrant parents, Sam and Sarah (Feldman) Weinberg, the youngest of four children. She married Avery Gerald (Jerry) Staller, an only child, and the love of her life until her death. Before their marriage, Jerry had developed serious heart disease. In 1973, they flew to Houston, Texas, where he underwent one of the earliest bypass surgery procedures, performed by Dr. Michael DeBakey. Jerry died of complications a few days later and Adele became a widow at age 39, left to raise their three young daughters.
Although her family was first in her life, Judaism and community service were also very important to Adele. In spite of her many duties to her family, she became affiliated with Detroit’s Ahavas Achim Synagogue, which then merged with Beth Aaron to become Congregation Beth Achim in 1968. All three of Adele’s daughters received Jewish educations and were then married there. Adele officially joined this congregation in the early 1980s and served as Sisterhood president for eight years.
Adele was a teacher her entire life, a passion that first took root when she was just 16 years old, teaching a neighbor’s child to read. A graduate of Central High School in 1952, she earned a teaching degree from Wayne University after her first child was born. Later, after a substitute-teaching position, Adele was hired to teach primary grades at Detroit's Woodward Elementary School. While working full time, Adele put her three daughters through college, and also earned an advanced degree herself, in 1986. She was ahead of her time, enrolling in “Teaching Math to Elementary Students with Computers,” a master’s program at Wayne State University. Adele used this knowledge at Woodward Elementary School until her retirement, 39 years after she began teaching there.
After retirement, Adele continued teaching. She became involved with Jewish Family Services and taught English to Russian immigrants, not only teaching them language skills, but also preparing them for the U.S. citizenship exam. It was said that she had a 100% success rate: all the immigrants she taught passed the exam on the first try. She was also involved with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and participated in a long-awaited trip to Israel when she joined its Miracle Mission II in 1995.
Adele was very involved with JHSM, where she served as president twice (1988-1990) and in 2002 received the Leonard N. Simons History-Maker Award, honoring those who have made outstanding contributions to the enrichment, conservation, knowledge, and dissemination of Michigan Jewish history. She docented for numerous bus tours of Old Jewish Detroit and later took over the leadership of that program. She continued to update and change the tour over many years. She led tours into neighborhoods which were once Jewish and to Jewish cemeteries where few local relatives visit. She was responsible for keeping the key to the Beth Olem Cemetery, more than 175 years old and located in the middle of the parking lot of the General Motors Poletown plant. She shared an abundance of historical facts with the participants of her tours, imbuing them with respect for Jewish history in Detroit and Michigan. She relayed stories of her own extended family, the Weinbergs and the Feldmans, and coming to America and living in Detroit.
After Beth Achim Synagogue merged with Adat Shalom Synagogue, Adat Shalom’s congregation became Adele’s second family, and she became a frequent volunteer at the synagogue, often serving at Kiddush, and also taking on many leadership roles. She was the impetus behind the Rabbis’ Lunch & Learn program, which lasted for over 25 years at both Beth Achim and Adat Shalom. Rabbi Rachel Shere of Adat Shalom recalled that Adele never missed a single session till the very end. Not only did she participate, she discussed the topic with the rabbi, sent invitations, tracked the registrations, and even helped to cook the meals. In 1997 Adele was named a “Woman of Achievement” and a gift was made in her name to the Torah Fund Campaign of Woman’s League for Conservative Judaism by the Jewish Theological Seminary. She was also given the honor of being named a “Woman of Valor” through her synagogue Sisterhood due to her numerous contributions of time.
Adele loved singing, music, and theater. She had standing season-ticket subscriptions to both the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Fisher Theater. She was known to sing as she did household tasks. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, she joined “Mama Loved Littman’s,” a performance group formed in collaboration between Beth Achim Sisterhood and Detroit’s B’nai B’rith Women’s chapters. The group performed a series of musical skits and parodies in English and Yiddish, vaudeville style. Adele had fun planning her costumes, singing, and performing.
Adele was a true fighter. She was a cancer survivor for almost 10 years. She did not take her remission for granted, but used her time to help others battling the disease. She joined the Cancer Thrivers Network for Jewish Women, knitting blankets for chemo patients to use during treatment. She gathered with other women who were either survivors or in treatment, to socialize as they knitted. The knowledge that they were giving of themselves to others in need was their reward.
She was an amazingly strong woman and a role model for her family and her community. Her family and Jewish values defined her. She put others first, taking care of family members and inspiring children and adults as a teacher. She was generous in all ways, especially with her time, and was a perpetual volunteer in her synagogue and at JHSM, taking on leadership roles in both organizations.
Adele Staller, lover of history, music, and Jewish life, has been described as the perfect blend of intelligence, compassion, and dedication. She left an inspiring legacy of giving of herself to her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends, co-workers, the Jewish community, and the Greater Detroit community.
Written by Julie Staller-Pentelnik, Sharon Staller Wallach, and Mara Staller Starr