Louis Jack Kaplan ("Lou" to those who knew him) dedicated much of his professional life working on behalf of a world-renowned medical institution barely a block from where he grew up in poverty during the depth of the Great Depression.
His work not only dramatically strengthened the Yale Medical School and Yale-New Haven Hospital, but also brought world-class cancer care to the region, and improved the quality of health care services throughout the region.
Yet, Lou always made sure never to take credit for his accomplishments, even if he took tremendous pride in their results.
Sadly, Lou passed away on January 8 in Springfield, VA, after leaving the New Haven area in October with his wife of 65 years, Freda, to be closer to their daughter, Jan. It was the final stop in a life of nearly 97 years that began in Lawrence, MA in 1916.
Lou was the youngest of three brothers who, along with their younger sister, withstood a series of moves during his first ten years because of their father's involvement in many of the labor strikes of the times. Hymie Kaplan was not only forced to move from city to city because of his union activity, but he also ran afoul of the law on occasion because of the gin mill he built in the family bathtub during the Prohibition years. "There were many times we couldn't take a bath because of that thing," Lou always said.
After traveling as far south as Atlantic City, the family landed on Oak Street in New Haven in 1926. Much like today, Oak Street was among the poorest street in New Haven. The three boys shared a bed while their father tried to make money as a pushcart salesman and later operated a vegetable stand on Legion Avenue.
Lou worked at the Farnum Neighborhood House as a youth counselor and graduated from Hillhouse High School in the midst of the Depression, and found a job working for the Railway Express Agency (REA). That experience led to him being assigned to the U.S. Army division responsible for managing the European railroad network during World War II. He was stationed in Paris shortly after the liberation of the city, and had fond memories of meeting international movie stars and funny stories of GIs selling locomotives to locals during his three years there.
Lou met his wife, Freda Lerman Mackler, not long after he returned to New Haven at the end of the war. They were married in a modest civil ceremony, and headed to New York City so he could get his Bachelor's and Master's degrees at NYU. They shared a "coldwater flat" with a friend where they were endlessly attempting to outwit the cockroaches. That may have been the catalyst for his everlasting love of the vacuum cleaner. Post-WWII New York was cockroach-infested, but also was an exciting melting pot of progressive thinking, art, music and culture that produced a diverse group of life-long friendships.
Although his Master's degree was in social work and public health, Lou's first job after NYU was working for one of the most exclusive clothier's of the time, the Sills Company, a competitor of J. Press. The job was in Cambridge, MA, and it gave Lou an appreciation of well-tailored men's clothes that became part of his persona.
But, Lou's real goal was to put his personal skills and academic training to work helping others. He landed a job as director of field services for the Connecticut Association of Mental Health in 1956. This position gave him an opportunity to hone his skills working with people of all walks of life, as well as government agencies and other institutions. Lou also conducted a series of fundraising events with various celebrities, including Vivian Vance, Lucy Ball's best friend on TV at the time, and Jackie Robinson, to raise public awareness of the mental health issue. Lou became dear friends, as well, with Rachel Robinson and continued his mental health work with Rachel after Jackie's death.
Lou became the Executive Director of the CT Mental Health Association, and soon after was recruited to become the Associate Director of the new Connecticut Mental Health Center. This new position brought him back to the Hill neighborhood only a few blocks from where he had grown up. He worked with neighborhood representatives, hospital executives, Yale Medical School administrators, New Haven officials and state and federal agencies to develop a building design and community-oriented mental health program that satisfied everyone's interests and gained international recognition.
His success in making the Connecticut Mental Health Center a reality led to his appointment as Assistant to the Dean of the Yale Medical School in 1967. Not long after he arrived in his new position, the city of New Haven was engulfed in racial riots similar to those that swept other cities at the time. Lou worked long days and nights with community representatives and government officials to quell the violence and initiate new programs to address many of the local issues, which had sparked the unrest.
For the next 18 years, Lou assumed responsibilities for the Medical School's community, government and alumni relations, adding the title of Associate Dean to his resume, and also served as a lecturer at the School of Public Health. It was as an instructor and student advisor that he met Cornell Scott. The two worked closely with one another and others in the community to create the Hill Health Center with the support of the Medical School, and state and federal funds. Lou served on the Center's board for many years and helped it become a model for community health care services worldwide.
Lou's quiet dedication to the Yale Medical School, Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Hill Neighborhood also helped bring about the Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center. The coalitions he forged in his work to obtain funding for the Cancer Center once again included the university, city, state and federal agencies. John Doyle, a member of Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker's legislative staff at the time, recalls the fierce competition among the nation's medical schools for federal funding for cancer centers, "We wouldn't have won the necessary federal funds to build the Cancer Center if it wasn't for Lou's skills and personal relationships."
After an era in which neighborhoods could disappear as a result of "urban renewal" programs without community involvement, Lou worked to ensure that everyone from the local community surrounding the medical school and the greater Yale University was heard. As a result of his efforts, the University became more of a partner with the city of New Haven. Through his efforts, Lou helped to bridge the gap between Yale and its neighboring community, overcoming the political logjams and social conflicts that had plagued New Haven for generations.
Lou survived the Depression, WWII, the turbulence of the 1960s, and a series of bouts with cancer himself. But, he never lost his optimism, enthusiasm, sense of humor, or love of people of all kinds. His patience with, and understanding of, the political process and his willingness to put aside his own ego for the good of the community gave him an ability to get things done that others could not. Will Moreland interviewed Lou three years ago for a freshman writing assignment at Yale. After the interview, Will aptly called him "A natural sociologist" whose "position could best be described as the rope in a game of tug-of-war" between the university and the city's neighborhoods. Former Yale president, Kingman Brewster, publicly commended Lou's accomplishments during a Hill Health Center ceremony, describing him as the model of relations between Yale and the community.
Upon his retirement from the Yale Medical School, Lou received public proclamations from federal, state and local officials. He continued to serve for many years on the boards of the Hill Health Center, South Central Community College (now Gateway College), Urban League of New Haven, Hill Development Corporation and other organizations in the community.
He dedicated his spare time to his wife, Freda, his children, Jeffrey and Jan, and their families in Wellesley, MA and Annandale, VA, respectively. He also spent time, following local, state and national politics, doing NY Times crossword puzzles, traveling with Freda, attending local theater, and cheering for his beloved NY Yankees, Giants and Knicks, as well as UConn women's and men's basketball teams. He and Freda were also season ticketholders for Yale football games at the Yale Bowl, and vacationed on Martha's Vineyard for nearly 40 years where they played daily tennis and always found time to take a walk on the beach. Lou became known for his daily walks and was given the nickname of "the Mayor of Lambert's Cove" on Martha's Vineyard.
In addition to his wife Freda, daughter Jan and son, Jeffrey, Lou leaves his son-in-law Leonard Wolfenstein of Annandale, VA, daughter-in-law Alison of Wellesley, MA, sister Mildred Ratoosh of Berkeley, CA, sister-in-law Lil, and five grandsons, Jacob, Ethan, Grant, Ben and Noah. He was predeceased by his two brothers, Harry and Saul.
According to Lou: "The role of the individual is in different places – mine happened to be in changing the status quo."
The family requests that donations be made in Lou's name to the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center (www.hillhealthcenter.com
Please share your condolences and memories on this website.Lou's family will be preparing a book of memories from these entries.