Steve Wertheim has found fulfillment in volunteering both before and after his retirement. Because his career revolved around helping those in need, it’s no surprise that he spent his time outside of work, and his time since retiring, doing the like.
“There are two things I really enjoy in retirement,” Wertheim said. “One is not being in charge, and two is doing those things that make a difference.”
His current volunteer roles include serving as a tutor at Gearity Elementary School in University Heights; a board member of Reaching Heights in Cleveland Heights; a board member of Hunger Network in Cleveland, where he is the chair of the Food Rescue program; a speaker at Face-To-Face at Kol Israel; a speaker at the Maltz Museum in Beachwood; a committee member of Cuyahoga Community College’s Robert L. Lewis Academy of Scholars; vice president of men’s club at Congregation Shaarey Tikvah in Beachwood; and chair of the University Heights charter review commission.
He tutors at Gearity twice a week, working with children in grades kindergarten through third grade. The tutoring program, called Many Villages, is brought to Gearity by Reaching Heights.
“I love doing that, working with the kids,” he said. “We’re an urban district, so there are kids that have needs. Especially now, what we’re getting into the district are a lot of kids from Central and South America; children who English is their second language, so it’s been an interesting experience.”
In his volunteer work for Hunger Network’s Food Rescue, he chairs the program which “rescues” food from restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores and more. This food, which would have otherwise been thrown away, is then distributed to food pantries and meal sites.
One of the “cool” things about Food Rescue is volunteers can use an app on their phone that notifies them when a pickup becomes available, he said.
As a second-generation speaker at the Maltz Museum, Wertheim assumed his late father’s position. He now tells guests about his father’s experience being a refugee from Germany.
“He got out on the children’s transport and, for years, he spoke of his experience,” Wertheim said. “He passed about four years ago and they came to me and asked if I would (take his place), so I have been speaking to middle and high school students about my father’s experience.
“My father was a teenager, age 14 or so, when Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, happened,” he said. “He lived in a very small town in Germany with his father. Luckily, my grandfather was able to get my father on the children’s transport and he was in England for about a year and he was in foster care at about five different places. In the meantime, my grandfather – who, after he saw my father off on the train in Cologne received a message that the Gestapo was looking for him where he lived – he, himself had a visa to leave about a week later, so he was kind of in hiding for about a week until he could leave the country.”
Wertheim said his grandfather got to the United States and was eventually able to bring Wertheim’s father over to be reunited with him.
“My father finished high school in New York and was then drafted into the army in World War II, and he ended up in the Pacific on Okinawa and was wounded in combat action there, and received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star,” he said. “He eventually became a lawyer and a federal judge.”
As the chair of the University Heights charter review commission, Wertheim facilitates updating the city charger, which he said is akin to the “constitution” of the city.
“Almost every city has to have a charter and it has to be updated,” he said.
By updating the charter, the commission recognizes the changes taking place in the world and applies them to the way the city operates, he said.
“There was a time, probably, I wanted to save the world, but now I just (want) to try to make a difference,” Wertheim said. “What really motivates me is, ‘Can I make a difference?’”