Pearl Axelrod, longtime advocate for senior citizens in Ann Arbor area, dies at 97
Ann Arbor lost one of its greatest advocates for senior citizens when Pearl Axelrod died of natural causes on Sunday, Jan. 16 at the age of 97.
Axelrod is best known as the co-founder of the Housing Bureau for Seniors, which is part of the University of Michigan Health System.
Courtesy: The Axelrod family
When they led "Shaking the Blues" discussions for the depressed, they'd instruct the participants at the session to go around the table saying their names and also what was making them feel sad. "I'm Kelly and I'm sad because my husband is dead, my kids moved away decades ago, and my house is falling apart," a woman might say.
It didn't take long for Axelrod and Robb to realize that the vast majority of the depression they encountered was related to housing. Some of the women at the clinic didn't even know how to pay property taxes. Other people didn't have anyone they could call, and trust — not to mention afford — when the roof leaked or the weeds in their front yard kept growing and growing and growing.
So, the women petitioned the health system to found a new center dedicated to senior housing issues. Axelrod focused more on information and counseling, Robb more on housing.
Their big break came when an administrator in the hospital system, Eugene Stearns, who had leftover discretionary funds, agreed to break off $5,000 from his fiscal year budget, and $25,000 from the next year. That seed money enabled the Housing Bureau for Seniors to hire staffers and get to work while Axelrod and the rest of the board continued to raise money.
Axelrod, who earned degrees from Smith College and the School of Jewish Social Work, spent her entire working life in the service of others as a social worker, an administrator, and as special assistant to Wilbur Cohen, then dean of the U-M School of Education, from 1969 through her retirement in 1979.
Carolyn Hastings, recently retired director of the Housing Bureau for Seniors, remembered Axelrod as a real "go-getter," a "problem-solver," and perhaps most importantly, as someone who was fearless, as when she approached the administrator for seed money for the bureau.
Hastings was the first staffer hired and she stayed on for 27 years before retiring as the director on July 1, 2010.
"Pearl was supportive and a part of the board until the very end," Hastings told AnnArbor.com. "We even changed the (by)laws at one point so she could be a lifetime member and never have to worry about being re-elected. That's how much people respected her."
Today the Housing Bureau for Seniors assists more than 1,100 Washtenaw County seniors a year, offering education, foreclosure/eviction prevention and counseling services.
Axelrod was married to Solomon (Sy) Axelrod for 52 years before he passed away in 1987. She is survived by children Peter and Joan and grandchildren Rayna Gill and David Zembala.
A memorial service will be held at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor on Thursday, Jan. 20th, at 4 p.m.
The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Solomon J. Axelrod/Eugene Feingold Scholarship Fund through the U-M School of Public Health, or to the Housing Bureau for Seniors' endowment fund.
James David Dickson can be reached at JamesDickson@AnnArbor.com.