Funeral services for Ida Libert Uchill, accomplished Denver Jewish author-historian and educator, took place Feb. 16, 2014 at Kol Shalom synagogue in Rockville, Md. Rabbi Jonathan Maltzman of Kol Shalom and Rabbi Clifford B. Miller, her son-in-law, officiated at services for Ms. Uchill who passed away Feb. 14 in Bethesda, Md.
Interment was at Garden of Remembrance (Gan Hazikaron) Cemetery in Clarksburg, Md.
Ms. Uchill was born Dec.10, 1917 on a farm just outside Denver, in Edgewater, to Fannie Pepper Libert and Paul Libert, who respectively immigrated from Poland and Ukraine. She spent the first 85 years of her life in Colorado and moved east after the death of her husband of 60 years, Sam Uchill, to be near her daughters and family.
She resided for almost 10 years in Bethesda, Md. where her younger daughter, Vicki Uchill, lived close by and moved in with her during her final five years. In the last of those two years, they relocated to an independent living facility in Rockville, with her daughter always by her side. She passed away in a Bethesda hospital a week after sustaining a major stroke.
Precocious as a child, Ms. Uchill skipped grades in school. She began her writing career very early, as a columnist for the children’s section of the Denver Post while still in junior high school.
A graduate of the University of Colorado in journalism and history, she became a writer, journalist and lecturer for the rest of her life, specializing in Colorado and Colorado Jewish history.
In the early part of her career as a journalist, Ms. Uchill wrote for a variety of trade journals in the liquor, dog, fashion and livestock industries.
Her first book, Pioneers, Peddlers and Tsadikim: The Story of Jews in Colorado, a comprehensive history of Colorado Jewry, was published by Sage Press in 1957. Demand for the book was so sustained that a second edition was released and, in 2000, a third edition by the University Press of Colorado, when Ms. Uchill was 80 years old. The paperback edition provided an updated 140-year chronology as well as a new introduction and photographs.
The Intermountain Jewish News called the book “the bible of early regional Jewish history.” It was cited in more than 100 other books.
Also at the age of 80, she authored another book on Colorado history, Howdy, Sucker: What P.T. Barnum Did in Colorado, which exposed the circus impresario’s dealings and double dealings during his brief stays in Colorado. It was hailed by Colorado author Joanne Greenberg as “a marvelous picture of Colorado during the boom and bust years.”
Ms. Uchill, whose books are still available online, learned how to use a Mac book at the age of 90, just by using the manual.
She also wrote articles on Denver and Colorado Jewry for the first edition of Encyclopedia Judaica and the travel section of Hadassah Magazine; contributed to West Side Story Revisited a history of the Jews of Denver’s West Side; and served as state president and president emerita of the National League of American PENwomen and as a member of the Colorado Author’s League.
Among her accolades was her inclusion in Radcliffe College’s Notable American Women and her listing in Who’s Who in Colorado, 1958.
As a high school teacher, Ms. Uchill taught journalism, history and English in Denver Public Schools for more than 20 years. She also founded a city-wide Hadassah study group and later was a founder of the Denver Institute of Jewish Studies.
Ms. Uchill, many of whose relatives were killed in the Holocaust, was also a lifelong activist on behalf of Israel and the Jewish community. In college she wrote letters to the State Department urging the US to rescue Jews from the Holocaust. Later, she did the same on behalf of Soviet Jewry. She continued this practice throughout her life, writing to print and electronic media and government agencies on such subjects as anti-Semitism and terrorism.
According to her family, Ms. Uchill “considered apathy, appeasement, rationalization and denial among Jews as naïve, cowardly and suicidal. She was distressed and frustrated by the American Jewish public in particular, who seemed to have forgotten the dangerous warning signs of their own disastrous recent and lengthy history as reflected in their complacent or careless voting habits, excuse making and [desire] not to rock the boat.”
Ms. Uchill was the mother of Dr. Deborah Uchill Miller (Rabbi Clifford Miller) of Caldwell, NJ and Vicki L. Uchill of Bethesda, Md.; the grandmother of Arielle Miller of West Orange, NJ and Adinah Miller of Greensboro, NC; and the great-grandmother of Ezekiel Akiba Timen, Zohar Samantha Lileet Timen and Eitan Nadiv Miller Feder.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Koby Mandell Foundation, which provides counseling and camp experiences for Israeli terror victims and their families; and Meir Panim, which aids the impoverished in Israel.
Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News