The tenacity of Leland Huttner did not waver — for decades. He was at the heart of the leadership of BMH and then BMH-BJ since the 1950s. When Israel Bonds decided to close its Denver office some 25 years ago, Leland Huttner fought the national organization tooth and nail (he lost then, but the office is now open). When the timing seemed right for the University of Denver to do more to remember the Holocaust, no obstacle thrown in Huttner’s way made the slightest dent. Heaven forfend that someone raise the possibility that a project to which Leland Huttner commited himself may not be doable. Tenacity.
It is a character trait often coupled with less admirable traits: putting the cause ahead of human relations, getting to the goal at all costs, “walking over people.” Nothing could be further from the style of Leland Huttner. Pirkei Avot perceptively notes that of all the fine human traits, there is one that embraces them all: a good heart. Leland Huttner had a heart of gold. He was always giving, and looking for new ways to give. He appreciated good causes and brought out the best in others in bringing them around to the cause. He was a leader, which means that others followed. Leland Huttner was a motivator.
Perhaps he was a successful motivator because he did the right thing. Simple and unimpressive though it may sometimes sound, to do the right thing can be rare if it is doneconsistently and insistently — consistently in one’s own life and insistently in popularizing the right thing. We have a word for this: integrity.
They say that virtue is its own reward. But around the beehive of communal activity that constituted Leland Huttner, the right thing also became the exciting and the rewarding thing. It was rewarding to serve with Huttner on a committee or to help him promote one of his causes, and they were many. Over the course of a long life, some of the projects and passions of Huttner could fade from memory. For example, the Colorado Agency for Jewish Education no longer enjoys the high profile it once did, but for Huttner it was a dramatically important agency. He saw the virtue in CAJE and in so many other communal projects. We have mentioned BMH-BJ, Israel Bonds, DU and CAJE. There were many others.
Take note: Huttner’s commitments were not just in the abstract. He was committed not just to the opportunity to help people whom he might never see. His community activism was personal. For him, to support Jewish Family Service was more than to enable others to carry out the JFS mission. For him, JFS was a chance to participate himself. He became a parachaplain. Over the years he visited countless people at retirement and assisted living facilities. Here was a man who cared, who had a good heart, whose tenacity always kept in his mind’s eye the human beings who were the essence of any cause.
After his beloved wife Marilyn died more than a decade ago, Leland kept her memory alive, since in so much that Leland did they were a team. Advanced age ultimately took Leland as it ultimately will take any older person, but up until very recently Leland Huttner was “out there,” in public, be it at the synagogue or at his own sister’s funeral in Los Angeles. Nothing but death could stop Leland Huttner.
At the BMH-BJ he was honored with opening the Ark on Yom Kippur at Ne’ilah time for some 50 years. What a fitting symbol. Huttner opened people’s minds and resources to good causes, and he did so in a way that they enjoyed both the tzedakah and the comradeship. We and countless others will miss those motivating talks and gestures of Leland, and we will surely miss his comradeship. Leland Huttner leaves behind a sterling memory.
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