Jack Sternbach, 76, Placed Value on Friends and His Community

Jack Sternbach, 76, died at dawn the day before the full Snow moon, on Feb. 23 from complications due to Parkinson's Disease.

Born and raised in the seaside town of Long Beach Island, N.Y., his life came full circle when he moved to Martha's Vineyard in 1980 where he resumed his love of body-surfing and walks by the sea. Jack loved Aquinnah best, and in the last seven years of his life, he spent summers in the Stone House, just minutes from the cliffs.

Jack loved his family. In the 1950s, he met and courted Nancy Egan while they both attended the University of Wisconsin and helped organize one of the first racially mixed student food co-ops. After college Jack and Nancy married and went about creating and caring for their family of five children, Mary, Sara, Jenny, Amy and Dan, in Greenwich Village, Staten Island and Yonkers, N.Y. Jack and Nancy spent the last seven years of their marriage in Madison, Wisconsin. They became active in protests against the Viet Nam war and marched in numerous civil rights rallies. The entire Sternbach family, from the youngest son in a stroller to the oldest thirteen-year-old twins, could be seen carrying placards at political gatherings. It was during the turbulent 1960s that Jack's marriage of fifteen years ended.

Jack had a second chance at love and family, starting in 1971 when he met and later married Jean Hay. It was as they were parenting their daughter Jeanie that they chose to make their home on the Vineyard. This decision was solidified for Jack when his son Dan also made the Island his home. Despite predictions to the contrary, Jack thoroughly embraced clearing their property and participating in the construction of his Vineyard Haven home. Many family reunions occurred here and were richly enjoyed, especially as three grandchildren entered his life.

Jack considered himself fortunate to have chosen a profession that challenged his mind and opened his heart. As a clinical social worker, he worked first with children and teens in the New York city area. He received his master's degree in social work at the University of Pennsylvania and his doctorate at Wisconsin. He taught at Wisconsin for seven years followed by five years at University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Work where he helped to develop a curriculum on racism and class. It was during this time at Penn that he began his work in prison reform, working for several years at Graterford Prison, a maximum security facility. Through his pioneering work in leading sensitivity training for prison guards, administrators, judges and prisoners, he grew to be respected by all sides. Jack made the bold move of bringing incarcerated men into his classrooms at Penn to teach his graduate students.

In the mid-1970s Jack left teaching to pursue group and clinical practice in Philadelphia. It was during this time that both Jack and Jean decided to consider the implications of the burgeoning women's movement and the nascent men's movement on their respective clinical practices. After moving to the Vineyard, Jack's private practice continued to explore how our culture has affected men's ability to be open and expressive. For 25 years he led men's groups on the Vineyard and in Boston. He valued these small groups as a profound means to help men learn how to better be in touch with their emotional selves and how to live their lives passionately and with real concern for others.

For some years Jack taught as an adjunct teacher at the Boston University School of Social Work and led supervision groups for other therapists in Falmouth and in Boston. He also wrote and published a number of articles related to his work. He felt his capacity to grow and serve deepened as he took the time to conceptualize and write.

Politics mattered throughout Jack's life. He took seriously the way national policies effect individuals as well as other countries. Whether protesting the McCarthy hearings, the contras, the Gulf and Iraq wars, or the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Jack spoke out, organized, and marched in community with others for the whole of his life. A favorite poster quoting Cuban revolutionary Che Guevera was displayed in his offices for over forty years, "Let me say at the risk of seeming ridiculous that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love."

Jack deeply valued long-time friends and the Vineyard community. His second home was the West Tisbury library. Art, music, and movies were other abiding pleasures. He was cheered by the recent efforts to bring back the classics and the film festival. Jack enjoyed the verbal give and take of Tisbury town meetings and all aspects of small-town life. He chaired the Tisbury affordable housing committee for several years and was instrumental in launching the Lake Street housing complex. His interest in politics beyond the Vineyard continued with his support of the peace council.

Parkinson's Disease hit hard and fast. Jack was deeply grateful for all the support and care he received from Emily Weatherall, outreach nurse and leader of the Parkinson's Support Group; the emergency room staff, the Tisbury police and EMTs, who were always there whenever he needed them; Dr. Peter Laursen, the Visiting Nurse Service, the Wellness Center, especially speech therapist Linda Riley, and the volunteers and staff of Hospice.

He enjoyed attending the sit-down yoga class led by Kanta Lipsky, and would never miss the acupuncture treatments provided by Marjorie Lau, as he felt they allowed him to be more lovable and cheerful. He was most appreciative of his caregivers, Wagner Bastos and Ann Sylvester. He received his final care at Boston Medical Center and the Braintree Rehabilitation Facility.

Jack leaves a legacy of commitment to social action to his family and all those whose lives he touched, whether through friendships, teaching, clinical practice or community involvement. He is survived by his wife, Jean Hay; his daughters Sara Sternbach, Mary Tiulescu, Jenny Brody, Amy Senninger, and Jeanie Hay-Sternbach, and his son, Daniel Sternbach; his grandchildren Sarah, Anna, and Daniel Brody; his sons in law, Peter Brody, Manole Tiulescu, and Mark Senninger; his brother and sister in law, David and Sally Sternbach; his nephew, Joel Sternbach; and his cousin Racille Mason and her sons Barry and Jeffrey.

Jack's memorial service will be held March 13 at the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center at 10:30 am. A reception will follow. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Hospice of Martha's Vineyard, P.O. Box 2549, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557, the West Tisbury Library, P.O. Box 190, West Tisbury, MA 02575, the Island Affordable Housing Fund, P.O. Box 4769, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568, or Plowshares.