Kurt Landsberger, Civic And Environmental Leader, Dies

By on December 20, 2014
Kurt Landsberger was recognized in 2010 by then Mayor Teena Schwartz for his work to save the environment in Verona.

Kurt Landsberger was recognized in 2010 by then Mayor Teena Schwartz for his work to save the environment in Verona.

Kurt Landsberger, who spent decades working for countless civic and environmental projects in Verona and beyond, has passed away. He was 94 and had been living in Florida.

Kurt Landsberger was born in Prague, grew up in Vienna, emigrated to the United States and built two successful businesses. With his first wife, Anny, who passed away in 2010, Landsberger also began building a legacy of service to others.

“Neither my wife nor I were interested in making money for money’s sake,” he told us in 2011. The Landsbergers devoted themselves to saving Verona’s environment, beginning with the so-called First Mountain, where Kip’s Castle sits, and expanding to Second Mountain, better known as the Hilltop, where a massive residential development had been planned. “I expected 80 people to come to the first Hilltop meeting, which was in my basement,” he recalled. “One-hundred-fifty showed up and many had to wait outside.” Both mountains are now largely parklands, and the vegetation at the Hilltop is being returned to what it was more than 100 years ago.

He wrote about those efforts, and many other things that interested him, from the prisoner of war camp where he served as a translator for German prisoners to Verona’s controversial effort to bus students up from Newark in 1967 after the riots there. He wrote about an uncle who was a noted chess player, and later donated the chess tables that have been permanently installed in Verona Park. The Landsbergers funded a memorial to Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews in World War II, by the bridge in Verona Park and a collection of works about the Holocaust at the Verona Public Library.

“Kurt never forgot the lessons he learned from being Jewish in the shadow of the Third Reich,” said Rabbi Aaron Kriegel, who knew Landsberger from Congregation Beth Ahm. “He dedicated much of his fortune to helping the disposed, many he had never met. He helped blacks in the South and in Newark. He funded a chess project in the ghettoes of this country so that the poor and disenfranchised could gain a sense of dignity, the dignity that was robbed from him before the war. He worked to bring children from Newark into the Verona school system, a project that ultimately failed, but for a time was the crowning achievement of the American Dream as expressed in Verona.”

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“Kurt was a tough man who did not like to compromise with what he believed was the moral truth,” Kriegel added. “For that we all respected him.”

In 2010, Landsberger was recognized by then Mayor Teena Schwartz for his work to save Kip’s Castle and limit the development of the Hilltop. “Kurt was a great philanthropist, environmentalist, activist and leader,” she said Friday. “There are so many ways that he’s impacted our Verona community and well beyond. But for me, Kurt was an inspiration and a mentor. It was his article about the Hilltop in The New York Times that engaged the activist in me. His tenacious hold of his ideals and goals and his encouragement to be an advocate in the cause of saving our open space, preserving our environment and political involvement were motivating not just for me, but for many.”

“I feel blessed to have known Kurt,” she added. “I’ll miss him. His memory will always be an inspiration to speak out and work diligently for what is right, and what is just.”

Thanks to the foundation he created with his late first  wife, Landsberger enabled more than 15,000 Essex County schoolchildren to visit the Environmental Center, which was developed under County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo. (Photo courtesy Glenn Frieson).

Thanks to the foundation he created with his late first wife, Landsberger enabled more than 15,000 Essex County schoolchildren to visit the Environmental Center, which was developed under County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo. (Photo courtesy Glenn Frieson).

Landsberger inspired legions of environmentalists. His foundation made it possible for more than 15,000 Essex County schoolchildren to visit the county’s Environmental Center free of charge. “An aggressive community activist, there was no one more committed to and vocal about protecting and preserving the Hilltop tract than Kurt Landsberger,” said Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. “He also understood the importance of supporting educational opportunities for our children and preparing our next generation of environmental stewards. He shared his love of nature by sponsoring scholarships that brought urban school children to our Environmental Center where they could develop the same appreciation and understanding about nature as him.”

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“Kurt always had an eye for the long term and one of his great accomplishments was steering public sentiment and action towards recognizing the value of converting the immense Hilltop hospital grounds back to a green space,” said Geordie Smith, vice president of the non-profit Hilltop Conservancy. “He worked tirelessly with the Save the Mountain committee, both publicly and behind the scenes to ensure that generations to come would have a quiet island to enjoy. His last address in Verona, was an apartment in the Hilltop, looking north towards the new meadow and forests, happy in the knowledge that the Hilltop has been preserved forever.”

There will be graveside services for Landsberger on Monday, December 22 at 1:30 p.m. at the King Solomon Memorial Park in Clifton. There will be a service and reception to greet the family at Congregation Beth Ahm on Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. Landsberger’s official obituary is here.

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