On Sunday, November 17, the Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center at the University of Texas at Dallas was lit up and filled with nearly 300 people for the first Ackerman Center Leadership Dinner honoring Distinguished Scholar in Residence and former provost Dr. Hobson Wildenthal.
In addition to his leadership in developing the University’s curriculum, he became a dedicated force in the creation of the Ackerman Center and “its commitment to promoting the education and increased awareness of the Holocaust and related human rights issues.”
It was an impressive crowd including UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken, the children of the late Helma and Edward Ackerman (Paula Menendez, David Ackerman, Samantha Asch and Eddie Ackerman), Hobson’s family (wife Adele Wildenthal, brother Kern Wildenthal with wife Marnie Wildenthal, children and grandchildren), Dinner Host John Massey, Dallas City Council person Cara Mendelsohn, Dallas Holocaust And Human Rights Museum President/CEO Mary Pat Higgins, Hill Feinberg, Phyllis and Ron Steinhart, Patty and James Huffines, Rabbi Nancy Kasten and Rabbi David Stern, Joyce and Selwyn “Selly” Belofsky and Holocaust survivor and the Leah and Paul Lewis Chair of UTD Holocaust Studies Dr. Zsuzsanna Ozsváth, who had worked with Hobson since 1986 to “bolster the Holocaust Studies Program.
As the doors opened, a choir sang attracting guests into the ballroom to their table assignments. At 6:15 p.m. Interim Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities/Director of the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies Dr. Nils Roemer welcomed guests, saying that in addition to honoring Hobson, the occasion also provided the opportunity to learn and support the Ackerman Center.
UTD President Richard Benson read a proclamation from Gov. Greg Abbott honoring Hobson and announced the creation of the Elizabeth S. and John Massey endowment.
He was followed by Milliken, who described the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies as “one of the crown jewels in the UT System. It is one of only two places in the U.S. where you can take graduate-level courses in Holocaust studies and is a source of great pride for me and everyone associated with the UT System.”
Following dinner, Eddie Ackerman was joined on stage with his siblings to present the award to Hobson. Eddie summed up the feeling of the night by saying that without Hobson, the Center would not have been what it is today. This statement was supported by a video featuring Dr. Inga Musselman, Burton Einspruch, Richard Benson, Zsuzsanna and Dr. Debbie Pfister, who extolled Hobson’s role in the establishment of the Center.
In accepting the award, Hobson claimed that “I feel I should have been paying tuition all these years.”
He then recognized others who had been so important in the success of the Ackerman Center.
Regarding Edward Ackerman, Hobson regretted that his time with Ackerman had been too brief. “However, I do treasure the hours that we spent together… He was an enlightened and sophisticated American patriot, who felt deeply about our history and our traditions.”
He then shown the spotlight on Zsuzsanna Ozsváth, Burton Einspruch, the Lewis Barnett family, Selwin Belofsky and John Massey for their leadership.
While his comments were brief, he admitted that he was humbled and a little embarrassed by the award, saying he was lucky enough to have been a follower of Zsuzsanna — “The education I receive from Zsuzsanna and the great intellectuals who visited UT Dallas for the Burton C. Einspruch Lecture Series has been of immense personal value to me. I feel I should have been paying tuition all these years instead of being honored.”
Stressing the importance of the Ackerman Center’s work, he said, “We will never completely understand how this (the Holocaust) happened, but it is essential, crucial today to continue. This is why the Ackerman Center and its programs are fundamentally necessary for a complete education and why such education is so crucial to society today and tomorrow. I am very proud that UT Dallas features the educational programs provided by the Ackerman Center. Moving forward it remains vitally important that these programs continue and are still further enhanced. The support of our enlightened and dedicated community is a key to that continued support and expansion, and there is still much to be done.
Thanks to the evening being underwritten by Neuberger Berman plus a $250,000 matching challenge by the Edward and Wilhelmina Ackerman Foundation, nearly $1.1M resulting from the evening’s fundraiser would elevate the Hillel A. Feinberg Chair in Holocaust studies (currently held by Dr. David Patterson) to a Distinguished Chair, in addition to year-round activities of the center including graduate student research and public outreach activities.