President's Message

Jessica Kronstadt
WLALA President 2020-2021

July 2021

On Sunday July 4, the United States celebrated Independence Day, the 245th anniversary of its founding and freedom. This year, we saw a renewal of many family and public celebrations that had been curtailed for more than a year.  Peter Marshall once said:  “May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.”  For me, July is also a commemoration and celebration of my paternal grandfather, Arnold Kronstadt, to whose memory I dedicated my WLALA presidency. He was born in Brooklyn, New York on July 28, 1919.  He dedicated his life to doing what was right. 

At his memorial service, my dad wrote the following about my grandfather:  “My father was a unique man.  He loved tools.  He loved beautiful women.  He loved FDR.  He loved Jackie Robinson.  He loved to dance.  He loved the outdoors.  He loved his Jeepster.  And, he loved his family.”  Grandpa Arnie attended and graduated from James Madison High School – like the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  The oldest of four children, he helped his family during the Depression by delivering newspapers.  He grew up with no resources and faced extraordinary Antisemitism.  Still, through hard work and perseverance, he started college at City College of New York.  After he and my dad’s mother Ruth Braunstein – who died when my dad was nine – got married, they moved to Washington, D.C.  In Washington, my grandfather received his bachelor’s degree at George Washington University.

Grandpa Arnie was a self-reliant person who could imagine anything and do it.  When he wanted to carry my aunt Janet on a hike when she was a toddler, he designed and built a child carrier that lasted decades.  He built a go-cart for my dad and his sisters.  My grandpa gave me my first set of tools – real ones.  I still have them.  I cherish them.  Just as my grandpa did for me, my dad gave my daughter Catherine her first set of real tools.  The perfect and symbolic cross-generational gift.

Grandpa Arnie understood the essence of how things worked.  He took on and excelled at every challenge.  When it was time for him to think about going to college – the first person in his family to do so – he did it.  When my dad’s mother died, my grandpa imagined what was necessary to be a single parent with three children in the 1960s.  Then, he did that.  He became the President of the Washington Chapter of Parents Without Partners and remained the cornerstone of his children’s, and later his grandchildren’s lives.

Grandpa Arnie imagined a career in engineering and architecture, and – despite the bigotry and Antisemitism he faced – he accomplished it.  He worked in engineering at the Naval Gun Factory during World War II.  He then became principal architect and engineer for Carl M. Freeman, helping him in the design and development of apartments and single-family houses throughout the Washington area. Later on, he and a colleague founded the Collins & Kronstadt architectural firm, which for over 40 years, produced a long series of award-winning projects, including the Montgomery County courthouse in Maryland.  Notwithstanding all of the success he had in his career, Grandpa Arnie never forgot the Depression.  His Depression background formed who he was.  He took such pride in and derived great pleasure from his public service work.  He took a particular interest in designing low-income housing developments, which were innovative and provided housing for those who otherwise would have been homeless.  My grandpa would go on to serve on the Montgomery County Low and Middle Income Housing Commission and the Maryland State Planning Commission.

My dad instilled in me a love of sports.  My love for the Dodgers came from my grandpa – who loved the Brooklyn Dodgers and even though he hated them for moving to Los Angeles, still rooted for them because he knew it made my brother and me happy.  Grandpa Arnie loved Jackie Robinson.  Jackie Robinson and I were born on the same day (January 31).  I have always considered him and Pee Wee Reese role models. After watching and hearing Cincinnati Reds fans spew bigotry and hatred toward Jackie Robinson during a game in Cincinnati, Pee Wee Reese he walked from shortstop to first base and put an arm around the shoulders of Jackie Robinson.  He stood there and looked into the dugout and into the stands, stared into the torrents of hate and put his arm around Jackie Robinson.  Later, Jackie Robinson said: “After Pee Wee came over like that, I never felt alone on a baseball field.”  My daughter Caroline’s middle name is Reese, which is a tribute both to Pee Wee Reese and the relationship he had with Jackie Robinson and to my Grandpa Arnie, who loved them both. I hope that she and Catherine – whose middle name is Ruth after my dad’s mother – aspire always to take the opportunity to do the right thing just like Grandpa Arnie, Grandma Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese.

What I remember most about my Grandpa Arnie is how much he loved his family.  He was fiercely proud of the achievements of all of his family members.  My grandpa was an amazing athlete, an avid outdoorsman who rode his bike on many trails all over the country.  His brother Bernie was a swimming champion in New York at a time when Jews were not welcome on swimming or water polo teams.  During a scrimmage, Bernie led his team to a victory over the then United States Olympic team, which had an unwritten and discriminating prohibition of Jews.  My grandpa hated bigotry and proudly told us about Bernie’s success.  For my grandpa, this was a demonstration of good triumphing over evil.  Grandpa Arnie cherished all of his grandchildren and the strong relationship he had with each of us left us with a lifetime of memories. 

Grandpa Arnie shook hands with two United States presidents, worked closely with three governors of Maryland, lectured at universities and earned several awards in his lifetime.  Still, wherever he went, he knew and cared about the people who worked there.  They were friends because they respected each other and each other’s work.  

Richard Rogers said: “My passion and great enjoyment for architecture, and the reason the older I get the more I enjoy it, is because I believe we – architects – can affect the quality of life of the people.”  My grandpa touched many lives.  I look to the lessons I learned from my Grandpa Arnie – to take the opportunity to do what is right and to endeavor to improve the quality of life for other people.  Thank you, Grandpa.  As I go forward and strive to #LikeLikeAGirl in a way that would make you proud, there will always be a space in my heart where you can ride with me.