Rudolph Steinberger, 92, chemical company manager and civic leader

Rudolph Steinberger, 92, of Kennett Square, a retired chemical company laboratory manager and a dedicated civic leader, died Thursday, March 2, of renal failure at the Neighborhood Hospice in West Chester.

Starting in 1950, Dr. Steinberger held a succession of managerial jobs in research and development at Hercules Inc. facilities in Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Georgia. His final position before retiring in 1986 was as manager of research and development at the Hercules headquarters in Wilmington.

Early in his career, he focused on chemical-based rocket propellants, while for the last 17 years, he developed polymer fibers for use in Herculon carpet.

“Rudi,” as he was called, believed he was lucky, and in many ways he was. Until 10 days before his death, he was healthy, vigorous, and mentally sharp.

Born in 1924 to Jewish parents in Bad Kissingen, Germany, he and his family were able to escape the Nazi regime. His father, Ludwig, cantor of the Bad Kissingen synagogue, put his two older sons, Herbert and Jack, on the first Kindertransport out of Germany in 1934.

The boys made their way via the humanitarian children’s rescue to Britain. In the mid-1930s, they continued on to Chicago, where the cantor; his wife, Berta, and Dr. Steinberger, then 13, joined them in 1937. 

During World War II, he served with the 117th Naval Construction Battalion. Dr. Steinberger and his Seabees unit were stationed in Hawaii, awaiting deployment to the Mariana Islands, when he was returned to the mainland as a suspected alien because proof of his naturalization as an American citizen had not reached the Navy. 

Dr. Steinberger enrolled in the Naval Hospital School in San Diego to train as a medic. Afterward, he scored high on the tests and thus was one of the first to select his assignment. He chose the Brooklyn Naval Hospital, where he spent 1944 to 1946 giving injections to patients and attending Broadway shows, which were free to members of the military.

“He was delighted,” said his daughter, Elizabeth. “That’s one of his favorite good-luck stories. Instead of serving in the Marianas, he was able to inject patients and watch Broadway shows for free.”

After the war, Dr. Steinberger earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, as well as a master’s degree and a doctorate in physical organic chemistry, all from the University of Chicago.

In 1949, he married Geneva Gaus, whom he met when she, too, was a chemistry major at Chicago. The couple moved around a lot for his job at Hercules. From 1964 to 1973, and again from 1981 to the present, the couple lived in Kennett Square. They had three children.

During his retirement years, Dr. Steinberger took on numerous  civic projects. In the early 1990s, he chaired the Kennett Area Park Authority and was instrumental in the creation of Anson B. Nixon Park on 106 acres extending from the Borough of Kennett Square into Kennett Township. 

He was active in the Kennett Area Democrats and wrote a monthly political column, “On the Other Hand,” for the weekly Kennett Paper from 1992 to 2009. 

Dr. Steinberger served on the boards of the Kennett Square Planning Commission and the Kennett Square Historical Commission.  In addition, he tutored adults in English as a second language at the Kennett library and was a judge of elections.

“He was a wonderfully caring man, with intense community spirit and a fantastic, ever-present sense of humor,” his family said. 

Besides his daughter, he is survived by sons Michael and Andrew; two grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; a brother, Jack, the Nobel laureate in physics in 1988; and a friend, Anjin Ensher. Dr. Steinberger’s wife died in 2004.

Dr. Steinberger's body was cremated. There will be a memorial service at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 10, at the Steinberger home in Kennett Square. His ashes will be interred in the family plot in Memorial Park Cemetery, Skokie, Ill.

Memorial contributions may be made to Anson B. Nixon Park, c/o Kennett Area Park Authority, Box 1121, Kennett Square, Pa. 19348.  Checks should be made out to Kennett Area Park Authority and marked “Rudi Steinberger Memorial Fund.”