Nida S. Bernstein, 99, a volunteer and art lover whose Jewish roots extended to the colonial era, died Saturday, May 4, at Sunrise Lafayette Hill. Before moving to Sunrise last year, she lived in West Mount Airy.
Mrs. Bernstein could trace her lineage to two men who fought in the American Revolution, said her son, Todd Whitlock Bernstein. They were Lt. John Whitlock, 43, a father of nine who was killed in February 1777 at the Battle of Navesink Highlands in Monmouth County, N.J., and Philip Moses Russell, a physician who received a commendation from Gen. George Washington for his care of the sick during the 1777-78 winter at Valley Forge.
Russell and another Bernstein ancestor, Moses Nathan, were founding members of Philadelphia’s Congregation Mikveh Israel, according to historical records. Mikveh Israel is among the oldest synagogues in the nation.
Born to Joseph M. and Gladys Sonneborn in Scarsdale, N.Y., Mrs. Bernstein graduated from Scarsdale High School. She spent summers in Atlantic City. In 1941, while visiting her grandmother in Philadelphia, she met Irwin Lawton Bernstein at a B’nai B’rith dance.
Months later, the two happened to meet again on a beach in Atlantic City. They married less than a year later and settled in Philadelphia, where he was a commercial insurance company owner and she was a homemaker.
“She didn’t work outside the home, but she was a firebrand of a volunteer all her life,” her son said.
Mrs. Bernstein was a board member and president of Mikveh Israel’s Sisterhood. She was a member of Germantown Cricket Club for 50 years, her family said. She played and organized round-robin tennis tournaments, ran the bridge program, and was captain of the bridge team. She was also president of the Philadelphia Bridge League.
Known for her energy and drive, “she played tennis until she was 90 and bridge until 95,” her son said.
A lover of the arts, Mrs. Bernstein was treasurer of the Friends of the Barnes Foundation, a group of alumni who had taken the Barnes’s art appreciation classes.
Founded by Albert C. Barnes, a pharmaceutical magnate, the foundation is steward of a world-renowned collection of impressionist, post-impressionist and early modern paintings. In 1964, she studied art appreciation under Barnes education director Violette de Mazia and organized overseas art trips for foundation members. The educational experience changed her life, she told The Inquirer in 1991.
“It opened my eyes to the beauty around me,” she said. “For instance, just this morning, I looked out the window and saw the green leaves and the light coming through them, and I thought it was just like a Cézanne.”
When the Barnes trustees proposed selling off 15 paintings to keep the institution financially afloat, she and the Friends objected, saying the move violated the will of Albert Barnes, who had died in 1951. When another proposal surfaced to move the Barnes to Philadelphia, she and the Friends protested. In 1996, the Friends disbanded.
``It’s a very sad moment,'' Mrs. Bernstein said. The Barnes Foundation reopened in 2012 in a new building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
She and her husband traveled widely, visiting the world’s most renowned museums and many obscure galleries. They became friendly with artists, sculptors, and institutional leaders, her family said.
Mrs. Bernstein’s husband died in 2003. In addition to her son, she is survived by a daughter, Lynn Whitlock Bernstein; three granddaughters; and two great-grandsons.
Services and burial will be private.