Rhoda Eisman Dersh
Rhoda Eisman Dersh, prominent Berks County civic leader, founder and longtime President and CEO of the Reading educational landmark Pace Institute, businesswoman, philanthropist and artist, passed away on the morning of February 1st in Boca Raton, Florida, at the age of 81, surrounded by her family.
She is survived by her husband of 59 years, Jerome Dersh, M.D., retired Reading ophthalmologist, two adult children, Debra and Jeff Dersh, and her grandson, Jeremy.
Mrs. Dersh was born in Philadelphia in 1934, the daughter of Kay and Maurice Eisman.
She was accomplished from an early stage in her life, earning a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania in 1955, a M.A. in International Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 1956 and an M.B.A. from Manhattan College in 1980.
Her early professional activities were varied, ranging from serving as an interpreter for the Consul of Chile, to staff or faculty positions at Albright College, Mount Holyoke College and Amherst College.
She settled in the Berks County area in 1960 when her husband joined an area ophthalmology practice, beginning a lifelong endeavor as perhaps the first local woman civic leader.
She was a founding member of several important organizations including The World Affairs Council of Reading and Berks County, the Citizens Active for Reading Education (CARE), and the Visiting Homemaker Service.
Mrs. Dersh also took on board and other leadership roles in the United Way, the League of Women Voters, the Berks County and Pennsylvania chambers of commerce, the Family Guidance Center, Leadership Berks and the Pennsylvania State Board of Private Licensed Schools. She was appointed a delegate to the White House Conference on Children and Youth, and was the first woman invited to join the board of the Rotary Club of Reading.
Her interests in education and business became more important over the course of her professional life. Concerned about local educational policies, she wrote a book titled “The School Budget: It’s Your Money, It’s Your Business,” which was adopted as a textbook at several universities. And she established a management training and consulting firm, Professional Practice Management Associates, which specialized in hospital and medical office management and training.
Her work in this area prompted local business leaders to ask for her help with the growing population of workers displaced from downsizing and closing businesses, leading her to establish Pace Institute in 1981, a private licensed career school that grew to offer diplomas, certificates and specialized associate degrees in 29 programs.
She was also recognized as the Entrepreneur of the Year by the Berks County Chamber of Commerce in 1985. She remained president and CEO of Pace Institute until her retirement in 2013.
Other endeavors included a lifelong interest in African art, eventually leading her to establish a collection, some of which has been gifted to the Reading Public Museum and the Boca Raton Museum of Art, and in collaboration with her husband, an important collection of contemporary post-war artwork. She was a longtime supporter of the arts more generally, and an accomplished artist herself, starting as a weaver in the 1970s and more recently creating jewelry pieces that have been exhibited at the Reading Public Museum, the Goggleworks Center for the Arts and the Boca Raton Museum of Art.
Her family is holding private services and asks for any donations in her name to be made to the Reading Public Museum or the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts.
Published in Reading Eagle from Feb. 5 to Feb. 7, 2016
Dersh, Rhoda Eisman [MC1980 RIP]
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