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Obituaries
Obituary: Leonard H. Rudolph / Businessman, supporter of Jewish charities

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

By Steve Levin, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Leonard H. Rudolph, a leading figure on the Pittsburgh business, real estate and philanthropic stage for more than a half-century, died Monday at his Squirrel Hill home of complications from an infection.

He was 86.

Mr. Rudolph started in business with little except a knack for selling and a penchant for pursuing deals. Weaned on the art of retail at his parents' Penn Avenue clothing store, he discovered early that the best deals were ones where all the people involved felt they'd won.

During the course of his career he used that philosophy to run clothing stores and bowling alleys, start one of the country's first credit cards, develop dozens of fast-food restaurants, build condominiums and apartments, and refurbish and resell office buildings. He turned his financial successes into gifts for both local Jewish organizations and ones in Israel.

Mr. Rudolph could be a pessimist or an optimist, depending on the situation. He never insisted on being right in business deals, regardless if he was, giving even the most obstreperous the benefit of the doubt. It led to an enviable record of never being taken to court over any of his hundreds of complicated real estate deals.

On the other hand, he left nothing for granted, constantly wondering: "It was good today, but it may be bad tomorrow."

"He wasn't slick; he was just nice," said Jerome Lieber, a Pittsburgh attorney who knew Mr. Rudolph both as a friend and as a business associate for more than 40 years. "He didn't kill you in a business deal.

"You didn't need a contract if Leonard gave you his word. I would require the contract."

A meticulous businessman, Mr. Rudolph kept a list of 15 people at his desk who he knew would each donate at least $1,000 immediately to a local cause if asked. He maintained detailed records to track sales. Once when he needed a last-minute replacement at his state-of-the-art McKnight Lanes bowling alley, he asked his younger son, Bill, and Bill's friend, Ed Kramer, then 16, to run the billiard room.

"He would call every hour on the hour and ask, 'How'd we do? How'd we do?'" Kramer said. "'What did you take in at 9 o'clock? What did you take in at 10 o'clock?'

"Then he'd look at his figures from a year ago for the same day and even the same hour to see how the sales compared."

He was superstitious, too. Although only one of his businesses was ever located on McKnight Road, he insisted that McKnight be part of the name of every future business he started because "it had a lot of luck."

In 1975, while on a trip to Akron to consider buying a bowling center, Mr. Rudolph happened to eat at a Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburger, then just a 6-year-old fast-food enterprise. Impressed by the food and the company, Mr. Rudolph and his sons bought the franchise rights for Western Pennsylvania.

Within little more than a decade, they had opened nearly four dozen outlets in the region, and expanded to Miami and New York City, becoming one of the company's most successful franchisees.

Mr. Rudolph made the first of his some 30 trips to Israel in 1963. He matched his support there with a deep involvement in the Pittsburgh Jewish community.

He served on more than a dozen boards and committees, including president of the United Jewish Federation board from 1980-1982. Early in his term, the Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged had accumulated extensive debt and needed an immediate infusion of cash.

Its leaders met with Mr. Rudolph and the federation board. Before the meeting ended, he had persuaded his board to sign for a $2.5 million loan for the ailing organization, and issue a check for $250,000.

Since then, the home and hospital, today known as the Jewish Association on Aging, has helped thousands of people through its long-term care and residential facilities, hospice service, social and wellness programming, and home-delivered meals.

Another time, he bought a house with his own money on McKee Place next to the federation office and donated it to house Pittsburgh's Holocaust Center. Now ensconced at the Squirrel Hill Jewish Community Center, the facility is known as the Rudolph Family Holocaust Center.

He and his wife of 55 years, Doris, established an annual federation award to acknowledge and inspire local Jewish community professionals. In 1973, he received the federation's Emanuel Spector Memorial Award, its most prestigious recognition.

"I always admired his wisdom and the way he dealt with problems and was able to take advantage of opportunities," said David Shapira, chief executive officer of Giant Eagle, who credits Mr. Rudolph with getting him involved in the federation and other Jewish causes in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Rudolph's sons, James and Bill, followed his footsteps, both serving in leadership positions with not only the federation but numerous other Jewish organizations.

In addition to his wife and sons, he is survived by two sisters, Leora Stern and Florence Alpern, both of West Palm Beach, Fla.; a sister-in-law, Muriel Rudolph, of Miami; a daughter, Wendy Bush, of Washington, D.C.; and 15 grandchildren.

Services were yesterday. Burial was in Homewood Cemetery.


Steve Levin can be reached at slevin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1919.

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