Natalie Goldstein Heineman, a pioneering national champion for children’s welfare and respected community and national leader, changed the lives of thousands of children through her innovative and thoughtful leadership. She considered every child a precious being who deserved every opportunity to fully realize his or her potential.
Trained as a social worker, she used her professional and personal skills to become an effective advocate for social services for children and youth. She became an early expert on adoption and foster care issues and devoted her life to understanding and addressing the needs of the most vulnerable.
Natalie Goldstein was born on March 16, 1913, on the south side of Chicago. She excelled as a student at Hyde Park High School (where she was valedictorian of her class) and at the University of Chicago where she graduated with a degree in Social Service Administration in l933. After graduation, she worked as a social worker for the city of Chicago, often climbing tenement stairs during the Depression to help local families in need; later she worked as a medical social worker for Children’s Memorial Hospital.
As she practiced her profession, her compassion for children grew as did her anger at the devastating effect of poverty and social injustice on young lives. She became a leader in the civic community and a voice for children at every level of government.
She met her future husband Ben Heineman, then of Wausau, Wisconsin, on a blind date when she was age 17 and he 16; they married on April 17, 1935. The couple lived and raised their two children in the University of Chicago Hyde Park-Kenwood neighborhood.
Each played an important role in the life of the university community. She did so as an active alumna, shaping the teaching of social work policy and practice; he as a trustee of the university.
Natalie Heineman played a key role in many local and national civic and charitable organizations involved in family services. In 1960, she was elected to the national board of the Washington-based Child Welfare League of America and later served as its president. Upon her retirement in 1986, the League honored her outstanding volunteer work by establishing the Natalie Heineman Distinguished Service to Children Award.
In 1966, after many years on the “Board of Lady Managers” of the Chicago Child Care Society, she was the first woman to become president. She guided the Society, the oldest existing child welfare agency in Illinois, through a major reorganization and was recognized on its 150th anniversary for her “extraordinary leadership.” She was also one of the first women to serve on the national board of the United Way of America.
In every organization in which she was involved, she was recognized not only for her effective leadership but for her independence, intellect, hard work and kind heart.
Even after the Heinemans moved to the north side of Chicago in the late 1970s, they continued their long relationship with the University of Chicago. She was a founding member of the board of the newly created Chapin Hall Center for Child Welfare Policy at the University and helped share its national and international mission. The Heinemans’ remarkable long marriage was a public and private partnership which provided leadership in public policy and the arts.
They were married for nearly 75 years. Her husband, Ben W. Heineman Sr., was an influential business, civic, and public policy leader. Together they supported many educational, civic and arts organizations, including the University of Chicago, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Over the past 25 years, they also played a significant role in the international studio glass movement. In 2006, they donated their renowned collection to the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY. The entire collection of 240 objects by 87 international artists is currently on exhibition there at the Ben W. Heineman Sr. Family Gallery of Contemporary Glass and is the subject of a book, Voices of Contemporary Glass: The Heineman Collection (2009).
In an age when women were often only a reflection of their husbands’ civic leadership, Natalie Heineman played an independent role as an insistent voice advancing child welfare. She was repeatedly honored for her vision and leadership. When the Child Welfare League of America announced its national service award in her honor, the citation read: “Natalie G. Heineman has touched thousands of children, with over 30 years of daily and true commitment to organizations concerned with children and child welfare.” It noted that her volunteer work “encompasses, simply, whatever needs to be done, whether that be policy making, public and private advocacy, administration or fund raising” and that her “personal commitment has brought great benefit to the causes she embraces.”
She received the Friend of Children Award from the Child Care Association of Illinois in 1980. The group recognized her as a “friend of children in need of attention and love, and an informed and persistent advocate…. You have never lost sight of the needs of a particular child as you have moved steadfastly to open ways to improve the lives of all children.”
Natalie Heineman was an intrepid family photographer and outdoor enthusiast, spending more than 40 summers in rural Wisconsin and sailing the Great Lakes with her husband.
She is survived by a daughter and son, six grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. They remember her as someone who always had time to listen to their stories, encourage their dreams, and join in their laughter.
She died in Chicago on February 28, 2010. On October 16, 2010, the new Natalie G. Heineman Smart Love Preschool was dedicated to the memory of her life and her love and understanding of children.