...And So He Created Grandparents

By ARLENE FINE
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: Friday, May 8, 2009 1:10 AM EDT

 

 

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After their daughter Marci Kornblult was murdered, Joan and Taub Kornblut took custody of Marci’s daughters Catie, left, and Ali Kornblut.

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Ali enjoys attending Friendship Circle activities for the social interaction, creative programming and holiday events.

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Catie enjoys attending Friendship Circle activities for the social interaction, creative programming and holiday events.



 

When Ronnie Kornblut died of an inoperable brain tumor in 1997, Joan and Taub Kornblut mourned the tragic loss of their 31-year-old son but were determined to carry on. Then in 2006 the Kornbluts suffered another devastating blow. Their daughter, 31-year-old Marci Kornblut, was viciously bludgeoned to death at the hands of her abusive husband.

This time the Kornbluts barely had time to mourn.

Within 24 hours of Marci’s murder, the couple was appointed legal guardians of Marci’s two young daughters, Catie, then 18 months, and Ali, then 3-1/2.

Overnight the empty nesters had a full house; Ali moved into her mother’s old bedroom, and Catie’s crib was put in Ronnie’s room. “Although we have four other children, they have their own families and responsibilities,” says Taub, 75. “There was no question that the girls would be with us.”

Whenever someone asked the couple how could they care for Marci’s daughters at their age, they responded, “How could we not?” says Joan, 68.

 

“Along with being the primary caregivers of two active youngsters, the Kornbluts had extra challenges. When Catie and Ali first arrived at their home, neither child could speak. Both girls have disabilities that fall in the autism spectrum. Ali is moderately autistic, and Catie has pervasive development disorder (PDD), which doctors hope she will outgrow one day.

But from the day the girls moved in, there has been no pity party going on in the Kornblut’s cozy South Euclid home – despite the tumult and occasional meltdown. Thanks to the couple’s love and patience, both children have blossomed over time and can now speak well enough to communicate their needs.

“The girls are happy, healthy and affectionate,” marvels Joan. “Catie is so full of life that when she gets up in the morning, it sounds like she is chirping, and Ali is always smiling and busy.”

The Kornbluts credit the Monarch School for Children and Adolescents with Autism and The Friendship Circle for providing much of their grandchildren’s social, educational, physical and emotional needs.

“Monarch is a blessing,” says Joan. “The staff is unbelievably patient, kind and dedicated, and The Friendship Circle has been a pure gift. Teen volunteers and staff give the girls a chance to play with a nice group of children, and they feel part of wonderful, connected, supportive community. We bring the girls to their activities all year round.”

Friendship Circle helps Jean and Taub navigate the social service network. The couple relies on their team of social workers to access county, state and federal programs to secure extra services and funds for their grandchildren. Friendship Circle social workers are also helping them plan for the girls’ future.

During the Kornbluts’ “free time,” they provide extra enrichment for Ali and Catie. “These girls have so much energy, we have to keep them busy,” says Joan. The family piles into their large Ford van (“This was supposed to be my Audi,” quips Taub) and shleps to speech therapists twice a week; music therapy classes; horseback riding sessions; the JCC; and The Friendship Circle.

“Somehow we always manage to get the girls where they are supposed to be,” says Taub, who was in the wholesale building supply business for 40 years. The family also depends on the assistance of a part-time nanny to help out during the day.

But providing so much for the girls carries a hefty price tag. Half-day tuition at Monarch School for Catie is $26,000, and full-day for Ali is $68,000 annually. Because Marci was a history teacher at Brush High School, the girls get her retirement benefits, life insurance money, and Social Security payments. After the tragedy, Marci’s colleagues and students at Brush set up a special education fund for Ali and Catie.

“We always expected our daughter to take care of us in our old age; instead we are taking care of her children,” sighs Joan. “Sometimes I look skyward and say, ‘Help.’ But as long as we are in good health, we will do everything we can for these girls.”

Joan had “the nerve to have a gallbladder operation last year and left me in charge of the girls for two weeks,” laughs Taub. “Actually the girls keep us young. Although it is hard to find time for ourselves to go to a movie or on a vacation, these girls know this is their home and that we are the one constant in their lives.”

To keep Marci’s memory alive, the Kornbluts have placed her pictures throughout the house. “Ali may have a memory of her mother, but Catie was too young when Marci died,” says Joan. “These pictures of Marci are a tangible reminder of their beautiful mother, who like us, loved them so very much.”

The Kornbluts, members of The Temple-Tifereth Israel, have also made sure their daughter did not die in vain. Each year since her death they have sponsored “March 4 Marci” to raise money for the Domestic Violence Center. The funds provide domestic violence seminars at area high schools to help students recognize the warning signs of abusive relationships. “So many of the students have been helped from these seminars,” says Joan. “Because of their raised awareness, we feel that Marci is still teaching students lessons.”

The Kornbluts also established a scholarship fund at Brush for high-school girls interested in teaching history.

And every year since their son’s death, the couple holds a golf outing in his memory to raise money for the Ireland Cancer Center music therapy department. To date they have raised $200,000.

“It is so important to give back to the community,” explains Joan. “No matter how busy we are, we find the time for community service.” That also includes Joan’s recent role in helping to build a handicapped-accessible playground in South Euclid.

Reflecting on what brought them to this point in their lives, Taub says he cannot allow himself to be bitter. “I won’t let the past destroy me,” he insists. “We have to think only of the present and of taking care of Marci’s daughters the best way we can.”

For their “triumph of hope, generosity and sacrifice over extreme hardship,” the Kornbluts are being honored by The Friendship Circle’s “Be a Hero” event on Sun., May 31.

“The Kornbluts provide strength and moral guidance to us all,” says Rabbi Yossi Marozov, The Friendship Circle director. “Despite the enormous tragedies they have suffered, I have never heard Joan or Taub complain. They have responded to their personal losses by compassionately caring for their two granddaughters and reaching out to help others. They exemplify the best of Jewish values.”

afine@cjn.org

WHAT: March 4 Marci: March to end domestic violence
WHEN: Sat., May 16; 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
WHERE: Brush High School Track, Korb Field
CONTACT: Lizzie at 216-688-7229
WHAT: The Friendship Circle “Be a Hero” event
WHEN: Sun., May 31; 5:30 p.m.
WHERE: Executive Caterers Landerhaven
CONTACT: 216-381-1770, ext. 103