In Memoriam – Perry Rosenstein
Perry was born in the Bronx to a Polish émigré family who instilled in him a passion for social justice. He served in World War II, attended college on the GI Bill, and went into business manufacturing screws and fasteners. His success revolutionized the fastener industry and enabled him to create the not-for-profit Puffin Foundation in 1983, of which he was Founder and President.
The foundation’s name came from the collective effort to save the puffin bird from extinction on the coastal islands of Maine. To Rosenstein, the puffin’s survival exemplified the importance of engaged citizens coming together to advocate for change and it became a metaphor for the mission of the foundation: to preserve and grow cultural life, especially “artists and arts organizations that are often excluded from mainstream opportunities due to their race, gender or social philosophy.”
“If there’s no art, there’s no life,” Rosenstein said in a 2010 interview with The Jewish Standard.
Rosenstein was also committed to supporting environmental causes. He founded the Teaneck Creek Conservancy in 2001, dedicated to the reclamation and protection of the environmental, cultural, and historical legacy of the Teaneck Creek watershed, where the Puffin Foundation is headquartered.
In 2012, the foundation established the Puffin Gallery for Social Activism at the Museum of the City of New York, a gallery space dedicated to the history of activism in New York.
The Puffin Foundation is also committed to supporting artistic expression, and through the Puffin Cultural Forum has provided gallery and performance space to bring socially-relevant arts programming to the public.
Perry Rosenstein ran the Puffin Foundation with his wife, Gladys Miller-Rosenstein, and son Neal Rosenstein. Both Gladys and Perry have credited their families with influencing their pursuit of progressive social causes. Many organizations will have fond memories of meeting with them in their conference room in Teaneck and the collaborative spirit that they all brought to their vital, sustaining grantmaking.
Taya Kitman, Executive Director and CEO of Type Media Center, recalls that “Perry believed in the vision of young people and their power to change the status quo. He saw journalism as a way to advance social justice and create a better world. His support transformed our organization and helped further the careers of a cohort of emerging and experienced journalists. He saw dissent as an example of true patriotism and was a life-long champion of activism and the fight for the rights of workers in this country.”
With the support of the Puffin Foundation, Type Media Center has hosted the annual Puffin Prize for Creative Citizenship, a $100,000 award given to an individual who has challenged the status quo through courageous and socially responsible work. Recipients of the Puffin Prize have included Dolores Huerta, Bill McKibben, Amy Goodman, Bryan Stevenson, and Colin Kaepernick.
In recent years, the prize has focused on recognizing the work of young activists, such as the March For Our Lives organizers from Parkland, Florida. The 2019 award went to the Sunrise Movement of youth activists against climate change.
The Puffin Foundation has been a long-time supporter of Type Media Center among other nonprofit media organizations, underwriting fellowships for independent reporters and for in-depth investigative journalism. Puffin-supported Fellows have produced journalism for a wide variety of publications on topics addressing injustice, inequality, and holding power to account. The Puffin Foundation also has a long history of supporting independent publications like Mother Jones, The Nation, and In These Times.
Perry Rosenstein’s legacy is enormous. He will be remembered for his support of an incredible variety of causes, care for his family, advocacy for his community, and passion for collective action that continues in the work of the Puffin Foundation.
We send our deepest condolences to Gladys, Neal, and the entire Rosenstein family.