On April 30th, 2000, the Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life was renamed in honor of Leonard E. Greenberg, a 1948 graduate of Trinity College, business leader, and philanthropist with a passionate commitment to religion and politics.
Mr. Greenberg originally provided the seed money that established the Center in 1996, and his gifts which have endowed the Center will eventually total $3.5 million. Mr. Greenberg’s generosity has established the Center permanently at Trinity and coincides with the reappointment of Mark Silk as the Center’s director for a 2nd five year term beginning in July 2001.
About 80 people attended the renaming ceremony at the Greenberg Center on Vernon Street, which Trinity President Evan Dobelle extolled as “a vital and vibrant intellectual force” that offers “Trinity students and faculty wonderful opportunities to explore the impact of religion in the public realm.” Dobelle praised Mr. Greenberg for his continued support of the Center and confirmed the dedication saying, “It, therefore, brings me great pleasure tonight to celebrate the renaming of the Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life in Leonard’s honor. In appreciation and recognition of all he has done, it shall henceforth be known as the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.”
Dobelle’s introductory remarks were followed by a keynote address presented by the Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. The Rev. Dr. Edgar spoke on “The Church and Public Policy Today.”
Mr. Greenberg closed the festivities, thanking both Evan Dobelle and Mark Silk for the development and growth of the Center within the Trinity community while further encouraging the Center’s mission regarding religion and politics. Mr. Greenberg said, “We as a country must find ways to manage the deep and growing divide over the proper role of religion in our society, and especially in politics.” In concluding his remarks Mr. Greenberg said, “I would hope with all my heart that as this Center continues to flourish as a light unto this nation, that it shall continue to bring into focus those constitutional principles that have served this nation well.”
A native of Hartford, Leonard E. Greenberg originally prepared himself for a business career at Weaver High School during the 1940s. But the summer after his graduation, he decided to apply to Trinity College, where Dean Thurman Hood admitted him on a provisional basis. In just two-and-a-half years, Mr. Greenberg earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and Phi Beta Kappa honors. He distinguished himself by participating on the student newspaper and in the Glee Club. With three other students, he established the College’s first Hillel and persuaded the College to allow Jewish students to fulfill the chapel requirement by attending synagogue for Sabbath services.
After graduation in 1948, Mr. Greenberg joined the family business, the Connecticut Leather Company, which remade itself into Coleco Industries in 1961. Under the leadership of Mr. Greenberg and his brother Arnold, Coleco became the third largest toy maker in the country.
In the midst of his business career, Mr. Greenberg remained intensely interested in religion. He earned a M.S. in the philosophy of religion at the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York in 1978. He also helped found the Beth El Temple in West Hartford, and has served as a presidential appointee to the U.S. Holocaust Museum council, on the board of the Jewish Museum in New York City, and as a governor on the American Jewish Committee.
Mr. Greenberg also devoted time to Trinity, serving on its Board of Trustees for almost 20 years. In 1998, on the 50th anniversary of his graduation, Trinity awarded him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. College President Evan Dobelle praised him remarking, “Leonard is a testament to everything that Trinity strives for in its graduates. He is passionate. He is committed to the life of his community, his College, and the improvement of the world. Most importantly, he has never lost his enthusiasm for learning or his belief that he can make a difference.”
Mr. Greenberg says his decision to endow the Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life reflects his commitment to its mission—the nonsectarian and nonpartisan examination of the influence religion has on politics, culture, the news media, and other essential aspects of public life. As a longtime Republican activist, Mr. Greenberg has been worried about threats to the separation of church and state that he sees coming from GOP members identified with the religious right. “My concern stems from the fact that we Jews are a minority in this country—which has been very good to us thanks to its tradition of religious pluralism,” Greenberg says. “One of the reasons I’m active in Republican politics is to see that that party respects that tradition.”