As a young woman, Ida Rapoport rejected several suitors until she met a man who not only allowed her to finish college but also encouraged her to get her master’s degree. Armed with that diploma, she pursued a social work career and eventually became a professor at the University of Minnesota at a time when such a path was rare for women.
She relished her job, though it required her to balance work and family. “She knew what made her tick and made her fulfilled as a person,” said her son Edward, of St. Louis Park.
Rapoport, 98, died Nov. 8 of natural causes at the Sholom East campus in St. Paul.
Ida Geller was born in Ukraine in 1920, shortly before her family fled to avoid the pogroms that had resulted in her uncle’s death. They escaped to Romania and then boarded a boat to the United States, where they joined family members in St. Paul.
Rapoport, the baby of the family, started school early and gained notoriety as a spelling bee champ whose winning streak was broken only by the word “persuade.” After graduating from St. Paul Central High School, her father gave her the sole option of attending secretarial school. A series of government jobs in her 20s led her to move to Des Moines and Chicago.
She was pretty — petite with dark hair and a slight gap in her teeth — and several men hoped to marry her. She turned them down because they wanted her to have children right away instead of continuing her education, her sons said.
She returned to St. Paul to help in her father’s dry goods store. On a sleigh ride one night, she met Leonard Rapoport. The two eventually married, and she received a sewing machine instead of an engagement ring.
Rapoport finished her undergraduate social work degree at the U and then got her master’s degree. She started out working for Ramsey County as a social worker and was eventually offered a teaching position at the U. After she retired, a former student told her about a job at what is now St. Catherine University in St. Paul and she jumped back into academia, where she especially loved teaching field work.
“She always cared so much about people,” said her son Andrew, of St. Paul. “My mother was very accepting. … People didn’t have to be smart, they didn’t have to be talented.”
Rapoport hired a nanny to care for her two sons by day, but cooked for the family each night, Andrew said. She had an active social life, according to friends and family, throwing frequent dinner parties and worked hard at maintaining friendships. She belonged to many organizations, including a social work group, Parents for Integrated Education, the League of Women Voters and several Jewish community groups.
“My mom really didn’t have hobbies, she had activities — and the activities all involved people,” Andrew said.
She also participated in a women’s bridge club that started in the 1950s and lasted for decades. The group was comprised of “people who were interested in people,” and discussed everything from families to politics, said friend Eunice Gelb of St. Paul.
Rapoport was open-minded and sensitive, “the kind of friend you want,” Gelb said. “There’s a real sense of loss.”
Gelb recalled Rapoport’s way with children. “She could actually be friends with your kids as well as you,” Gelb said. “She had that special gift to see them as people.”
Rapoport and her husband enjoyed traveling the world in later years. Her husband died 20 years ago, but Rapoport characteristically maintained her independence. “We didn’t worry about her too much. She took care of herself,” Edward said.
In addition to her sons, Rapoport is survived by four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Services have been held.