CHICAGO – Martyl (MAR-teel) Reinsdorf, spouse of Chicago Bulls and White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, died peacefully Monday afternoon following a long illness and surrounded by family at her home in Paradise Valley, Ariz.
Reinsdorf, 85, was an acclaimed fine arts creator of colorful Cloisonné jewelry who also designed five of the six Bulls NBA Championship rings, was involved with creating the other, and designed the White Sox World Series championship ring in 2005.
Known for her dynamic personality and amazing creativity, Reinsdorf also was appreciated semi-anonymously by children throughout the world as "Grandma Martyl." As "Grandma Martyl," Reinsdorf quietly created and distributed over one million coloring books, crayons, markers and toys to hospitals, orphanages and shelters across the world, including to survivors of Hurricane Katrina, residents of Ronald McDonald Houses, patients at Lurie Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago and Phoenix Children's Hospital and young vision-impaired patients at The Spectrios Institute for Low Vision (formerly Deicke Eye Center), to mention only a few of the many institutions that received her care packages.
The customized books and art packets originated in 1999 from coloring pages designed by Reinsdorf initially for her grandchildren.
"The very first coloring book I did was when my granddaughter, Jenny, called and asked me to design a coloring book for her," Martyl explained several years ago. "After a few weeks all her cousins and friends and my other grandchildren asked for more coloring books. They all loved the books so much I decided to find other children who also might enjoy the books. I decided if I could make a few sick children in the hospital happy, it would be a worthwhile way to share the books I was designing."
"My mother had such a heart for children," said Michael Reinsdorf. "The joy she brought through her coloring books made me so proud to be her son. As a father, I loved seeing her being such an involved grandmother with my children. They had so many shared interests and spent time together developing computer programs, creating costumes and starting her coloring book program. These are memories that we all treasure as a family."
"My mother lived life to the fullest," said Susan Reinsdorf. "A devoted artist, a big heart, a big personality, a strong woman, she always fought for the underdog and was so compassionate and thoughtful of others. She was such an influence on me, and as I was growing up, was always accepting of me and my friends, as if everyone was always part of the family."
"When others doubted me, my mother recognized and nurtured the potential she saw in me," said Jonathan Reinsdorf. "She was unyielding in her convictions and driven to help people in need. I hope to pass the torch of this legacy to my children. I only wish my children had been born earlier so that they would have spent more time with her, but they still loved her very much."
"She was so very selfless and such a good role model to have in my life," granddaughter Jennifer Reinsdorf said.
"Her coloring books and care packages impacted more children in more ways than she ever knew," said Nancy Reinsdorf, wife of Martyl's son, Michael. "Those of us who had the privilege of helping to distribute the books in Chicago and Phoenix saw the smiles that her work put on children's faces. We would share those stories with her and knowing the impact of those gifts drove her to continue her outreach. Martyl's creativity and generosity touched the lives of so many."
Reinsdorf and her husband were generous supporters of many charities in Chicago, Phoenix, Israel and across the world. She received the 2004 Clarence Troyer Volunteer of the Year Award, and she was recognized in 2011 by American Friends of Hebrew University with the Torch of Learning Award.
"I've often said that everyone's goal in this world should be to make this a better place to live," said longtime friend and Major League Baseball Commissioner Emeritus, Alan H. "Bud" Selig. "More importantly, it is to help people who in a lot of cases, can't help themselves. Martyl Reinsdorf did that brilliantly. She's a person you could say unequivocally made the world a better place to live."
"Martyl will be dearly missed by so many she touched," said Dr. Tracy Williams, executive director of The Spectrios Institute for Low Vision. "She was inspired by her own mother, who recorded audiobooks for the blind, and her own sister, who was vision impaired. Martyl's coloring books were amazing on so many levels. They told a story, were educational and infused art into these children's lives. She transformed her books to be more accessible to patients with vision loss and always wanted children to have a gift to hold. Each month for decades, we would send her thank you letters from teachers, parents and students, all of whom shared the positive impact Martyl's coloring books had on their lives."
Born in Denver, Colo., on March 4, 1936, she was the daughter of Milton and Vivette (Ravel) Rifkin. The family moved to Chicago in 1944 where Reinsdorf attended Sutherland Elementary School and Morgan Park High School before majoring in Japanese and Chinese History at George Washington University where she met and married Jerry Reinsdorf in 1956. She worked for the Defense Department at the Pentagon while in Washington, D.C., and then for the Department of Agriculture once the couple moved to Chicago. A renowned baker, Reinsdorf also enjoyed a life-long love of dogs.
Reinsdorf had four children, daughter Susan, sons David (deceased), Michael (Nancy) and Jonathan (Holly), and nine grandchildren, while leaving a legacy with hundreds of thousands of children around the world who benefitted from the heart-felt gifts of "Grandma Martyl." The Reinsdorfs also want to acknowledge Dora Vazquez and Rhonda Astraus. Both were friends, aides and companions for Martyl, Vazquez for 43 years, and Astraus for over two decades.
Services are private. The family has requested that any donations be directed to The Spectrios Institute for Low Vision at spectrios.org.