Published On: Sat, Jul 14th, 2012

100 Birthday Celebration for Countess de Hoernle

By Dale M. King

BOCA RATON – Henrietta, Countess de Hoernle doesn’t have the attitude of a philanthropic icon.  Nor does she make an issue about the millions she has donated or the 50-plus buildings that bear her name or that of her late husband, Count Adolph de Hoernle.

And she’d rather play bridge than about her upcoming 100th birthday.  “I hope I make it,” she joked in her typically jovial manner.

But the community in general, and the organization that gave her and her husband their titles, have joined together to celebrate the Countess, her legacy of giving and her longtime support of Boca Raton. The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller Commandery of Florida invites the community to join together to honor the Countess in several ways on her 100th Birthday, Monday, Sept. 24.  Festivities include a formal gala presented by the Order of St. John to benefit local charities, a communitywide “Red, White & Boca-Blue” Countess Appreciation Day and the presentation of what is planned to be a record-breaking birthday card.

Managing her charitable work from home since 1981 without a staff, and often working into the early morning hours, the Countess de Hoernle has given away more than $40 million of her personal funds to local Boca Raton charities while serving on 16 boards each year for more than 30 different charities in her lifetime.  Serving as an inspiring role model of philanthropy with wisdom and grace, there are more than 40 buildings named in her honor in Boca Raton alone out of the more than 50 in Palm Beach County and New York.

“I feel that people who have money should give to the ones who can’t help themselves,” she told the Boca Raton Tribune in a telephone interview.

Even as she approaches the century mark, the Countess is still giving.  She said she recently donated to a project at St. Andrew’s North, adjacent to her home, where a meeting center for veterans is being built.  “They wanted to put in a few benches,” she said in a strong, decisive voice. “That wasn’t sufficient.  So I gave them money to put a canopy over it to protect the veterans from the sun” and other amenities so make meetings more comfortable.

The three-times-married Countess said the facility will be named for her second husband, Jeff Gass, a veteran himself who served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was later put in charge of all the documents for the Nuremburg trial.  He died from the after-effects of malaria related to his service in the South Pacific.

She said she knew the Count “as a friend,” having met at a social club in New York.  But when her second husband took sick and was expected to die, “I had to get up and get going and he [Count] sort of supervised the children while I was gone.  That brought us closer together.”  She has two daughters and nine grandchildren; the Count had no children when they married.

The Countess recalled that she and Count de Hoernle both arrived in the United States within a few years of each other. Born Henrietta Rach in Karlsruhe, Germany, she immigrated to the U.S. at age 18 aboard the S.S. Pennland in 1931 to live with her grandparents in Jackson Heights in Queens, NY and became an “American by choice” – a point she stresses. After being twice widowed, she married engineer and entrepreneur Adolph, Count de Hoernle (who immigrated to the U.S. in 1926) in 1950.

While living in Bronxville, N.Y., the Countess began volunteering at Lawrence Hospital’s thrift store.  While there, she noticed many plaques in the hospital stating, “This room is donated by… Inspired by the generosity of others, she encouraged her husband to do the same.  Their first gift was to provide music scholarships to singers through the Liederkranz Club, a Manhattan social club founded by German-Americans to promote social and instrumental music.

Following the sale of the County’s company, Stewart Stamping Corp. of Yonkers, N.Y., in 1965, they took numerous cruises around the world and visited Boca Raton many times before moving here in 1981. Renewed commitment to her charitable work became their “new” life in Florida.

The Countess told the Tribune that seeing her name on a building she donated money to “is more of an incentive for others to give.  It’s a matter of thinking about others.  Give your community your very best.”

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