- Named Funds
William and Renėe Rothmann and Bill’s siblings, John Rothmann and Susan Rothmann Seeley, were honorees at the 2nd Annual Fammy Awards Gala in 1986, the year the event officially became a tradition. “We are huge Gala goers,” Bill says of the JFCS annual fundraiser. “The Fammy’s are my wife’s favorite. I don’t know that we’ve ever missed one.” Bill has always recognized the importance of family and when it was suggested that he be honored for his leadership he said yes, as long as his family was included too. One of the JFCS areas of service that speaks most to him is providing help to children and keeping families together.
Bill’s family plays a central part in the history of San Francisco—Bavarian Jews whose successful pursuits in entrepreneurship and passion for philanthropy set a tone for the city’s spirit that persists today. Bill’s mother, Frances, was the daughter of Edward Bransten (born Brandenstein) of MJB Coffee fame and Florine Haas, daughter of William and Bertha Haas. Frances wrote a charming memoir, “The Haas Sisters of Franklin Street,” about her mother Florine and Aunt Alice Haas-Lilienthal, both of whom grew up in the Haas-Lilienthal mansion that is now a San Francisco landmark and museum.
Bill’s father, Hans Rothmann, was a Berlin-born doctor. He and Frances met in New York City at a dinner party while she was an undergraduate at Barnard College, a few years before the outbreak of World War II. They married and, after living a few years in New York, returned to Frances’ home town to raise their children.
Though the extended family had a strong Jewish identity, there was not an emphasis on a formal religious upbringing. Bill recounted, “The German Jews were very assimilated and had Christmas celebrations. My grandfather Bransten was never a particularly warm, emotional person, so I never forgot how—when I was about eight years old—I saw him cry hearing the proclamation over the radio of the formation of the state of Israel. That made a big impact on me. We were members of Emanu-El and Jewish clubs but it wasn’t until my sister married a rabbi that I got more interested in the practice of Judaism and studying Hebrew.” Bill was the first of his extended family to have a bar mitzvah ceremony at their synagogue.
Part of the JFCS Family
Bill’s younger brother, John, says, “My brother’s inspirational leadership over the decades in his work on behalf of Jewish Family and Children’s Services tells a compelling story of his firm commitment to our community. My brother is a mensch.”
A successful finance professional, Bill expressed to colleagues Warren Hellman and Morton Fleishhacker his interest in doing more hands-on philanthropic work and they suggested he try “Family Services.” Bill had recently joined the Jewish Family Service Board when Anita Friedman was first hired. One of the projects he was involved with during the 1980s and that he is most proud of was the agency’s initiation of the program to provide loans to small businesses in the community. Now the Loans and Grants Committee, which helps Jewish small business owners and individuals looking for educational scholarships, is an arm of the JFCS Financial Aid Center and operates with dedicated volunteer support and oversight in all of our regions. Bill served on the JFCS Finance committee for many years as well.
“JFCS and the Jewish community owe a lot to Bill Rothmann,” says Executive Director Anita Friedman, “for the way he’s used his financial expertise and his championing of the work we do to help us stay smart and effective through changing conditions over the years. I always felt better knowing that Bill was studying our financials and peppering us with the tough questions.”
When Bill and Renėe set up their Named Fund last year, they designated that the contributions should be unrestricted. “I’ve watched the organization grow, and become more established and more efficient over the years. I knew we could put our trust in the choices that JFCS leadership would make, so we thought, ‘Let’s have our Fund reflect that trust.’ And you never know when there might be a need that’s unexpected—the fires in the North Bay last year that upended so many lives, for instance—and you want to help an organization like JFCS to be nimble in its response.
“I worked hard to be in a position to give the way I hoped to—to have an impact for future generations—but I know I’ve also been very lucky,” says Bill. “You give help to people who need it. You ask others to join you. Everybody that can, should.”