The Martyl Rifkin Reinsdorf Archive:
The Legacy of "Grandma Martyl"
From Phoenix Children's Hospital Website:
Reinsdorf: Color of Generosity
Sometimes, the best phone calls come on the worst days.
Wendy Pauker, a Child Life Specialist at Phoenix Children's Hospital, was having one of those days when someone patched through a call with an offer that sounded pretty innocuous at the time.
The voice on the other end of the line announced that her "boss" would like to make some coloring books and bring them in for the patients.
"Gr-r-r-r-eat," thought Pauker, wincing a little at the thought of what homemade coloring books might look like. "When your boss is ready to drop them off, give me a call."
The delivery came a few weeks later, and this time, Pauker's grimace changed to a look of pleasant surprise. Not only were the homemade books of professional quality, but each one came in a package with colored markers and a toy specially chosen to fit the theme of the book.
Right then, Pauker knew she had a hit on her hands.
The hit is now nearing its fourth year at Phoenix Children's, with new deliveries of books coming in every month. The books are still hugely popular with patients and their families.
"They love them," says Pauker. "You hear things like, 'Wow - these are really nice,' or 'Can I take this home?'"
They might be even more impressed if they knew the woman behind the diversion. Martyl Reinsdorf, a mother of four, was for 25 years a nationally acclaimed jeweler, specializing in cloisonné pieces that required her to fit colorful enamel into carefully sculptured 24-karat gold wire settings.
"It's like a coloring book," she says. "You draw the lines, and you fill it in."
But she was ready for a change, and began looking around for a new occupation. She decided to learn how to use a computer for graphic arts, and drawing pictures proved a good way to get a feel for the technology. For practice, she made little books of her pictures - a new one for every graphic technique she mastered.
She gave the books to her eight grandkids, and was delighted to see how much they enjoyed them. Eventually, someone mentioned what a treat books like that would be at a children's hospital ... and soon, a cottage industry was born.
In addition to Phoenix Children's Hospital, Martyl and her husband, Jerry, provide different versions of the coloring book packages to local organizations like The Ronald McDonald House, The Child Crisis Center, Aid to Adoption of Special Kids (AASK), and The Foundation For Blind Children in Phoenix. They also supply a children's hospital in Chicago (where Jerry owns the Chicago Bulls and the White Sox), the Deike Center for Visual Rehabilitation (a global organization headquartered in Chicago), a home for abused children in Hawaii, a nursing school in Guatemala, and a pediatric cancer center in Jerusalem.
The books are as varied as their destinations. From simple stories to the ABC's, Martyl is steadily expanding her books' repertoire to include crossword puzzles and word searches, and to explore history, geography, famous artists - even "Romeo and Juliet." Nor is she neglectful of her public's more up-to-date enthusiasms. When Jerry, who edits as well as underwrites the project, expressed a little weariness after one recent marathon evening of fine-tuning her work, she told him, "Well, no wonder. You've gone from Shakespeare to Sponge Bob in four hours."
"She is always looking for new things, new gimmicks," Pauker says. "Anything to make the books more fun for kids."
Many of the books also feature autographs and messages from celebrities who've caught the gleam of Martyl's enthusiasm. Senator John McCain has inscribed a book on Arizona, while Randy Johnson of the Diamondbacks, Jake Plummer of the Cardinals, and Jeremy Roenick of the Philadelphia Flyers have all personalized sports editions of her coloring books.
Some of the books are translated into Spanish. Some, for children who speak other languages, have no words at all. And Martyl is careful to vary the look of the children in her books, so that, whatever his age or ethnic background, the colorer will be able to identify with the child he is shading. She is just as creative in selecting the toys that go with her creations.
"I am a tough person on getting the right gift," Martyl says.
"We give them gifts they can use: a compass, an American flag, a whistle, binoculars, a harmonica, a puppet."
She and an assistant assemble the packages in a special studio at her home. The room holds a printer, a copy machine, a collator, and binding equipment. She sketches in time to work on her books where she can.
"Some days, I could be in there at six in the morning. I might be there in the evening, making copies.
"It's not something you can do in a day. It takes a long time to find the picture, get the quotes for each page. I think if I was just doing five or six books, I'd get tired of it. But as long as I can be creative, and do all ages, I'll keep going."
So far, her energies have translated into more than 40,000 books over the last three and a half years.
"Just going by the amount of time and effort that goes into this - it's a passion for her," says Pauker. But the Reinsdorfs' contributions aren't limited to books. Pauker says they've also contributed arts and crafts materials, even a puppet theater. "She knows what an impact this stuff makes on these kids."
Perhaps because Martyl was once one of "these kids" herself.
"As a child, I spent my whole second-grade year in the hospital," she remembers. "I had asthma. I know how boring hospital life can be."
And she knows that a little creative activity has a way of breaking down the awkward silences of strange surroundings. "If you've got a kid who doesn't want to talk, and you bring in a coloring book, and a child gets excited ... that makes everybody's day better."
Martyl also takes a special pleasure in introducing children to the joys of coloring, which she believes is virtually a lost art.
"You cannot buy a coloring book today," she says. "The quality of the books has decreased." When she hit upon some old coloring books one day, she contacted the publishing company and obtained their whole supply. Those "classics" became the model for her own books.
"I love being creative," she says. "I love putting the whole gift together, and I love getting the feedback from the kids. It's so heartwarming. We just have boxes of these letters." The letters (often with one of her pictures, colored in), are addressed "Dear Grandma" - a reference to the pen name ("Grandma Martyl") she uses on all of her packages.
The letters aren't the only way Phoenix Children has expressed appreciation for the Reinsdorfs' generosity. After the first year of books, the patients threw a special party for Martyl and Jerry at the hospital. And, when the hospital opened its new campus in May, the two were given a special tour. They quickly caught the spirit of excitement that pervades the new facility.
"As we grow, they'll provide more books," Pauker says. "Martyl's made that clear. She's a very caring, very giving person. She just loves doing this."
Which may be why the one color that doesn't interest Martyl much is ... green.
"I can't tell you how many people have asked me to go into business with these books," she says, "but I don't want to take money for this.
"When I first took this on," she remembers, "I said, 'I'll give myself three years and see if I want to continue.' And we are having such a ball, we just want to keep doing it."
A few of the letters to Grandma Martyl
A small sample of the many thank you letters written to Grandma Martyl, from kids and staff from programs all around the world.