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Published: 7/15/2012

Louis Heilbrun, 1913-2012: Pastry chef apprenticed in Europe before WWII

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Louis Heilbrun, a creator of fine pastries trained in the European tradition who baked for the masses -- from receptions and dinners at the Commodore Perry Hotel to shoppers at Tiedtke's -- died Friday in his Aventura, Fla., home. He was 98.

He developed a pancreatic problem about a week ago but was in good health before that, his daughter Nancy said. He and his wife, Vera, moved from Sylvania to the North Miami Beach area.

Mr. Heibrun retired at 70 from Churchill's Super Market, and then only because of a back injury.

"He enjoyed working and enjoyed the baking department," his daughter said.

"General Churchill begged him to come after Tiedtke's," she said referring to the late Maj. Gen. Walter A. Churchill, head of the grocery chain his father co-founded.

Off duty and into retirement, he baked for every holiday and occasion. He decorated his grandchildren's birthday cakes to match their interests. Especially memorable was a doll-themed cake. A waterfall was featured in the wedding cakes he made for his daughters, Linda and Nancy.

"He entertained that way. All their friends were so happy and would revel in these beautiful delicacies he would offer, and he would present them so nicely," daughter Nancy said.

He taught his grandchildren his baking and decorating secrets. He was known for his spun-sugar roses and other flourishes.

Mr. Heilbrun was born Aug. 1, 1913, in Rotenburg an der Fulda, Germany, to Betty and David Heilbrun. He was 13 when he became a baking apprentice.

He was Jewish, and in 1937 he fled Nazi Germany for the United States.

"His friends encouraged him to come because they were aware of the dangers," daughter Nancy said. After a stop in Ottawa, Ohio, where an aunt lived, he settled in Toledo. He became a pastry chef for the Commodore Perry, a prime downtown spot for large-scale events. He often was called on to prepare his European-style delicacies for crowds of hundreds.

He was drafted during World War II and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in Senegal, Africa.

"He was very honored to serve in World War II and be part of this country," daughter Nancy said. He was keenly aware of the Holocaust.

"He was heartbroken that he had to leave his mother behind, and she was killed in the concentration camps," his daughter said.

He became a U.S. citizen after the war and returned to work at the Commodore Perry.

About 1950, he was recruited to manage the bakery department at Tiedtke's, the iconic downtown department store known for its bazaarlike atmosphere.

"Tiedtke's was so popular at the time," daughter Nancy said. "It was a very busy bakery. The bakery and the candy departments were huge. They were a real draw."

Mr. Heilbrun was a member of Goodman-Goldstein VFW Post 6909 and George Rill VFW Post 606.

He and his wife took cruises and visited Israel, but they also returned to Germany, from which Mrs. Heilbrun also emigrated.

"It was difficult," daughter Nancy said. "And yet he wanted to see it. He wanted to have one last opportunity to witness his home."

He painted in oils in a contemporary style. He was well versed in current events and politics and read at least two major newspapers daily.

"He wanted to be an active part of the country he loved, and he took a personal interest in wanting it to be the best place," daughter Nancy said.

He became a member of the Collingwood Temple in 1942 and remained a member of its successor, The Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim.

Surviving are his wife, Vera, whom he married March 17, 1946; daughters, Linda Heilbrun Russell and Nancy Heilbrun Greenspoon; five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Services are to be Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the Robert H. Wick/Wisniewski Funeral Home.

The family suggests tributes to The Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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