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Professional Dancers Society Chairman Joni Eichenbaum Berry Dies At 89

Professional Dancers Society Chairman Joni Eichenbaum Berry Dies At 89

Philanthropist Joni Berry passed away Sunday, June 28, 2020 in Los Angeles from complications of COVID-19 at age 89. For 24 years, Joni was Chairman of the Professional Dancers Society (PDS) which is affiliated with The Actors Fund and was a founding member, former President and Board Member of SHARE, Inc. Joni was also President of the charitable Los Angeles based Eichenbuam Foundation.

Born in Chicago on December 30, 1930, Joni was adopted by Joseph and Inez Eichenbaum when she was five days old. When she was 8, her family moved to California and they lived in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs. She graduated from Beverly Hills High School. An avid dancer since she was three years old, Joni was part of Murial Abbot's Chicago Baby Professionals. As an adult, she eventually danced with such legends as Sammy Davis, Jr., Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey and Donald O'Connor. Joni's father was a major real estate developer in Chicago, Miami and Southern California including Palm Springs. Her parents were philanthropists and they established the Joseph K. and Inez Eichenbaum Foundation, which has since donated countless millions of dollars to charity.

As their only child, Joni was eventually named President of the Foundation by her Father and has since touched the lives of countless people by her generosity and volunteer efforts. Joni endowed the Joseph and Inez Eichenbaum Wellness Center at the Jewish Family Services in Los Angeles, which provides a way for seniors to stay active and healthy by providing a state-of-the-art fitness facility that caters specifically, free of charge, to the needs of older adults. Joni's mother had a long battle with Alzheimer's and in her memory the Eichenbaum Foundation funds The Eichenbaum Laboratory of Alzheimer's Disease at Tel-Aviv University.

As Chairman of the Board of the Professional Dancers Society (PDS), the organization helped serve dancers, active and inactive on both coasts, who required assistance with medical, housing and other needs. The organization also held an annual Gypsy Awards event each year which raised funds for dancers. In 1994, PDS formed a partnership with The Actors Fund and has since raised more than $2 million to support The Fund's services to thousands of dancers. In 2019, Joni along with PDS President Mitzi Gaynor, were honored with The Actors Fund's highest honor, The Medal of Honor, in recognition of the decades-long partnership between PDS and The Actors Fund. In addition, Joni served on The Actors Fund Western Council since 2008. Joni was a volunteer and supporter of numerous organizations, most especially organizations established for dancers, including the Career Transition for Dancers. She has been honored by SHARE, Inc., which raises funds to help children, and received their highest honor, the Shining Spirit Award, in 2019 after her over 60 years of service to the organization. For SHARE she helped stage and performed in star-studded shows to raise funds for children's charities in California.

For her support and volunteerism Joni was recognized by the United States Congress for outstanding community work, as well as the County of Los Angeles, the California State Senate for support of the Tierra del Sol Foundation, the City of Los Angeles for the Foundation's work with the Jewish Family Service, the City of Beverly Hills, and by numerous organizations including ARMDI Pacific Southwest, Tel Aviv University for her long standing support of Alzheimer's Disease Research, the MDA, the Jewish Home for the Aging, the American Cancer Society's California Spirit Award, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Thalians' Wall of Stars, the Anti-Defamation League, Children's Burn Foundation, Heart of Los Angeles Youth, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Los Angeles, the Nancy Painter Home for Mothers with Children, and The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association.

She was also named a fellow of the American Committee for the Weitzman Institute of Science. She was a supporter of the American Friends of Tel Aviv University and a major funding participant of the Kayne Eras Center Exceptional Children Foundation in Los Angeles, which helps young people and families at risk. A long-time resident of Beverly Hills, she was also at one time a California state bowling champion. Joni established the Jody Berry Theatre at RiverPark Center in Kentucky, in memory of her late husband, and was supporter of The Cradle in Illinois, which handled her own adoption. She and her husband, Stephen Maitland-Lewis are also supporters of the annual Satchmo Festival in New Orleans.

Joni is survived by her husband, Stephen Maitland-Lewis; her son, Tony Boyar; step-sons Douglas Erenberg, Howard Erenberg, Toby Maitland-Lewis, Benjamin Maitland-Lewis: step-daughter Victoria Maitland; and 5 step-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents, Joseph and Inez Eichenbuam; her husband of over 30 years Jody Berry, who passed away in 2005; and her stepson Alan Erenberg.

Funeral services will be private due to the Covid-19 guidelines and a memorial service will be held at a later date which will be announced following the pandemic.

Photo Credit: Nathan Sternfeld

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