Louis Oppenstein was a millionaire who served his community quietly, showing his appreciation for Kansas City. Just as he became a responsible head of his family at the age of 14, he gave willingly of his time and resources to the city he loved.
When his father died, Louis Oppenstein left school to support his mother, four brothers and two sisters. After working in a Denver jewelry store for one year, he used $1,500 from his father's life insurance to purchase the store. By the time he was only 16, he regularly traveled to the Colorado silver mining camps to sell jewelry to the miners on payday. Through Oppenstein's careful management, his business grew, and he was able to employ his brothers as they came of age. His family opened a much larger jewelry store in Denver in 1898.
Oppenstein moved to Kansas City in 1902, accompanied by his mother and siblings. With his brothers as partners, he purchased the Herman Streicher Watch and Jewelry Company at 1017 Main Street. The Oppenstein Brothers jewelry business became quite successful, and Louis began investing store profits in downtown real estate. Convinced that Kansas City had a bright future, he purchased a plot of land at 11th and Main streets for the largest sum ever paid for property in Kansas City. Six weeks later he sold the land for a $35,000 profit.
Although Oppenstein was a Republican, he was appointed to public positions by mayors and governors of both political parties. He served as president of the board of public works, city councilman, police commissioner, and as a member of the Board of Education. He was also very active in Kansas City's Jewish community, serving as a trustee of Congregation B'nai Jehudah, board member of Menorah Medical Center, and director of the Jewish Community Center.
Oppenstein's funeral in 1938 drew 1,000 attendees who paid tribute to the man who never spoke of his fortune of millions. The legacy of wealth and service of Louis Oppenstein continues today as the Oppenstein Brothers Foundation, established in 1941, to administer funds for religious, charitable, scientific and educational purposes.
A previous version of this article is published on kchistory.org: http://kchistory.org/content/biography-louis-oppenstein-1875-1938-jeweler
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