Contact Information

Janet Henthorn
Jewish Federation of Omaha
333 South 132nd Street
Omaha, NE 68154
(402) 334-6551

Join Our Mailing List


First Name:

Last Name:

It's never too late to carry on his torch BY MICHAEL KELLY OMAHA WORLD-HERALD COLUMNIST

Dads and sons sometimes take a long time to really get to know each other. Joe Hornstein, 28, is getting to know his father better than ever. "Every day, I'm learning more and getting to know him more and more," said Joe, a commercial real estate broker.  That's great, but it's twinged with sadness. The reason he didn't know his dad better is that Bennett Hornstein died at 46, when Joe was only 9.  "Growing up, it was always hard for me when people told me what a great man he was," Joe said. "I felt that I couldn't relate."

The son belatedly relates - in part because of a project he has started, involving the rest of his family as well as friends: the Bennett G. Hornstein Endowment Fund, providing scholarships for law students.  Bennett was a brilliant Omaha lawyer who studied in France and climbed the Matterhorn. He obtained his law degree from Cal-Berkeley. He could have earned millions, but he chose to fight for the rights of the poor.  He once said he decided to help "people who were hated, who were detested, whom nobody else would help."  He became a public defender. He argued to protect the rights of people charged with crimes, most of whom were guilty of crimes. But he believed that our system worked only when everyone's rights were protected. Hornstein gave voice to the voiceless. And then in a terrible irony, this well-spoken lawyer lost his own voice - literally.

From 1969 to 1976, he could speak only in a somewhat labored whisper. So he wrote, often filing appeals.  Surgery helped him regain his voice, and he returned to trial work.  But soon after that, when son "Joey" was 3 months old, Bennett was diagnosed with cancer.

In his childhood, Joe recalls his dad's hospital stays. And then death in the prime of life, too early for the boy to fully understand his father's impact as a lawyer, a husband, a father and a friend.  "As you get older and become more responsible," Joe said, "you start to understand how difficult it really is to make your mark on a community. Now I have a grasp on what a difference he did make on people's lives and on the legal system."  Joe graduated from Westside High in 1995 and Colorado State in 1999. He now lives in Denver, and has embraced volunteerism, helping others in need.  His mom, Nancy, works at Borsheim's in Omaha. His older sisters are Jill Goldstein, a partner with the Kutak Rock law firm in Omaha, and Beth Hornstein, community relations director for a law firm in Denver.

The Hornstein endowment, launched Aug. 1, works in conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Omaha. Students of any faith may apply but must attend law school at Nebraska or Creighton. Donations may be made on the Web site,

Bennett Hornstein, widely admired, made an impact far beyond courtrooms. At least one acquaintance, a former newspaper reporter who covered Bennett, named his son after him.  Joe remembers vacations to Vail, Colo., with his dad and the rest of the family. He likes it when people see similarities between himself and his father, such as their love of the outdoors.  But he missed out on a lot. In recent times, Joe said, he has enjoyed the process of talking to relatives and friends of his father, getting to know him better.  "What I've realized in doing this," he said, "is that even though someone dies and you don't get a chance to know him in life, you still have an opportunity to get to know him more every day."

Contact the Omaha World-Herald newsroom. Copyright ©2005 Omaha World-Herald®. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, displayed or distributed for any purpose without permission from the Omaha World-Herald.