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In 1977, local art collector and philanthropist Jacob Greenberg met with then-Director of Houston Public Library (HPL) David M. Henington to discuss his plans for setting up the Lurine Karon Greenberg Fine Arts Collection Trust for the benefit of the library. It was a memorial to his wife Lurine Karon Greenberg, who had passed away two years earlier. The Trust would provide money for purchasing nonfiction books on music, art, antiques, architecture, cooking, and travel, including histories and biographies related to these subjects. In the 45 years since, the Greenberg Collection has thrived and grown through multiple library renovations and reorganizations to become a jewel in HPL’s crown. 


The Greenbergs lived extraordinary lives. Jacob Greenberg was born in the early 20th century to Eastern European Jewish immigrants on a homestead in North Dakota, so remote that his passport listed his place of birth as simply “North Dakota, USA, no town, no village.” Lurine Karon, whose family hailed from Minnesota, was a classically trained cellist who studied in Germany in the 1920s. Mr. Greenberg pursued education and had great success in business with the garment industry and later the energy industry. His career brought his family first to Oklahoma and then Houston, where he and Lurine moved in 1966, until Lurine passed away in 1975.


The Lurine Karon Greenberg Endowment funds were initially placed in a savings account managed by the Houston Library Board, but Jacob Greenberg was able to renegotiate the terms of the endowment. The money was moved to income-generating securities and structured to benefit the library by allocating 100% of the income, awarded on an annual basis. Jacob Greenberg appointed his second wife, Joyce Zeger Greenberg, as a trustee for the fund. A trailblazer, Joyce was a skilled financial advisor and became one of Houston’s first female stockbrokers in the 1960s. Joyce, who had known Lurine socially years before meeting Jacob, was honored by the trust Jacob showed in giving her this responsibility. After Jacob passed away in 1995, Joyce continued to spearhead the growth of the Greenberg Endowment as part of the Greenberg legacy.


As of 2021, the Greenberg Fund has given Houston Public Library just under 2 million dollars and made Fine Arts one of the most robust collection areas of HPL. Each book purchased for the collection has a special bookplate marked with a quote inspired by the Book of Proverbs, “Wisdom with understanding is better than rubies.”


Joyce and Jacob Greenberg are renowned for their philanthropy. Joyce has a gallery named for her in memory of Jacob at the Museum of Fine Art Houston’s Kinder Building. Joyce has built a legacy at her alma mater, University of Chicago, starting by funding a visiting professorship and then an entire academic department, the University of Chicago Joyce Z. and Jacob Greenberg Center for Jewish Studies. 


If you’d like to learn more about the Greenberg family and their legacy, Joyce Greenberg gave an interview to HPL Director Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson and Houston History Research Center (HHRC) staff Archivist Ginger Berni in 2022 that can be accessed as part of our oral history collection. 


University of Houston History Professor Robert Zaretsky’s biography From Homesteader to Art Collector: The Life and Times of Jacob Greenberg, has recently been published by Rodin Books/ Simon & Schuster. 


Greenberg Collection books are available for checkout from HPL’s Central Library, shelved with the other cooking, art, architecture, antiques, music and travel books. You can browse the catalog for them, place holds and have them delivered to any HPL location for pickup. Some Greenberg Collection tiles are available in ebook format on the Boundless ebook platform


HPL staff members love the Greenberg Collection! Here are some hidden gems that they recommend:

Victor Papanek: the Politics of Design Edited by Mateo Kries, Amelie Klein, Alison J. Clarke. 
Victor Papanek was an industrial designer who was way ahead of his time (20th century) in his thinking about accessibility and sustainability. This book is a fascinating introduction to his life and ideas. —Lisa Carrico

The Stay @ Home Chef-Family Favorites Cookbook By Rachel Farnsworth 
I love cookbooks and this one is fantastic because there is a picture to go with every recipe. I start with breakfast and end with dinner recipes. There are some Awesome soup recipes. The book is one of my favorites because I love to see pictures of what the food should look like. —Virginia Williams


Southern Italian Desserts: Rediscovering the Sweet Traditions of Calabria, Campania, Basilicata, Puglia, and Sicily By Rosetta Costantino 
While reading this book I felt like I was on a tour of Southern Italy that made stops at the local bakeries ... I was a tourist delighting in all the wonderful creations to make when I returned from my trip because the person accompanying me on my trip provided me with an easy-to-read set of recipes included with tips only known to someone whose family had been making the creations for generations. —Mercedes Mayne


The Self-care Cookbook: Easy Healing Plant-based Recipes By Gemma Ogston 
It has yummy recipes and great tips on taking care of your body and mind! —Sheena Kelly


Enchanted Evenings: The Broadway Musical from Show Boat to Sondheim By Geoffrey Block 
Whether you are a Rent-head or a Wickedite, music lovers and fans of Broadway shows will appreciate the focus on the development of the music and collaboration between artists written about in this book. Read along to popular shows and trending musicals on Netflix ‘s popular Top 20 Netflix Picks for Broadway as you gain insight into the history or the songs and plays. —Mercedes Mayne


Read this feature on new Dr. Shannon Walker Neighborhood Library in Westbury, opening soon!

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