Merv Pregulman Memorialized At Siskin Children's Institute

Institute A Testament To Philanthropist's Spirit Of Compassion And Generosity

Thursday, November 28, 2013 - by Andrew Clark

One year ago today, Nov. 28, 2012, Chattanooga lost one of its preeminent business and philanthropic giants when Merv Pregulman died at age 90.

The former president and CEO of Siskin Steel cut a huge swath in the business world, while continuing a distinguished tradition of philanthropy begun by his wife's family in Chattanooga three-quarters of a century ago.

When Merv Pregulman married the love of his life, Chattanooga native Helen Siskin, daughter of the steel magnate Garrison Siskin, he became united with one of Chattanooga's most prominent families.
That union brought Mr. Pregulman into the Siskin family's steel business. But, too, the union forever bound Mr. Pregulman to another love inspired by the Siskin family: philanthropy.

Through many philanthropic endeavors, not the least of which include founding the Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation and contributing to and raising awareness for Siskin Children's Institute, Mr. Pregulman carried on his wife's family's tradition of helping those in need: the infirm; the poor; the helpless; and the meek. In doing so, he created a philanthropic legacy of his own.

This legacy of giving and compassion was recently celebrated at Siskin Children's Institute with the dedication of a bronze bust of Merv Pregulman, created by artist Cessna Decosimo and donated to the Institute by the Pregulman family.

Mayor Andy Berke was on hand to help honor the memory of Mr. Pregulman, whose bronze likeness is now prominently enshrined in the lobby of Siskin Children's Institute so that present generations can remember and share his kindness, and generations to come may learn a measure of the generosity and kindness Mr. Pregulman spread throughout his long and fruitful life.

Just a few of Mr. Pregulman's friends who attended the bust dedication were Norma and Olan Mills, Ruth Holmberg, Gary Chazen, Mary Tanner, Sam Miles, Pete Cooper, Jed Mescon, Red Parks with son Larry Parks, Kim and Joe Dan White, Bill Wilder, Nancy Jolley, Libby and Frank Duff, Jane and John McSpadden, and Carl Henderson to name just a few.

It seems only fitting that the first anniversary of Merv Pregulman's passing should fall on the Feast of Thanksgiving, offering Chattanoogans an opportunity to remember with warmth a man whose place sits empty at our community's table.

But, moreover, this holiday we have an opportunity to honor with great thanksgiving a man whose largesse of wealth and compassion will live on not only in the organizations he funded, but in the countless lives he improved simply by caring for and sharing with his fellow man.

“Some People Invest In Stocks. We Invest In People.” Mose and Garrison Siskin

Siskin Children's Institute was one of Merv Pregulman's prides and joys, because it carried on the aim of its founders Mose and Garrison Siskin, who intended to provide an institute for educating, treating, and improving the lives of children with special needs regardless of race, creed or background.

Today, the Institute includes two campuses, a medical facility, and a world-class school where children with special needs and typically developing children learn side-by-side, each helping the other learn school lessons, and many invaluable life lessons along the way.

No parents are more thankful this holiday than Kim and Todd Leffew, whose son Laik was born in 2010 with a rare chromosomal disorder called partial trisomy 12P, an affliction that has caused the child significant developmental delays.

“When the doctor uttered the words to me that there was something wrong with my son, I wanted to run out the door,” described Kim. “My husband Todd and I practically live outside, always active and involved in sports, and now someone was telling me that my son might not be able to walk or run, or even talk. At first, all I could think of was that it was not supposed to be this way.”


“For me, everything kind of crumbled,” Kim said. “I went through every sense of grief, asking what was wrong with my baby. But Todd kept reminding me confidently that this was the child God had chosen for us.”

And that, for many reasons, is why they call Laik their “miracle baby.”

At 6-weeks-old, Laik began receiving physical, occupational and feeding therapy through Tennessee’s Early Intervention System. From there the Leffew family found what would soon become the support system that they all so desperately needed. Laik was referred into Siskin Early Learning Center at 18 months.

“I can honestly say that I have never felt so passionately devoted to a place as I have with Siskin Children’s Institute,” said Kim. “The people here are constant advocates for the children. You know it’s not just a job for the people inside these walls; they have a passion for the children and their families.”

Since arriving at the Institute, Laik has learned to self feed, holding his own bottle, sit up more independently and play with his friends. According to his therapists, Laik has benefited greatly from the inclusive classroom environment and integrated therapy, which allows his individual developmental goals to be worked on throughout the day. In addition, Laik has become more vocal and is much more active on the floor playing.

Kim says that Laik has become more aware of things around him. Kim credits these steps forward to his time at Siskin Children's Institute and engaging with his peers, both typically-developing and those with special needs. He watches his friends walk and move and that makes him motivated to try it, too.

Currently, Laik is being fit for a gait trainer which will help him develop skills for walking, as well as a small “Quickie chair” that will position Laik at an elevated state to help him access all areas of the classroom and playground just like his typically-developing friends.

When asked how she sees her son in 10 years, Kim described Laik walking, talking and in a “regular” classroom. Yes, she has altered many details of her vision for her son, but one thing has not changed.

“Regardless [of where he’ll be or what he’ll be doing], he will be a happy boy, functioning at the best level he can.”

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