Mrs. Lax, 90, died Saturday, Jan. 19, at Medford Leas, a continuing care community in Medford where she had put her energy into importing speakers and enlisting residents to her Great Books program.
She was the daughter of a Russian immigrant who arrived penniless at Ellis Island at the turn of the century. After visiting relatives in Philadelphia, he got on a train and only got off when he saw the smokestacks of steel mills. There, along the Ohio River, Samuel Reiner and his Mississippi mail-order bride, Minnie, opened a department store in Steubenville, Ohio.
Mrs. Lax graduated from Steubenville High School in 1940, and enrolled in Goucher College in Baltimore. After two years, she transferred to Bryn Mawr College, where she earned a bachelor's degree in economics in 1944.
As a student she traveled to Mexico with the exchange program Experiment in International Living. It was the start of a lifelong fascination with cultures far beyond the Midwest.
So, at her next stop, Radcliffe College, she pursued a master's degree in Latin American history.
What Mrs. Lax intended to do with her degrees, her son does not know. Young affluent women, he said, were schooled for "a role in the home and a role in society," but not necessarily a job.
It turned out not to be her worry. After earning her master's in 1946 and setting out after a Ph.D, she met Harvard law student Stephen Girard Lax, a Philadelphian and decorated infantry captain returning from World War II. They married in 1947 and moved to Washington, where he went into corporate practice.
Mrs. Lax joined the National League of Women Voters, an affiliation she took with her when they relocated to Haddonfield in 1956. While raising four sons, she became president of the New Jersey league, lobbying in Trenton for voter initiatives and making the acquaintance of the state's most powerful politicians.
She also was an early supporter of Planned Parenthood, and took up the cudgels for women's health care in low-income Camden neighborhoods. She was a trustee and fund-raiser for the Guidance Clinic there.
Her husband had his own new venture, GL Electronics. The Camden firm produced high-end power products such as spark plugs for Rolls-Royce jet engines and some of the first outlet strips, according to their son.
In 1976, Stephen Lax died. His widow took a seat on the board of directors of the renamed SGL Industries Inc. The family eventually sold its shares in what is now NYSE-listed SL Industries.
An admirer of Swarthmore's Quaker sensibility, Mrs. Lax declared herself an honorary alumna of the school, where her husband graduated and was chairman of the trustees. She created several scholarships in their names.
In 1980, Glassboro State College invited her to join its board. As at Swarthmore, she established scholarships and, as recently as 2007, a fund for faculty development.
She also led the renovation of Hollybush Mansion, the site of the 1967 Glassboro Summit between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin.
Arguably her most important contribution in 16 years as board member and vice president was her matchmaking role between her friend Henry Rowan and Glassboro fund-raisers. In 1992, Rowan, an industrialist, and his wife, Betty, gave a historic $100 million gift that transformed the small school into Rowan University.
"One of her talents was connecting people," her son said, "whether young people to get a job, or older people to give a gift."
In 1997, the university made Mrs. Lax an honorary doctor of humanities - a title used only by friends to torment her.
Mrs. Lax's memberships were voluminous. Among them: the Philadelphia International Advisory Commission for the Celebration of the Bicentennial of the United States; the board of the Academy of Natural Sciences; the Radcliffe Club; the Harvard Club; the Philadelphia Art Alliance. She also was a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Hill.
In addition to her son, she is survived by sons Andrew and Charles, and three grandchildren. She was predeceased by son Jonathan in 1996.
A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at Medford Leas. Donations may be made to Rowan University Foundation-Lax Fund, Attn: Peggy Veacock, 201 Mullica Hill Rd., Glassboro, N.J. 08028.
Contact Kathleen Tinney at 610-313-8106.