Obituary: Beverly Jean Gassner
Family law attorney, longtime Democrat, beloved mother
Beverly Jean Gassner, retired family law attorney and beloved wife, mother and grandmother, died after a long illness on May 18, 2017 in Rancho Cucamonga.
Ms. Gassner lived an extraordinary life that included multiple careers, 63 years of marriage and raising a loving family. She was a third-generation American, born to an immigrant family that had come to the United States from various locations in Eastern Europe. Her mother’s family was from Hungary, her father’s from a small village on the Russian-Ukrainian border.
She was born Beverly Jean Kaplan during the Great Depression on June 20, 1931 in Homestead, PA. Her mother, Mildred Kaplan (née Fogel), worked as an operator for Pacific Bell. Her father, Jack Kaplan, was a serial entrepreneur who at various points operated a produce stand, a furniture store and a restaurant.
When Beverly was three years old, she was stricken with rheumatic fever, resulting in many years away from school. She later said this was the reason for her lifelong love affair with books. As an only child largely confined to indoors, she became a voracious reader. She was also a musician, playing both piano and guitar.
She met her future husband, Lawrence Gassner (Larry to everyone), when they were both students at Schenley High School in Pittsburgh.
Bev and Larry both earned bachelor’s degrees from Carnegie Institute of Technology, now known as Carnegie Mellon University. She was the first in her family to attend college.
The couple married in 1953, soon after graduation. Ms. Gassner’s first post-college job was as a social service worker in Pittsburgh. Their first child, Michael, was born in 1955. The following year the young family decamped from the East Coast to Pomona, California.
There, the Gassners became lifelong members of Temple Beth Israel, a Reform Jewish congregation serving Pomona Valley. Over the years, Ms. Gassner served as a religious schoolteacher and as an enthusiastic member of the temple’s social action committee and choir.
Two more sons arrived in California: David in 1957 and Stephen in 1961. In addition to being a full-time mother in the 1960s, Ms. Gassner immersed herself in the burgeoning folk music scene and the civil rights movement, toting her kids with her to hootenannies and civil rights marches.
And then she went back to school. She first earned a master’s degree and then enrolled in a PhD program in American history at Claremont Graduate School. She was also an active member of the Democratic Party, and over the years worked hard for the election of both local and national liberal candidates.
In 1970, the Gassner family moved from Pomona to Claremont, where they lived for many years. In 1972, Ms. Gassner was an adjunct teacher of American history at local community colleges, an ABD (all but dissertation) PhD candidate and a volunteer with the 1972 presidential campaign of Senator George McGovern.
Around this time, tragedy intervened in the form of a terrible auto accident. It took her nearly two years to recover from her injuries, but recover she did. After that fight she embarked on a major life change: she enrolled as a law student at La Verne University College of Law, where she served as the first editor of the school’s law review and graduated magna cum laude. Ms. Gassner passed the California bar exam on her first try, and opened her own law firm. A few years later, she and Larry (who had also changed careers, from aerospace engineer to lawyer) joined forces professionally, and Gassner & Gassner, Attorneys at Law, was created.
For more than 30 years, Beverly and Larry Gassner practiced together, focusing primarily on family law. Two of their sons, Michael (now a commissioner and supervising judicial officer for family law for San Bernardino County) and Stephen (now in his own family law practice), also became lawyers and worked for the firm at various times.
Ms. Gassner served on multiple state-level bar association committees, working to influence legislation affecting families dealing with divorce and child custody issues. She was a founding member of East West Family Law Council, a bar association joining the eastern Los Angeles County and western San Bernardino County legal communities. For many years, she was one of just a few female family law attorneys in the Inland Empire. Her husband happily acknowledged that she was the firm’s “rainmaker”—the attorney who brought the clients in through the front door.
In 2014, Beverly and Larry Gassner retired. They most recently lived at Valencia Commons, a retirement home for independent seniors in Rancho Cucamonga.
Beverly Jean Gassner is survived by her husband, Lawrence M. Gassner; her sons, Michael, David and Stephen; her daughters-in-law, Maria, Jackie and Mardohar; and her seven grandchildren Nicole, Alena, Thad, Jason, Jenny, Sonya and another Jason (not all blood-related, but they all called her “grandma”).
A public memorial will be held Sunday, May 28 at 11 a.m. at Temple Beth Israel, 3033 N. Towne Ave., Pomona. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to TBI’s Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund.