Bernheim at 90: The Bernheim Family: A Legacy of Giving

By volunteer

In Bernheim’s 90 year history there have been many people whose giant contributions have made this arboretum and research forest possible. Without doubt, Isaac Bernheim was foremost in that group but he was far from alone.  Most of the other names are not familiar to Bernheim visitors, but their vision and efforts have been key in making this forest sanctuary available to us all. It is appropriate that we look back at some of those contributions. This is the fourth in a series of posts that hopes to highlight those efforts (click here to read part 1; click here to read part 2; click here to read part 3).

A question frequently asked by visitors is whether the forest still belongs to the Bernheim family.  This reveals an understandable misconception of Isaac W. Bernheim’s vision and his gift. The forest belongs to us, all of us.  The Isaac Wolfe Bernheim Foundation, which owns and operates Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, provides a framework for developing and preserving that great gift was established at the outset in 1929 but the ‘ownership’ has been constant.  It was given to all of us, the people of Kentucky and the United States.  

We have indeed been fortunate that over the ninety years of Bernheim’s history many members of the Bernheim family have given freely of their time and expertise in developing this gift into the treasure it now is. We should recognize and honor those family members. 

I. W. ‘Tubby’ Burnham and Family

I.W. Burnham, II is seated in front with (from left to right) Alexandra Claire Hyman, Jon Burnham, Debra Hyman, and Mimi Burnham photographed at Isaac W Bernheim’s estate in Anchorage, KY circa 1999.

When Isaac Bernheim made this gift, he turned to someone who had expertly managed many of his personal investments for years.  His grandson, I. W. Burnham, the son of Bertram Bernheim, Isaac Bernheim’s third oldest son and a renowned physician, was that person.  (Has name requires a bit of explanation, he was named after his grandfather and was Isaac Wolfe Bernheim II. When he graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania he went to work at the financial firm of Burnham, Herbert, and Company which was co-founded by his uncle, Palmer Burnham – who had previously Americanized his family name. With his grandfather’s approval, I. W. changed not only his last name to reduce any possible confusion, he also dropped his first and middle names choosing to go only by his initials but he retained the ‘II’ suffix. His nickname of ‘Tubby’ was the result of being advised to gain about 50 pounds to help recover from typhoid fever when he was 15. He fully recovered and quickly lost the extra weight but the nickname stuck.) Tubby Burnham expertly managed the Bernheim Trust for many years, even while serving overseas as a pilot during World War II.  After his death, his son Jon Burnham, was selected to assume his role in managing the Bernheim Trust.  Jon remains in that position today and is joined as a trustee by his daughter, Debra Burnham Hyman, I. W. Bernheim’s great-great granddaughter.  Another of Jon’s children, Jon Jr, ‘Sandy’, a pediatric physician practicing in Philadelphia, visited Bernheim Forest with his family this spring.  Tubby Burnham donated the funds to create the beautiful Quiet Garden along the shore of Lake Nevin. After their passing, he and his wife, Lawrie, were interred at that location.

Helen Bernheim Roth

Helen Bernheim was the second daughter and sixth of the seven children born to Isaac and Amanda Bernheim. She remained dedicated to her father and the forest he founded all of her life.  She was one of the several women Isaac cared most about and sought counsel from. She was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Bernheim Foundation from its inception in 1929 and remained so for many years. In 1938, though the forest was not yet open to the public, she became the Foundation Board President and was an active and forward-looking leader. The pond beside the Education Building is her gift to honor her late husband, Albert Roth.  The ashes of both Helen and Albert were scattered in the forest in a location they chose not to be made public.

Lewis Cole

Lewis Cole is pictured on the far left at the fire tower with I.W. Bernheim, family and friends in 1931.

Lewis Cole was the son of Isaac Bernheim’s sister, Sarah Weil Cohn, the child of Isaac’s mother Fanny and her second husband Louis Weil (Isaac’s father Leon Solomon Bernheim died when Isaac was only seven). Like his cousin, Helen Roth, he was an early and long-serving trustee of the Bernheim Foundation and joined her in being a strong advocate for fulfilling the dreams of the founder.






Tom Block

Tom Block, great-grandson of I.W. Bernheim and former board president, greets visitors before a hayride at ColorFest – Bernheim’s longest running event.

Tom Block is a current member of the Board of Trustees of the Bernheim Foundation and its past president. He is the great-grandson of Isaac W. Bernheim and the grandson of Marguerite Bernheim Block, the youngest of the seven Bernheim children.  He is the first, and so far only, Bernheim descendant to serve as the president of the foundation board since the forest opened to the public in 1950.  He can frequently be found at the forest greeting visitors and working to ensure that the aspirations of his great grandfather remain the center of plans for a future where even deeper connections between people and nature will be forged. Tom has also had great success in his family outreach efforts of introducing the living legacy of Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest to I.W. Bernheim descendants.



There have been many other members of the Bernheim family who have also contributed to this special place. We salute them all.

Ken Johnson, Bernheim Volunteer Naturalist


Left: Bernheim family photograph at Homewood, I.W. Bernheim’s former estate in Anchorage, KY circa 1909. Right: Bernheim descendants photographed under the same window at the 90th Anniversary brunch this past September. Pictured from left to right Barbara Block Cohen, Rick Block, Margot Block, Carolyn Roth, Robert Block and Tom Block.


Three generations of Bernheims with Forest Giant Mama Loumari. In attendance are grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren of Isaac’s brother, Bernard Bernheim, with Tom Block (front left) representing I.W. Bernheim’s family.

In 2019, Bernheim celebrates 90 years of connecting people with nature. At over 25 square miles, Bernheim is the largest privately held forest dedicated to conservation and education in the region. Our arboretum is home to plant collections of over 8,000 varieties, public art, and educational programming for thousands of students.  Our pristine forest hosts hikers and outdoor adventures alongside research and conservation projects which will serve to protect the environment for future generations.

As a 100% member and donor supported organization, we could not fulfill this important mission without you. We hope you’ll continue to support our efforts throughout the next 90 years.  Join or donate by clicking here.

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