Aiken lost one of its most prominent, respected and beloved citizens on Saturday when Irene Krugman Rudnick died at the age of 89.
A native of Columbia, she began her political career as the Superintendent of Education for Aiken County.
Then, in 1972, Rudnick was the first Jewish woman elected to the Palmetto State’s legislature, according to the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina.
As a member of the House of Representatives, she served District 81 for many years.
Rudnick also was an attorney, and she helped found USC Aiken, where she was an instructor for nearly 60 years, specializing in legal matters.
In addition, Rudnick received numerous awards for her philanthropic and professional efforts.
“She was a legend in this area and in the General Assembly of South Carolina,” said S.C. Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken. “Often leadership in the General Assembly and citizens of this area used her as an example of fairness and inclusion.
“Her contributions were uplifting for Aiken County and South Carolina,” Clyburn continued. “We are all going to miss her across political lines, color lines and economic lines.”
Dr. Tom Hallman, a former USC Aiken chancellor, described Rudnick as “a force in the community for good” and a person with a great sense of humor.
“Everybody knew Irene and what she was about, and what she was about was the best for everybody involved,” Hallman said. “She never met a stranger. She was a wonderful person to be around.”
Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon expressed similar opinions.
Rudnick "exemplified public service to the residents of the City of Aiken for many years,” he said. “I never saw her when she didn’t offer encouraging words. She was a special lady.”
Rudnick’s survivors include a son, Morris Rudnick, and a daughter, Helen Rapoport.
Chris Verenes, chief executive officer of Security Federal Bank, grew up in the Aiken neighborhood where Irene Rudnick and her late husband, Harold, lived.
Verenes and Morris Rudnick were friends as children, and they later became college roommates.
Irene Rudnick “was a character in the most endearing sense of the word,” Verenes said. “She had an outsized personality. She represented a district that didn’t always agree with her views, but they (the residents) kept reelecting her. They loved her because she was fiercely independent. She always fought for the little guy, and she never sold out.”
Verenes remembered a time in the late 1980s when leaders from Aiken went to Columbia to ask S.C. House leaders if they would appoint Rudnick to the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
“The House leadership told them they would put her there, but that she would have to vote with the leadership when they really needed her vote,” Verenes said. “She told them where they could go. It wasn’t her vote to give away. It was the people’s vote. That was really reflective of her character.”
To Morris Rudnick, his mother was a loving parent and also a valued professional associate. In 1983, they began practicing law together and continued to do so until a few weeks prior to her death.
“I owe everything to her, of course,” Morris said. “She cared about every person. It didn't matter what religion or what color. When I was a young lawyer, I was speaking to an African-American client, and he told me, ‘Your mother is a legend in the black community.’ She was a champion of the poor and had a great empathy for people. She never turned down request for help.”
His mother’s desire to provide assistance kept her busy, but she still managed to “always put family first,” Morris said.
And she didn’t let political beliefs get in the way of doing a good deed.
“Even though she was elected as a Democrat, she spent her whole political career helping everyone,” Morris said.