Minnesota social justice advocate Victor 'Vic' Rosenthal remembered as a generous mentor, friend

A black and white photo of a man.
Victor “Vic” Rosenthal, an unwavering advocate for social justice in Minnesota, died early Tuesday morning. He was 68.
Courtesy photo

Victor “Vic” Rosenthal, an unwavering advocate for social justice in Minnesota, died early Tuesday morning. He was 68.

Rosenthal was a New York native who found a home in St. Paul, where he worked for racial justice, voting rights, gay marriage, rights for immigrants, affordable housing and other issues.

For nearly 18 years, he was the executive director of Jewish Community Action in St. Paul, which organizes around progressive issues such as poverty, racism and injustice.

Carin Mrotz said Rosenthal hired her about two decades ago at JCA.

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“Vic was my boss, and he was a mentor, and became a friend,” she said. “I think of Vic like family.”

Mrotz worked with Rosenthal for 13 years at JCA and then succeeded him in that role, which she held until last year. Mrotz said he mentored her and countless others in local and state politics, passing knowledge on.

“He was so generous with his wisdom; he would teach you about everything. He would never just take you to a meeting, he would tell you what was going to happen and explain who was there. And then he would debrief it with you afterwards,” she said. “He was so invested in not just doing the work, but in really mentoring and bringing younger people along into it.”

Mrotz said Rosenthal also had such a great sense of humor and stressed to her the importance of that in this work.

“We took the work seriously, but not necessarily ourselves,” she said. “He was such a relentless organizer and just never took ‘no’ for an answer and would just fight to the end of the day for what he believed in. And at the same time, he was just an affable, fun person.” 

Rosenthal was recently on the advisory committee on reparations for the city of St. Paul and had a consulting practice around campaign and organizational development. Before the JCA he directed the Minnesota Senior Federation.

Current JCA Executive Director Beth Gendler said she worked with Rosenthal when she led the Minnesota section of the National Council of Jewish Women.

“He was truly an organizing icon, to an extent that, that I wasn’t even aware of,” Gendler said. “He was so humble and generous in his leadership and looked for every opportunity to elevate and amplify the voices of new organizers in the field.”

Gendler said the JCA plans to honor Rosenthal’s legacy in a permanent way.

“He had such a true intuition of what was right that he was absolutely relentless in the pursuit of it, and, and often taking an untraditional road to get there,” Gendler said. “Sometimes when we would step up, or come in with our own ideas, and we learned from the community that that wasn’t what was needed in the moment. He was never afraid to change as needed to meet the actual needs of what’s happening in the world.”

Mrotz said Rosenthal was a tireless worker, but he was committed to making time for his family.

“He was such a dad and he was always talking about his kids. And he was so proud of them. And he was so proud to be able to become a grandfather,” she said. “When we think about Vic's life’s work, it's also just important to hold that for him being in this family that just so openly loved each other so much was part of that work.”

Rosenthal had cancer and was in hospice for the last few months. His family said on his Caring Bridge page that he died early Tuesday morning.

Earlier this month, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter proclaimed March 18 “Victor Rosenthal Day.”