The proudest moment of Ben Grenald’s life was the night he helped round up a crew of German prisoners during World War II.
As a U.S. Navy Ensign, Grenald, then 23, was assigned as the officer of the deck on a military vessel at New York’s Pier 92, not far from where the Queen Mary was moored.
That night, eight German prisoners of war jumped from the Queen Mary into the Hudson River. Grenald, who in 2013 told the Miami Herald it was his first time on watch, had the escapees returned within hours.
“The apprehension of these eight prisoners of war, all that had escaped, is very largely due to his actions,” wrote U.S. Navy Capt. A.H. Pashley in a commendation at the time.
Grenald, a former Miami Beach City commissioner and founder of a mini-pharmacy empire, died Monday of cancer at his home in North Miami. He was 100.
Shane Grenald, his grandson, called Grenald a force of good in people’s lives. Grenald served on the City Commission from 1983-1989, and helped bring sidewalk cafes to Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road.
During his tenure, Grenald conducted “cleanathons” to rid the Beach of trash and chaired the Keep Dade Beautiful group, which promoted beautification projects.
He organized a network to distribute near-expiring food to hungry residents. The project gave away $850,000 worth of food in a little over a year, Ben Grenald told the Miami Herald in 1989.
“If he touched you, you instantly fell in love with him,” Shane Grenald said. “He always treated people not like friends, but like family.”
Grenald, a pharmacist who owned 38 pharmacies — including five in Miami Beach — was particularly attached to Moderne Drugs on 41st Street, which became a community staple in the city.
Over the years, he developed his own skincare and fragrance line and racked up more than 150 patents, trademarks and copyrights.
Grenald was born in 1920 in Brooklyn and raised in Kentucky. He earned a bachelor of science in pharmacy from the University of Louisville and an honorary doctorate from the University of Kentucky.
Among his inventions are Liquid-Hoze, a paint-on stocking, and Shuttle Lotion, a first-aid cream that first went on sale in 1938 and is still sold today.
The founder of his own cosmetics company, American Hygienic Laboratories, Grenald also sold a “Tiffan E” line of Vitamin E skincare products (later renamed “D’lanerg” — his last name spelled backward — following a lawsuit from Tiffany & Co.) and Mascaroff eye makeup remover.
In 1939 he traveled to Miami for a football game and decided to move there. It was the one place he found relief from his pollen allergies, he told the Herald in the ‘80s.
“The second I hit Miami, my hay fever stopped,” he said in an article in 1985 when he received the Kentuckian Medal from the University of Kentucky’s College of Pharmacy. He told his mom he planned to spend his life in Miami.
In 1943, six weeks after the night he helped round up the prisoners, Grenald married in Miami Beach. His bride, Selma Minden, who died in 2018, was a Miami Beach native.
Grenald became a member of the Visitor and Convention Authority, and 11 years later, in 1983, he ran for a Miami Beach commission seat. He said he wanted “to combat crime and boost the city’s image.”
“We need pride and love for our community to help it out,” he said at the time.
He served until 1989 when he lost his reelection bid to Abe Hirschfeld, a millionaire real estate tycoon and former owner of the Clarion Castle Hotel. Hirschfeld died in 2005.
The two spent the campaign cycle flinging political dirt at each other. Grenald took out a full-page ad in a local newspaper to reprint an article from the Village Voice about an alleged hit-and-run in which Hirschfeld’s chauffeur had been involved in New York.
Grenald used city stationery to pen a letter to Donald Trump, then just a businessman, in 1989 asking to corroborate details about the supposed connection Hirschfeld said he had with Trump.
“It seems that your name and affiliation constantly come up and I would like, if possible, clarification with regard to his association to you,” Grenald wrote in a July 21, 1989, letter to Trump. “Is it strictly business? Is he your partner in many projects? Is he free to use your name in a political contest giving him due credibility?”
Grenald lost the ‘89 race by 21 votes.
In a separate incident, a Miami-Dade Circuit judge fined Grenald $10,600 for illegally spending 1987 campaign contributions.
The Florida Commission on Ethics also ruled against Grenald in a different case, saying Grenald had created a conflict of interest when he hired city publicist Gerald Schwartz to run his reelection campaign after voting to approve Schwartz’s government role.
In 2013, when he was 93, Grenald told the Herald that his secret to life was simple: “I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife.”
Grenald is survived by his daughter Suzi Stettner, grandchildren Tiffany Stettner, Brett Stettner, Shaun (Sara) Grenald, Scott (Leo Gallardo) Grenald, and Shane Grenald, great-grandchildren Heavenly Bliss Angel Stettner, Alexander Grenald, and Madeleine Grenald, and brother Ray (Sis) Grenald.
The funeral service will be live-streamed on YouTube on Wednesday, May 13, at 2 p.m. on the Shaun Grenald YouTube Channel and will be available afterwards for continued viewing.
A memorial service will be held on Zoom at noon on Thursday, May 14. For information on attending, contact Sara Grenald at Sara@grenald.com or 305-998-9728.