EACH YEAR at this time - in what has become sort of a community rite - some of the countless devoted friends of Milton S. Kronheim Sr. present him with a numbered jersey or shirt to mark his age. And for his birthday last Monday, hundreds of wellwishers from all walks of Washington life gathered at a weekend party to watch him don a "90." They came not merely out of respect for the man's age, but out of respect for the man - a living legend in this town who has always spent his long life helping people.

By trade, Mr. Kronheim was a wholesale liquor dealer, but by his deeds he is far better known today as a humanitarian. One can win that title, of course, by being a big contributor to worthy causes, and that Mr. Kronheim certainly is. But his financial and personal assistance in civic, philanthropic, social welfare and patriotic interests over the decades has been accompanied with a genuine, exuberant interest in people of all races and creeds. As his grandson Richard noted at the birthday party, Milton Kronheim's success is attributable to "his policy toward human beings . . . doing the right thing for the big guy and the small guy."

The "big guys" who have known him by his first name include the presidents since Roosevelt, justices of the Supreme Court and government and business leaders.But many others are proud to count him as a friend for his vigorous opposition to racial and religious bigotry when it meant a lot in this his native city. "I'm feeling pretty good," the honoree said after two solid hours of greeting people at his party. "This is exhilarating." We're glad to hear it, and to join in wishing him many more exhilarating times - and new shirts.