David Sommer, a self-made man and Jewish philanthropist — and the father of local Jewish federation leader Ellen Goldner of Mountain Lakes — died Jan. 16 at his home in Parkland, Fla. He was 98 years old.
His daughter, who served from 2002 to 2005 as president of what was then United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, told NJ Jewish News in a Jan. 25 phone interview that his greatest lesson was, “When you give you always get much more in return.”
Recovering from knee surgery and unable to attend her father’s funeral, Goldner used FaceTime technology to deliver a eulogy that spoke of Sommer’s selflessness and generosity.
“His father had died of tuberculosis when he was 16,” she said. “He was the oldest son in a family with six children, which meant he had to keep the family grocery store afloat and support his mother, brothers, and sisters.
“He was totally broke and he had no collateral. So he decided to go to a local bank to ask for a loan to keep the business afloat.” On the way there he passed a beggar, reached into his pocket, and gave the man the last quarter he owned.
“When he got to the bank, miraculously and really to his complete shock, the bank manager agreed to give him a loan,” said Goldner. “He was able to keep the business afloat and feed his family,”
“That one story has influenced my entire life,” Goldner told NJJN. “There is always someone less fortunate than you, and it is your responsibility to take care of others. He had done that his whole life.”
Sommer was born on Nov. 12, 1917, in Minooka, Penn., a small town near Scranton. After serving in World War II as an Army cook, he met Ethel Heikoff. They married in 1949.
In 1959, he became a warehouse manager of a health and beauty company called Rack Rite. It evolved into the Rite Aid Corporation, which he helped run until he retired 30 years ago in his mid-60s.
In retirement, Sommer joined with other executives to help small businesses abroad that were struggling. In 1985, he assisted the Zubillaga family in Caracas to build a successful drug store chain in Venezuela.
“Not only did he help to create thousands of jobs for poor people in Venezuela, but he became a beloved second father to the entire family,” Goldner said. Several members traveled to Florida for the funeral.
“Dave never forgot his humble beginning,” she said. “He had a great love and concern for all people and became a leading force in guiding many Jewish organizations.”
Goldner’s parents were lifetime members of Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women, major donors to United Jewish Appeal, and major supporters and founding members of the Israel Tennis Centers and Jewish Adoptions & Foster Care Options.
Sommer grew up in a Conservative synagogue and was a member of the Reform B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton, but, said Goldner, her father followed “his own rules.” “My dad wrapped tefillin every single morning of his life and davened three times a day,” she said, but “he ate shrimp and lobster and rode on Shabbat. He had his own rules, but he really believed in God and he always told us he was not afraid to meet his maker.”
In addition to his wife Ethel, Sommer is survived by Goldner and her husband, Alan; his daughter and son-in-law Judy and Mark Shankman of Boston; and by six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.