Isaac “Ike” Heller, 88, of Scotch Plains, a toy maker, developer, and major donor to the UJA Campaign for many years, died March 7.
Heller and his wife, Helaine, contributed to UJA at first through the Jewish Federation of Central NJ, and continuing with Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ after the 2012 merger of the Central federation with United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
One of his philanthropic priorities was providing scholarships to Jewish teens to study in Israel.
“Ike Heller was part of a small group of leaders who led by example. He never sought the limelight and year after year Ike along with his wife Helaine were always there to make a difference in the lives of those in need in Israel and locally,” said Stanley Stone, who was executive vice president of the Central federation and is now senior vice president of Greater MetroWest.
“I remember vividly at an emergency fund-raising caucus we had for the Second Lebanon War, first people began giving long remarks,” said Stone. “Ike stood up and said, ‘Now is the time for action, not speeches — whatever you were thinking of giving, think about doubling it.’ He sat down and suddenly everyone started to respond.”
After serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II, the Ellenville, NY, native bought some Army surplus radio parts, set up shop in the basement of his brother-in-law’s store, and built the Remco Toy Company, a prominent toy manufacturer of the 1950s and ’60s based in Newark and later Harrison. Its best-known products included the Johnny Reb Cannon, Frogman the US Navy Commando, and vehicles and action figures based on popular television shows and recording acts.
After leaving Remco in 1965, he began a second business, I. Heller Construction Co., Inc., builders of industrial warehouses. He served as board chair and CEO of what became Heller Industrial Parks until his death. It is one of the nation’s largest privately held industrial park owners/developers.
“Ike cared deeply about the Jewish community and supported many causes, here and in Israel,” said Kim Hirsh, a niece of Heller and director of philanthropic initiatives for the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest.
Hirsh recalled that Heller was a major supporter of the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel program, sponsored by the Reform movement.
“Many years ago, it made a huge difference in the life of his daughter, Audrey, and he wanted to make sure other Jewish teens had the opportunity that she had,” said Hirsh.
She also remembered her uncle as a “great storyteller.”
“Sometimes at family events, there would be a small crowd of people gathered around, listening raptly and laughing, and we knew Ike was telling stories about his education in a one-room schoolhouse, or life in the Navy, or how he collected Army surplus equipment to develop toy walkie-talkies,” she said. “He led an incredibly rich and full life.”
He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Helaine; four daughters, Audrey (Jack) Romberg of Tallahassee, Fla., Laurie Kaufman of Marlboro, Hollie Heller (Ralph Joseph) of Bridgewater, and Hillary (Luke) Granfield of Iowa City, Iowa; a sister, Mildred Galen of Monroe Township; a brother, Paul Heller of Dix Hills, NY; 10 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Services were held March 11 at Temple Emanu-El, Westfield, with arrangements by Menorah Chapels at Millburn, Union. Memorial contributions may be made to the Heller Family Scholarship Fund for the benefit of NFTY-EIE High School in Israel; make checks payable to “Union for Reform Judaism” and send to Paul Reichenbach, URJ, 633 Third Ave., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10017.