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  Sylvia Schecter – Volunteer Extraordinaire

 

The Ohio Jewish Chronicle April 11, 1991/27 Nisan 5751, Page 1

 

By Ina Horwitz

 

On April 15, Bexley resident Sylvia Schecter will celebrate her 80th birthday. Thus, it would seem timely for members of the community to reflect upon the life of a woman who has given 60 years of volunteer service to the major Jewish organizations in Columbus.

It comes as no surprise that Schecter is included in Who's Who of American Women. Many of her positions and many of her recognitions were given to very few women, and in some instances, to no woman other than herself.

She said that it has been a hard life at times but a very full and rewarding one. "My life has been changed by everything I've done," she added. "I'm a different person today."

A Columbus resident all her life, she started work at age 11 as a stock girl at Reiser's, an area retail store. At 12, she was a salesgirl in the Bornheim Cahn Department Store. At 13, she was secretary to an attorney, Goldie Kantor. Her responsibilities in childhood, as well as a "wonderful family life," contributed, she explained, to her desire to help others. Most important, her family set a pattern, a way of life for her to follow.

She graduated from Central High School at 16, one of two youngest graduates in the entire Columbus school system. She married her husband, Joseph, at age 19. They were married for 57 years, until his recent death from complications of Alzheimer's Disease.

Schecter worked with her husband in his businesses. She remembers his great motivation and aggressiveness and said that being with him gave her the inspiration and abilities to accomplish her volunteer work.

Very early, she became involved in volunteering. As a teen, she belonged to Junior Hadassah. When she married, she became a charter member of B'nai B'rith Women. "I was a shy young woman then," she said.

Schecter is well known for her leadership and commitment to her synagogue, Agudas Achim, and to Judaism, represented by her dedicated work in the Jewish community. Her recognitions and awards are so numerous that listing them all here would be impossible.

B'nai B'rith Women is one of the beneficiaries of Schecter's volunteerism. She founded the Columbus Chapter, which she served as president. Later, she became president of the State Association and District #2 Grand Lodge BBW, participating on National Commissions about Hillel, ADL, adult education, BBYO and the Children's Home in Israel.

During WWII, Schecter organized and set up the B'nai B'rith Women's Production Shows, 1941-43. During that period she also organized the Jewish Blood Donor program and was made honorary chairwoman of the Community Blood Donor Program in 1989-90. In 1959, she was one of only 17 women to attend the International B'nai B’rith convention in Israel, the first of its kind held there.

On May 15, 1977, Schecter was presented with the National Men's B'nai B'rith Guardian of the Menorah award. She is one of only two Columbus residents to receive this recognition.

She has devoted a great deal of time to the OSU Hillel Foundation, especially during the construction of the present building. She remembers sewing drapes by hand for the original small house, where the present facility now stands.

She was a member of Boards of Hillel and the Jewish Center. She also helped organize, over 50 years ago, the Women's Division of the Columbus Jewish Federation, as well as the Columbus Torah Academy and the Women's Chapter of Brandeis University. From 1984-87, she was the co-chair Woman of Cash Mobilization for the Federation.

At Agudas Achim, she's instituted many programs and projects. She was elected the first woman member of their Board of Trustees and the first woman officer of the congregation.

A large painting of Schecter hangs in her living room that was a gift from Agudas Achim Sisterhood. It was painted in 1972 by artist Fay Ruben, who has also done portraits of notables, such as former Governor James Rhodes. The Sisterhood has never presented another portrait to anyone.

On June 11, 1967, the Agudas Achim Brotherhood honored her with the "Flowers for the Living” award in recognition of her "deep concern for traditional Judaism" that "led her to serve her congregation with zeal and devotion."

Schecter said that her association with many “great people" has given her broader outlook on life. She is a very caring person and very proud of her family. "My children," she said, "have always supported me in my work" and she always included them in everything she did. They are Beverly Feiges of Milwaukee, Elaine Grossman and Benson Schecter of Columbus, plus five grandchildren.

Schecter is a Zionist, who has visited Israel several times, and would like to go back. She said that she is not afraid of being in Israel and would travel there anytime. If she could have gone, she said, even the Gulf War would not have stopped her.

Perhaps her most continuous devotion to any Jewish organization has been her 35 years of service to what started as the Columbus Jewish Home for the Aged, became Heritage Village and is now Wexner Heritage House. She's been an Auxiliary president and served an unprecedented three-year term as president of the Board of Directors, only one of two women to have held that office.

She said that she enjoys training and instructing others and has done much in the coordination of Heritage House volunteers. She also helped pick the fabrics and furnishings for the recently remodeled building, not going with the more traditional dark colors, but using bright colored fabrics and plaids instead. “We selected decorating ideas that we could enjoy, using 35 to 40 different wall coverings alone,” she said. “After all, it could be me there someday.”

In fact, her mother, once a resident, brought some of her own items and furniture from home. Now, touches of home can be seen in almost every room.

Schecter also helped with the building of Heritage Tower and the restoration of the assisted living facility, Heritage Manor. She was the first recipient (March 19, 1976) of the Eleanor and Jack Resler “Life with Dignity” award for outstanding devotion and commitment to residents of Heritage House.

Her newest project is Woods at Heritage House, a proposed apartment building for the elderly who may need access to daily amenities, such as a meal system, but who don’t need nursing home care.

“Volunteering for Heritage House these last 35 years has really been my life,” Schecter said, “and a very exciting one. We are very fortunate to have such dedicated, caring people in the Jewish community to allow Heritage House to create and provide services for the elderly that many Jewish communities do not have.”

Executive Vice President of Heritage House Gerald N Cohn called Schecter "an incredible woman. In everything good on our campus, she has played a major role. She is an inspiration to our staff and is never one to stop and rest on her laurels."

Retired executive vice president of the Columbus Jewish Federation and director emeritus of the Columbus Jewish Foundation, Ben Mandelkorn, said, "If ever there was a model volunteer who personified all that is good in contributing to a community in every facet, that's Sylvia. She's a loving, kind, highly respected, self-disciplined person . . . an innovator . . . who stirs people up and stimulates them. . . .”

Rabbi Alan G. Ciner of Agudas Achim said of her: "It is Sylvia Schecter's rooted-ness in the traditions of her faith that have made her the driving force behind so many worthwhile projects in the Jewish community. The ideal of 'Chesed' has been the value that encourages Sylvia to continue to exhibit the boundless energy that is her."

Ina Horwitz is a local free-lance writer and a frequent OJC contributor.

 

Last updated on:    08/18/2009

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