By Stacey Dresner
Kenneth Gordon Abrahams of Enfield and Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. died Monday, March 30 at the age of 85.
Abrahams was a leading supermarket executive and an active member of the Springfield Jewish community.
Born on June 3, 1929 to Alfred and Betsey Abrahams, he was always proud of his Chicopee Falls, Mass. roots, where his was the only Jewish family in an Irish Catholic neighborhood. The son of immigrants, he got his first business experience at his father’s corner grocery. A relentless optimist, he was devoted to family, friends and community, and spent his later years diplomatically brokering the survival of the Orthodox Jewish communities of greater Springfield. He was president of Congregation B’nai Torah in Longmeadow until just months before his death.
Abrahams graduated from Chicopee High School in 1947 and earned a degree in personnel management from American International College in Springfield, Mass. in 1951, where he worked his way through college playing the tenor saxophone and the clarinet. He married his childhood sweetheart, Rosalie Saffer, whom he met in kindergarten, and together they found their way to San Obispo, Calif., where he served in the United States Army’s Adjutant General’s Corps from 1951 to 1953.
The couple then settled in Springfield where he worked for Food Mart for 42 years. He joined the supermarket in 1954 as director of personnel for its two stores. As the company grew, he became director of store operations in 1957, and rose to first vice president and general manager six years later. By 1969, he was president of Waldbaum’s Food Mart, overseeing its 45 stores throughout Connecticut and Western Massachusetts. He served in that role for 27 years before retiring in 1996. In his retirement, he consulted to the supermarket industry throughout the East Coast. He was the Connecticut Food Stores Association “Man of the Year” in 1986, and was on the Boards of Directors of the Massachusetts Retail Grocers Association, Connecticut Food Stores Association, Supermarket Institute, and Topco Associates.
His professional success notwithstanding, Abrahams was most proud of his leadership roles in philanthropic, community, and religious life. He served as trustee of American International College, president of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass., vice-chair of the Jewish Endowment Foundation, vice president of Heritage Academy in Longmeadow, Mass, and a board member of Heritage, Springfield’s Kodimoh Synagogue, Jewish Nursing Home, Child and Family Services, and United Cerebral Palsy Association. As president of Food Mart, he established the “Avocado Open,” then New England’s largest charitable golf tournament, and in more than 30 years raised millions of dollars for a variety of charities, including cerebral palsy.
Abrahams was honored with the 1990 National Human Relations Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews. Then-Mayor Mary Hurley declared June 10, 1991 “Kenneth Abrahams Day” for his numerous contributions to the City of Springfield, including his efforts, along with those of Congregation Kodimoh and State of Israel Bonds, to raise funds to provide housing and jobs for Soviet Jewish refugees.
Recognizing the challenges faced by an Orthodox Jewish community that was dwindling in size, Abrahams played an active role in negotiating mergers of Springfield’s three Orthodox synagogues in 2009.
A longtime member of Kodimoh, he became president of the Alliance of Orthodox Congregations during the merger, guiding the subsequent planning, purchasing and relocation efforts.
As president of the resulting synagogue — Congregation B’nai Torah — 80-year-old Abrahams could be seen daily at the building at 2 Eunice Drive, dealing with the contractor and workers who refurbishing the sanctuary, kitchen and chapel.
“I think we have been fortunate to have Ken Abrahams spearheading the project,” said the rabbi of the congregation at the time, Rabbi Fred Hyman. “I even found him yesterday moving furniture into my office at 8 o’clock in the morning. He has the energy of a young man.”
He went on to serve as president of Congregation B’nai Torah from January 2007 to November 2014.
“Kenny was a man who made things happen,” said Meredith Dragon, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass. “Our community relied on him as a forward thinker and change agent. He was a true leader who was loved by so many in our community. We will miss his leadership, his smile, his warmth and his complete and total dedication to the Jewish community. We were lucky to have his vision and support in our community.”
Abrahams’ experience in the supermarket business was put to good use last year during the purchase of The Crown Market in West Hartford by members of the local Jewish community.
“Ken volunteered to help the Crown and was at the supermarket several days a week. He could not have been a greater asset in helping us with all the details of operating and renovating the store,” said Henry Zachs of Farmington, who is among 50 investors in the Crown. Zachs, who shares Crown’s management duties with Alan Lazowski and Brian Newman, added, “Two weeks ago we met at his home to make sure that we were on track with our plan His guidance was invaluable and it will continue to be invaluable as we move forward with plans that he played a large part in constructing. He did it all because of his strong sense of commitment to any Jewish community that he could help. He was a true mensch and he will be sorely missed.”
Ann Pava agrees. “The Crown was just one of many projects for which he worked tirelessly,” says Pava, who is also among the supermarket’s 50 investors. Now living in West Hartford, Pava and her husband, Jeremy, were long-time friends of Abrahams, dating back to the many years the couple lived in Springfield, Mass.
“Having raised our family in Springfield, I can tell you that everything he did touched us personally and enriched the lives of the entire Jewish community,” she says. “He was truly a mentor to both Jeremy and myself, and we will really miss him.”
In addition to his wife, Rosalie, Abrahams is survived by a sister, Janice Reisman; three children, Beth Abrahams Cyr and her husband, Bryan Coombs, of Acton, Lynn Abrahams and her husband, Rob Bertsche, of Needham, and Mark Abrahams and his husband, Scott Wechsler, of New York City; and three grandchildren, Joshua and Jeremiah Bertsche and Rebecca Cyr.
The funeral will be Wednesday, April 1 at 1 p.m. at Congregation B’nai Torah with burial in Kodimoh Cemetery. The family will sit shiva from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 1, and 2 to 4 p.m. and 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 2, at the family home in Enfield. For further information or directions, please visit ascherzimmerman.com. – See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bostonglobe/obituary.aspx?n=kenneth-g-abrahams&pid=174527022&fhid=15522#sthash.AcgShgQi.dpuf
Memorial contributions may be made to the Jewish Endowment Foundation/Ken & Rosalie Abrahams Fund, 1160 Dickinson St. Springfield, Mass. 01108; or to Congregation B’nai Torah, 2 Eunice Drive, Longmeadow, MA 01106.