Another earthquake struck the greater Seattle Jewish community this month. The community’s leading philanthropist, Samuel N. Stroum, died on March 9 after an 11-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
At a funeral service at Temple De Hirsch Sinai on March 11, rabbis, friends and Stroum’s daughter, Cynthia, described him as a mentor and a friend. Rabbi Jonathan Singer of Temple Beth Am mentioned that Stroum died on Purim, a day that is supposed to be joyful and a time to honor people who stood up for the Jewish people. Singer said Stroum would be remembered both for his support of the community and the inner joy he shared with everyone he knew.
“Sam had many, many friends,” Singer’s wife and fellow rabbi, Beth Singer, continued. “He also had many rabbis.” She said Stroum always spoke to her of his love for his family. Many community rabbis participated in the service at the temple — attended by nearly 1,000 people including Gov. Gary Locke and Sen. Maria Cantwell — and at the graveside and also led memorial services in the family home.
“My dad would have loved to work this room,” Cynthia Stroum began her eulogy, bringing smiles to many faces. She spoke of her awe in her father’s accomplishments and his ability to connect with people, but admitted that only recently had she learned to see eye-to-eye with her father. “For much of my life, I butted heads with him,” Cynthia said. “He ripped up my driver’s license so many times when I was a teen-ager … I’m convinced that’s why the state of Washington made them plastic.”
This past year, Cynthia spent a lot of time with her dad, seeking to learn more of the family “business” of philanthropy. “He had the energy of 10 men and even this past year when he was sick I could never keep up with him,” she said, adding that she plans to do her best to continue her father’s work.
The work she referred to was Stroum’s leadership, in partnership with his wife Althea, in supporting more than 300 organizations. During the 1990s alone, the Stroums gave $40 million to arts, educational, medical, human services and religious organizations, including the establishment of a $9 million foundation through the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and a generous gift to help build Benaroya Hall.
He was chairman emeritus of the Seattle Symphony. In October, the Stroums announced a gift of $10 million to Brandeis University to fund scholarships, business education and scientific research — the largest gift the Stroums have made to a single institution.
They have also made generous gifts over the years in both time and money to the University of Washington, United Way of King County, Kline Galland Center, Jewish Family Service, Seattle Art Museum, Hillel at the University of Washington, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and Seattle Opera.
Stroum called the Brandeis gift another step in his effort to “give back” to the community of Waltham, Mass., where the Stroum family lived for more than 100 years. After graduating from Waltham High School in 1939, he did not get an opportunity to go to college, but he has helped send numerous young people who also graduated from Waltham High School to Brandeis and served on the Brandeis Board of Trustees and was given an honorary doctorate degree in 1997.
“For someone who didn’t go to college, I have spent a lot of years on college campuses,” said Stroum, who served as a regent on the University of Washington Board of Trustees for 13 years, and was on the UW Medical Center Board for nine years. The Stroum family has also been generous in its financial support of the University of Washington, funding the Jewish Studies Program, supporting the Stroum Lecture Series (now in its 26th year), and helping send students to college here in Washington. He has received honorary degrees from both institutions, plus Whitworth College in Eastern Washington and Seattle University.
Stroum was born in Waltham, Mass., on April 14, 1921. Right after high school, Stroum enlisted in the military, with hopes of using the G.I. Bill to pay for college. World War II and life got in the way.
After studying airplane engine mechanics, he enlisted with the U.S. Army Air Corps and eventually was sent to Seattle to ferry planes out of Boeing Field. He was quartered at the Sorrento Hotel and one evening ventured out to the nearby USO where he met Miss Althea Diesenhaus, the woman who became his wife in August 1942. Sam was so broke that Althea paid for the $3 marriage license.
He went on to found ALMAC/Stroum Electronics, own the 96-store Schuck’s Auto Supply chain and invest in several successful companies through Samuel Stroum Enterprises. He provided start-up capital for many familiar Northwest businesses including Advanced Technologies Laboratories, Immunex and Starbucks. He was instrumental in helping establish the Northwest as a center for high technology, biotechnology and other emerging industries. He was a former director of Seafirst Bank. He regarded his businesses as a fuel for his philanthropic acts.
Among numerous awards, he was named “First Citizen” by the Seattle King County Board of Realtors and “Man of the Year” by the State of Israel, and received the “E. Donnell Thomas Medal of Achievement” from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in 1999. He was also named a “Northwest legend” by the Puget Sound Business Journal.
He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Althea; daughters Cynthia Stroum and Marsha S. Glazer; siblings Herman Stroum of Florida, Gertrude Berman of Florida and Joseph Stroum of Seattle; grandchildren Adam and Tamara Sloan of New York, Scott J. Sloan of Los Angeles and Courtney Stroum Meagher of Seattle.
The family expressed thanks to Dr. Henry G. Kaplan and the dedicated and loving staff of 12 East/Oncology Unit at Swedish Hospital. The family suggests donations may be made to: Swedish Hospital Tumor Institute, Stroum Jewish Community Center or the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, PanCAN, P.O. Box 4809, Palos Verdes, CA 90274.