Alyn V. Essman, past president of Jewish Federation, philanthropist, dies at 84

Alyn V. Essman

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Alyn V. Essman, a prominent business leader, community benefactor and philanthropist, and former president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, died Saturday, Aug. 27, at age 84. Mr. Essman had been in declining health in recent months. Despite his health issues in recent months, “his spirit, joy and intellect never wavered,” his son-in-law, Todd Taylor, told the Jewish Light.

Alyn Victor Essman was born in St. Louis on May 3, 1932, the son of Nathan and Bella Kovinsky Essman. He was a 1949 graduate of University City High School, and of Washington University with a bachelor of science in business administration in 1953. He completed his military service in the army.   He married Marlyn Rose Schaeffer Essman and they had two daughters. Marlyn Essman died on Jan. 17, 2016.

Mr. Essman joined Rembrandt Studios, a photo studio operator, in 1956 as controller. His focus was on building a career with a growing business. During his 44 years with the firm, it evolved into Fact Photo, Chromalloy Photographic and finally, Consumer Programs Incorporated (CPI). Under Mr. Essman’s leadership, the firm experienced “explosive growth,” according to David Nicklaus, business writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Mr. Essman was named president of CPI in 1969 and served as its chairman and chief executive officer from 1973 until his retirement in 2001. He was known for his keen skills in financial analysis and for mentoring and empowering employees and others. 

After retiring, Mr. Essman became an educator and student with Washington University’s Lifelong Learning Institute, studying and teaching literature, music, economics and philosophy. He was a devoted advocate for City Academy, Lift for Life Academy, Webster University and the St. Louis Science Center. 

Mr. Essman, along with his wife, was a major benefactor of causes and institutions in both the Jewish and general communities. He was honored as a distinguished alumnus of Washington University. The Essmans served on numerous boards of charitable and cultural institutions in greater St. Louis, including Jewish Federation, Jewish Hospital (now Barnes-Jewish), the Jewish Community Center and the St. Louis Symphony Society, among many others. The Essmans were active members of Congregation Share Emeth, and donated funds to publish a High Holiday songster, which was used by the congregation for many years. 

Mr. and Mrs. Essman had served as co-chairs of the Jewish Federation’s Annual Campaign before he was elected board president. During his tenure as president in 1989-91, Federation raised $983,000 as part of the Passage to Freedom Drive, a $75 million national campaign to resettle more than 40,000 Soviet Jews in the United States.  

Mr. Essman was admired for his calm and deliberative approach to solving community problems and for enlisting support from all segments of the Jewish community. 

Myrna Meyer, a longtime friend of Mr. Essman’s, told the Light, “It was my pleasure to work with Alyn during our terms on the Jewish Federation board. Alyn was always a great listener; he was curious and sensitive to our community’s needs. People greatly respected Alyn’s quiet, intelligent leadership skills, and were easily motivated to work along side with him.”

Funeral services were held Monday, Aug. 29 at Congregation Shaare Emeth, where Rabbi Jim Bennett and Rabbi Jeffrey B. Stiffman, along with Cantor Seth Warner officiated. Burial was at Chevra Kadisha Cemetery.

In his eulogy, Rabbi Stiffman said, “We have lost such a special man — one who I always thought of as a gentle  giant. Not a physical giant — although most of us looked up to him — but a giant of the soul. He was a unique gentleman, who combined intellect, wisdom and great success with a modesty and kindly manner that is rare in today’s world.” 

Rabbi Jim Bennett of Shaare Emeth said, “He was a true mensch…His love for his family, his respect for his congregation and the Jewish community, and his generosity in countless ways throughout his life, stand as a testament to his meaningful life.” 

Words of tribute and gratitude were also offered by Mr. Essman’s son-in-law, Todd Taylor, and by Mr. Essman’s grandchildren. 

Survivors include daughters Sharyn Essman and Judy (Todd) Taylor; a brother, Norman Essman (Alexis); and six grandchildren.

Memorial contributions preferred to City Academy, 4175 N. Kingshighway Blvd., St. Louis, 63115 or  Congregation Shaare Emeth, or the charity of the donor’s choice.