Harold F. Sher, longtime J supporter, dies at 87

Harold and Ruth Sher have been longtime supporters of the Jewish Community Center.  In 2016, the J renamed its Center of Jewish Life in honor of the couple. Photo courtesy of the J

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

Harold F. Sher, a businessman and major longtime supporter of the Jewish Community Center, died Monday, March 6. He was 87 and a longtime resident of St. Louis. 

Harold Fred Sher was born in St. Louis on Dec. 28, 1929, the son of Abraham and Jennie Coplon Sher. He was a graduate of Blewett High School. He owned and directed the Sher Care Corp., which operated nursing homes and assisted living facilities. He headed the company until 1990, when his son Barrie Sher succeeded him. 

Mr. Sher was known for his support of numerous charities and Jewish institutions in St. Louis, including the Jewish Federation, Congregation Shaare Emeth, the St. Louis Community Foundation and the Jewish Community Center, where he and his wife, Ruth Miller Sher, sponsored the Center of Jewish Life and the Herky’s J Cafe, which is Mr. Sher’s longtime nickname.

Last year, the J renamed the Center of Jewish Life in honor of Ruth and Harold Sher. The Ruth & Harold Sher Center of Jewish Life provides programming for all ages, including Family Center events and classes, Jewish Holiday Celebrations, the Jewish Arts and Soul Project, the Songleader Boot Camp and Israel engagement.

“Harold’s passing is a profound loss for the J and for our entire Jewish community,” said Lynn Wittels, president and CEO of the J. “Thursdays just won’t be the same because for so many years, we knew that we would see him each Thursday, when he came to the J. Often, Harold would check to see how we were doing and share a few words of wisdom. He cared so deeply about our efforts to bring the community together, and he never missed an opportunity to thank us for our work. He will be dearly missed, but his legacy will live on for generations to come.”

When the J’s food service venue was first named in honor of Mr. Sher and his wife back in 2009, Mr. Sher was interviewed by the Jewish Light about the origin of his nickname and his decadeslong association with the J.

“My nickname was Herky,” Mr. Sher said, recalling that he had joined the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, the forerunner of the J, in the 1940s. “All through grade school and high school, all the students I went to school with called me Herky. They didn’t know me any other way.”

Funeral services were held March 9 at Congregation Shaare Emeth, where Rabbi Jim Bennett officiated. In his eulogy, Bennett said that Mr. Sher “mattered to all of us, and believe me, we all mattered to him. … I know that Harold mattered to me. Harold and Ruth were among the most loyal and active congregants. When he was healthy and able, he was at temple every Shabbat.”

In his eulogy, Barrie Sher noted that his father was born during the Great Depression. 

“He grew up where there were few jobs and little money,” Sher said. “He did what he could to bring in a little money for his family, such as selling soda on trains and newspapers on the corner. These difficult early years left an indelible impression that would determine his thought process for his entire life.”

Sher added that his father “always had a burning desire to own and manage his own business. With his meticulous thought process and his ability to manage people, he knew he had the skills to be successful. He always remained vigilant for that special situation that would allow him to fulfill his dream of growing his own company.”

Mr. Sher was able to deploy those skills when he gained ownership of what became Sher Care.

Survivors include Ruth Miller Sher, his wife of 69 years; their three children, sons Barrie Sher (Karen) and Ronnie Sher (Shelly), and daughter Susan Csengody (Tom), all of St. Louis, and seven grandchildren.

Burial was at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery on White Road. Memorial contributions may be made to the charity of the donor’s choice.