Unsung Heroes 2015: Wayne Kaufman

“Lisa Mandel”
Wayne Kaufman

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

This story was originally published on May 21, 2015

Wayne Kaufman may be receiving the Unsung Hero Award but it’s really his late brother Ralph in whose memory much of his work is being done.

“His passion was helping people in general, mainly a lot of children’s charities,” said Kaufman of his sibling, who served in the Air Force. “I took on that role after he passed to raise money to help veterans, their families and children’s charities. Last year, we actually formed our own 501c3 (tax-exempt nonprofit) called the Kaufman Fund.”

The Kaufman Fund is new but a golf tournament in honor of Ralph Kaufman has been going on since 1990 with the goal of helping returning veterans gain access to a wide variety of services, including housing, employment or psychological help for post-traumatic stress disorder. The organization even works to lend a hand with home repairs for those who have served and bolsters scholarship funds for their children. From assisting vets who want to visit the Washington D.C. Memorial Wall to giving holiday parties at the Missouri Veterans Home, the group opens many possibilities for the people who have defended our freedoms.

“We’re involved in over 20 different veteran organizations here in Missouri,” Kaufman said. “We raise the money and decide what organizations we want to contribute to and how much we can give them. In the last 20-some years, we’ve probably raised well over a million dollars and have given it all away.”

A Vietnam veteran himself, Wayne Kaufman, who will turn 67 in June, served with distinction in the U.S. Army earning the Bronze Star and Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster.

Fellow veteran Dr. Jerry Becker can easily sum up the importance of what Kaufman does.

“May God bless his work,” he said.

Becker said that all too often veterans end up forgotten by a nation that made them many promises. Those are the kinds of promises men like Kaufman want to deliver on.

“He’s very good at giving, servicing, helping out and going the extra mile with veterans and their families,” said Becker. “He does a lot of it largely on his own. He has been a lightning rod of hope and vision for a lot of veterans.”

Given Kaufman’s history, he sees the cause of vets as a passion though it isn’t the only effort in which he’s been involved. He’s also been part of the board of Rebuilding Together St. Louis for nearly two decades.

“It is a really great organization,” he said. “One day a year, we fix up homes in the St. Louis area for people who are either low-income, elderly or disabled. We do that for free.”

He’s also been involved as a board member of the Northwest Chamber of Commerce, Old Newsboys, 1904 Charitable Foundation Veterans Affairs and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of St. Louis. He has chaired Vet Net and been president of the Rotary Club of Ferguson. His career has been equally impressive, earning him the presidency of the St. Louis Remodeling Association and a board membership at the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

“The reason I thought it was so important for him to be considered for this recognition is that he is so low-key about what he does,” said Cary Mogerman, a local attorney who nominated Kaufman for the unsung honor. “You never hear about it.”

Mogerman said he was surprised to learn the extent of Kaufman’s giving.

“I had no idea how many people were involved, how much work they do every year and how much they’d given away in the last 15 or 20 years,” he said. “When I learned about the level of effort and the level of help they provided under his leadership, I really felt that that’s the kind of work that many more of us should try to aspire to do.”

He said Kaufman emanates warmth and friendliness and had a strong commitment to assisting others.

“He has a very deep level of curiosity and interest in the community around him,” said Mogerman. “A lot of us live in a community and partake in parts of it but he is a guy who is just very energetic and active in the community in which he lives. It makes him an exemplar of the kind of person we should all try to be.”

Kaufman said while honored to be receiving an Unsung Hero award, it isn’t why he does what he does.

“I don’t really feel like I’m a hero,” he laughs. “It’s nice but that’s not what it’s all about. That’s not what I’m looking for.”

What he’s looking for is clear enough.

“I just like helping people,” he said. “It’s real simple.”