Remembering Alvin Weisberg
Esther Allweiss Ingber
Expressions of appreciation continue to pour in for the late Alvin A. Weisberg, a notable philanthropist and businessman who was devoted to his family.
Mr. Weisberg, 90, of Bloomfield Hills, died on July 8, 2017.
He was a founding partner of the Chatham Supermarket chain in southeast Michigan; then, for 19 years, beginning at age 65, he was the controlling shareholder of Pet Supplies Plus stores in four states. Often in tandem with his wife, Henrietta, he uplifted lives with generosity on both a small and large scale. Their legacies include a World War II-era German box car displayed at the Holocaust Memorial Center (HMC) in Farmington Hills.
“God made him successful in business so he could care for others,” said Rabbi Aaron Starr, eulogizing Mr. Weisberg, his congregant and friend. The funeral service was held July 10 at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.
Mr. Weisberg was born in 1926, the fourth child of Russian immigrants Clara (Brown) and Peter Weisberg. After their wedding in Pittsburgh, the Weisbergs moved to Mt. Clemens to utilize the city’s therapeutic mineral baths for Clara. The children, however, were all born in Pittsburgh: Bernard, Selma, Harvey, Alvin and Harold.
A 1945 graduate of Central High School, Mr. Weisberg was “a grocery guy from the earliest of ages,” Starr said, cutting meat and attending to the needs of his father’s White Hill Meat Market on Vernor Highway and Lawndale in Detroit.
In 1947, the Weisbergs pooled their money and bought Chatham Village Supermarket.
“In the go-go years, they worked up to 70 hours a week to build that business,” said Alvin’s son, Steven Weisberg.
Alvin Weisberg was Chatham’s vice president of store construction and property management.
When the family sold the chain in 1985, they owned 50 supermarkets and seven health and beauty aid stores.
Chatham was a friendly place to work. Details of next month’s annual reunion are on the alumni Facebook page.
On a personal level, Mr. Weisberg enjoyed a 63-year marriage to the former Henrietta Gastfrjnd, who often called him “Mr. Wonderful.” They were attendants in the same wedding party and married after a five-month engagement.
“They made each other laugh, no matter how difficult the situation,” Starr said. “A Yiddish quip here, a touch of sarcasm there.”
Steven noted in his eulogy, “His love for her was unshakeable and visible to see.”
Mr. Weisberg relished being a father. Steven learned about business from him; they joked and shmoozed. They took long drives together.
Julie (Weisberg) Schlafer said her dad taught her about plumbing and using a knife to butcher meat.
Lori Weisberg and Steven Schlafer became two more children, not just in-laws, when they married Steven and Julie. The Weisbergs treasured their grandchildren and one great-grandson. When grandson Brad read from the Torah at his bar mitzvah, Starr said, “It meant the world to Alvin when a learned man complimented Brad on his trope.”
Speaking about his father, Steven Weisberg called him “a natural-born leader and teacher” and said, “I never met anyone with a greater capacity to forgive than Alvin Weisberg.
“My father loved people around him and people loved him back,” Steven said. “When their luck was down, he helped with loans, gifts and pep talks.”
Mr. Weisberg believed Jews should take care of their own. Among many worthwhile causes, he and Henrietta generously contributed to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network. He took satisfaction that several ambulances purchased for Mogen David Adom — one as recently as last fall — are helping countless Israelis.
The Henrietta and Alvin Weisberg Gallery at the HMC, open since 2011, is dedicated to the memory of Henrietta’s family killed in the Holocaust. The box car on display is of great significance as a reminder of the Shoah.
“The Weisberg Gallery impacts each visitor as they enter the museum,” said Cheryl Guyer, director of development.
Mr. Weisberg grew up at Shaarey Zedek, joining officially with Henrietta in 1953. Their children received strong Jewish educations. Starr announced that “by the High Holidays, the brand-new Henrietta and Alvin Weisberg Lobby will welcome every person who comes to Shaarey Zedek.”
In 2011, Beaumont Health System announced a $1.5 million gift from the Weisbergs to build today’s Henrietta and Alvin Weisberg Center for the Acute Care of the Elderly at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. Additionally, the money established an endowed fund for geriatric education and research.
Alvin Weisberg said at the time, “We are so pleased to be able to support a specialized center for seniors; we know it touches so many lives every day of the year.”
Mr. Weisberg had running battles with cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other serious ailments. When Beaumont medical staff said his end was near, he praised his doctors and allowed that at age 90, “I’m grateful to be alive.”
Hard work and determination were central to Mr. Weisberg’s character, but helping people was his passion.
Mr. Weisberg was the beloved husband of Henrietta Weisberg; father of Steven and Lori Weisberg, and Julie and Steven Schlafer; “Grandpa Al” to Jessica Weisberg, Madeline and Logan Ostrand, and Matthew Weisberg; “Papa” to Bradley Schlafer and fiancee, Carly Freedman, and Scott Schlafer; and “Great-grandpa Al” to Liam Bohlin.
He also is survived by brother and sisters-in-law, Harold and Marion Weisberg, Rachel Schwartz and Helen Weisberg, and other family members.
Mr. Weisberg was the son of the late Peter and the late Clara Weisberg; brother and brother-in-law of the late Bernard Weisberg, the late Selma and the late George Feinberg, and the late Harvey and the late Lucille Weisberg.
Also officiating were Rabbi Yonaton Dahlen, Hazzan David Propis and Assistant Cantor Leonard Gutmann, all of Shaarey Zedek, and Mr. Weisberg’s nephew, Cantor Roger Weisberg of Illinois.
Interment took place at Clover Hill Park Cemetery in Birmingham. Contributions may be made to Congregation Shaarey Zedek, 27375 Bell Road, Southfield, MI 48034, (248) 357-5544, www.shaareyzedek.org; Holocaust Memorial Center, 28123 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills, MI 48334, (248) 553-2400, www.holocaustcenter.org; or William Beaumont Hospital, 3601 W. 13 Mile Road, Royal Oak, MI 48073, (248) 551-5330, www.foundation.beaumont.edu. Arrangements by Ira Kaufman Chapel.