Remembering Oscar Boonshoft
Remembering Oscar Boonshoft, May 2010
The Dayton philanthropist approached giving as investments in community
By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer
|Oscar Boonshoft at the dedication of the Boonshoft Center for Jewish Culture and Education in Centerville, Nov. 23, 2003|
The first time Peter Wells met Oscar Boonshoft was in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War.
“We were all called out of (Yom Kippur) services,” said the retired executive vice president of the Jewish Federation, then the second in charge at the Federation.
“That evening, we met at the home of my predecessor, Bob Fitterman, and we sat there planning strategy. And someone said, ‘Do you know this guy, Oscar Boonshoft? He cornered the soybean market.’ Only two people in the room knew him. The one who brought it up had read it in The Wall Street Journal.”
The leadership of the emergency campaign invited Boonshoft to an advance gifts luncheon for major donors at the office of Lou Goldman.
“But he got there late,” Wells said. “Lou talked to him privately in his office. And he wrote out whatever was in his checking account.”
Boonshoft, who died on March 22 at the age of 92, would go on to provide multi-million dollar gifts to Federation causes and facilities, for Temple Israel’s current building in Dayton, the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, and the Boonshoft Center for Medical Sciences at Kettering College of Medical Arts. In 2005, he gave $28.5 million to Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine.
Though not a particularly religious man, Wells said, he was connected to Jewish values.
“The Torah teaches that helping our fellow man is a very essential and worthy endeavor,” Boonshoft said in a 1998 interview with The Observer.
Boonshoft, a quiet, unassuming individual, grew up in New York. He attended Stevens Institute of Technology in nearby Hoboken, N.J. and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1939. Later that year, he received a job offer as a project engineer with the U.S. Army Air Corps at Wright Field, now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
This was the start of 30 years of various positions at WPAFB, including nine months of military service and eight years as a USAF contracting officer.
“At the base, during World War II, he designed trajectories for gunners and planes,” Wells said.
In 1950, he married Marjorie, his wife of 54 years; they raised a daughter and three sons. He retired from the base in 1970.
While working at the base, he was also growing his fortune trading commodity futures contracts.
“He was such a straight guy,” Wells said, “he made the trades on the pay phone during his breaks.”
“He was a legend,” said stockbroker Bernie Rabinowitz, who is also chair of the Dayton Jewish Federation Foundation.
“He was a legend in our firm because we did most of the business,” Rabinowitz added. “He was thought of as an oracle. He was on the Federation Foundation board and on the Federation Investment Committee. He gave us his thoughts, he was never shy. But as successful as he was, more so than anybody else in the room, he understood that it was a group dynamic and that he couldn’t force his view upon the whole group.”
Rabinowitz said he’ll never forget a conversation he and Boonshoft had in 2005 about the stock market, while Rabinowitz was driving him to his residence at Bethany Village after a meeting.
“He said that he had lightened up, that he was doing less than he had done before because he was very, very afraid of the impact that the hedge funds had on the market and that they were doing things with derivatives and probably maybe things that they didn’t completely understand. He was afraid that one day, something could really happen adversely if somebody guessed wrong or somebody got into real trouble and had to liquidate huge positions. He was a little ahead of himself, a couple of years, but that, to a large degree, is what happened.”
Wells said Boonshoft approached his giving the same way he approached investments.
“He thought them through,” Wells said of prospective funding projects. “We looked at what the impact of things were, the demographics. He asked the same questions at board meetings. He was a constant analyst.”
“He was just a very nice man,” Rabinowitz said. “He was quiet. To a certain degree, maybe he was shy. Honestly, you would never know that he was a man with so much wealth. He felt that he was very fortunate to have made the kind of money he was able to make, and he wanted to give it back.”