Jerome Schmelzer, who was known for his role in the resurgence of downtown Cleveland, will be remembered by his family and Jewish community leaders for his belief in the city and propensity for good conversation.
The Pepper Pike resident died of a brain hemorrhage Sept. 14. He was 81.
His daughter, Randi Schmelzer, said among many interests, he was passionate about Cleveland, Judaism in Cleveland, being active on boards of organizations he cared about and dogs, particularly his Havanese, Peanut. She said her father would start each morning reading several newspapers while Peanut sat with him. He also loved asking questions.
“People felt like they were the most important and interesting people in the world because he really was interested,” she said.
He will also be remembered for always having a smile on his face and helping transform the city at a crucial time, said Rabbi Hal Rudin-Luria of B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike, who gave the eulogy at the funeral Sept. 17.
“He believed in our city – he saw what so many people didn’t see. When he saw empty buildings, he saw what our city could be,” Rudin-Luria said. “When I came here 18 years ago, downtown was nothing like it is today. And really, Jerry is one of the people that made that happen.”
Schmelzer was born in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland and later moved to Cleveland Heights. He was the first bar mitzvah at Taylor Road Synagogue in Cleveland Heights, which his father, Joe, had helped shape at the time of a merger, Randi Schmelzer said.
He graduated from Cleveland Heights High School in 1956, where he was later honored as one of its distinguished alumni. He graduated from Columbia University in New York City with a master’s degree in journalism in 1962 and remained passionate about the program, according to Randi Schmelzer, who is also a graduate of it.
After he graduated, he first worked as a disc jockey, then moved back to Cleveland for his ill father and worked in public relations for the Cleveland Indians. In 1965, Schmelzer and his brothers, Lawrence and the late Raymond, attempted to purchase the Boston Celtics. They bonded with then-coach Arnold Jacob “Red” Auerbach.
“I guess they hit it off – Red’s father was in dry cleaning and my grandmother was a dry cleaner, and (over) Jewish dry cleaners, they connected,” Randi Schmelzer said.
However, the Schmelzer brothers were outbid at the last minute. Instead, the brothers purchased the Columbus Checkers, a minor league professional hockey team, in 1966, and Schmelzer served as general manager and president. They left the team in 1970, after the brothers all got married and returned to Northeast Ohio. Schmelzer married his wife, Sharon, at Congregation Agudas Achim in Bexley, a suburb of Columbus, and raised his family in Shaker Heights.
Schmelzer opened public relations firm Jerome Schmelzer and Associates and got involved in Cleveland development, after the city fell into a recession. In the late 1980s, Schmelzer and his brothers supported the mayoral run of Michael White and after he was elected, Schmelzer served as chairman of the mayor’s public relations advisory board from 1990 to 1995.
Schmelzer became president and chairman of the Gateway Historic Neighborhood Association, where he and his brothers completed one of the earliest renovations in the area of the Finance Building on Prospect Avenue – which their father previously purchased – and three adjacent properties.
More generally, Randi Schmelzer said he loved being involved, whether on the board of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, of which he rotated off in June, or following the footsteps of his father to engineer the merger of Oheb Zedek Cedar Sinai Synagogue in Lyndhurst.
Rabbi Noah Leavitt of Oheb Zedek Cedar Sinai said he and Schmelzer bonded over a love for hockey and the shul.
“He was very warm and welcoming and he was very engaged in the shul and the future of the shul, and very invested in and passionate about the Jewish community of Cleveland,” Leavitt said.
Schmelzer is survived by his wife, Sharon; children, Randi and Joe Schmelzer, both of Los Angeles; and brother, Lawrence.