John Hess Sr., owned a chain of stores

John E. Hess Sr., who owned a chain of women's apparel stores and was active in civic affairs, died Tuesday of cancer at his Roland Park residence. The former Salisbury resident was 66.

He had been president and chairman of the board of Hess Apparel, which grew out of the Schleisner Co., a high-fashion store for women founded by Solomon S. Schleisner in 1906 in Baltimore.


Mr. Schleisner was the father-in-law of Lewis Hess, Mr. Hess' father, who in 1928 went to Salisbury to open a branch of Schleisner's. After Mr. Schleisner died, Lewis Hess changed the name to Hess Apparel in 1950. The chain, whose headquarters was in Salisbury, grew to seven stores with branches on the Eastern Shore, and in Delaware and Hunt Valley.

Mr. Hess started in the business as an elevator operator in the old Howard Street store. After Hess Apparel was sold in 1993 to Reynolds Inc., he returned to Baltimore and went to work for Executive Sounding Board in the Rotunda which specializes in buying and selling businesses.


"He was a marvelous, marvelous man," recalled Barbara Phillips, a sales associate in the lingerie department for 17 years. "He was such an asset to our community, and his death has caused a great void."

"I had no idea how to be a buyer when I went there to work," recalled Helen Moore, a buyer for nearly 20 years. "John was very easy to get along with and he taught me everything I know."

Mr. Hess had interests outside of business.

"He was a gadget nut," recalled Carol G. Hess, a daughter-in-law. "He was one of the first to have a hand-held tape recorder which he would dictate into and it was something he was known for. He also had on a police scanner and when he heard a report of a fire or an accident, he'd leave, and it made no differance if it was in the middle of a meeting or 2 a.m. Everyone knew he'd come back at some point."

"He was a real people-person," said his wife, the former Sue Levin, whom he married in 1955. "He was always doing things for them. He was always there for them. He was the first person to go to the hospital to visit a sick friend or employee. He was even calling people last week from the hospital to tell them good-bye."

Mr. Hess was born and reared in Northwest Baltimore, graduated from City College in 1945 and earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland in 1955. He served in the Army during the Korean War and was discharged with the rank of sergeant.

He was a member of many organizations, including the Greater Salisbury Committee, the Central City District Commission, the Downtown Merchants Association, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Ileitis and Colitis Foundation, and the YMCA.

He was a founder of the United Fund of Salisbury and had served on the board of governors and finance committee of Beth Israel Synagogue there.


Services were set for noon today at Sol Levinson & Bros., 6010 Reisterstown Road, Baltimore, with interment in Har Sinai Cemetery. A memorial service will be held at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Beth Israel Synagogue in Salisbury.

Other survivors include two sons, John E. Hess Jr. of Salisbury and Richard Allen Hess of Los Angeles; a daughter, Pamela Hess Gibson of Boston; a brother, Lewis M. Hess Jr. of Baltimore; his mother, Fanny Schleisner Hess of Baltimore; and three grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to the John Hess Fund, or the American Cancer Society, P.O. Box 43025, Baltimore 21236-0025, or the University of Maryland Foundation for the Julia Anna Hess Neo-Natal Unit, University Medical Center, 22 S. Greene St., Baltimore 21201.