John Herbert "Jack" Heller, a founding partner of Insurance Service Group and former Jewish Community Center president, died Friday of complications from Parkinson's disease at his Pikesville home. He was 86.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Slade Avenue in Pikesville, he was the son of Grace Deiches Heller, a community volunteer, and Gerald Castelberg Heller, a Reliable Stores and J. Schoeneman executive. He was a 1946 graduate of the Park School, where he was class president in his final three years. He played soccer, basketball, lacrosse and tennis.
He played varsity soccer and lacrosse while a Duke University student. He was named an All-American in lacrosse in 1949 and 1950.
Mr. Heller served in the Army during the Korean War. He was stationed in Korea and Japan. He left military service as a private.
During the 1950s he ran Camp Pioneer, a boys' summer camp near Thurmont. The camp had 100 campers, mainly from the Baltimore area.
Friends said that in 1959 he was encouraged to enter the insurance business by a friend and mentor, Benedict Rosenberg. He worked at Insurance Inc., a brokerage at 534 N. Calvert St. He was later a founding partner of Insurance Service Group, now located in Hunt Valley.
"John was generous with his time," said a friend, Edward Brody, who lives in Baltimore. "Everyone liked him. He was widely known in the community. He was an excellent insurance broker. He was also kind and caring."
"John was an extremely solid citizen," said Samuel Himmelrich, a friend for more than 50 years. "He worked hard in business and served his clients well. He was also a fabulous athlete. We played tennis together for many years."
Sanford Jacobson joined Mr. Heller to found ISG in 1988. "I've known John since 1959, when we worked in the same building on Calvert Street," he said. "He was a broker and an agent. John had clients everywhere, and people liked him. He was conscientious and honorable. He was always an inspiration to everyone. He was absolutely loved by the whole company. Everyone had a high opinion of him."
Mr. Jacobson said that Mr. Heller preferred to look on the positive side.
"He saw others as he saw himself," said Mr. Jacobson.
Mr. Heller served as the president of the Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters League and the Jewish Community Center of Baltimore. He sat on the board of directors of the Central Scholarship Fund, the Jemicy School and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
"John was an icon in the community," said Buddy Sapolsky, former executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Baltimore. "He was helpful to me, and he was always there to help me. He had the historical perspective. He was not flamboyant and had the respect of everyone. He was seen as a leader and a great guy with great values."
While president of the Jewish Community Center in 1972, he was quoted in The Baltimore Sun about his senior citizen work programs. Elderly members of the center made baked goods and did minor repairs.
"Since so many senior adults live on limited incomes, they welcome this bit of money," Mr. Heller said. "Equally important, of course, is that the people working in the shop feel important."
Friends said Mr. Heller's affable, easygoing nature made him a trusted friend to so many. They said he was an avid sports fan and rarely missed a Ravens or Orioles game. In 1943, he took the boys golf title at the Suburban Club, where, as an adult, he continued to win golf and tennis titles.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Sol Levinson and Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road.
Mr. Heller is survived by his wife of 21 years, the former Margot "Peggy" Wurtzburger Milch; three sons, Gerald Heller of Boulder, Colo., Andrew Heller of Reisterstown and Thomas Heller of Naples, Fla.; a daughter, Jill Heller, also of Naples; a brother, William Heller of Lutherville; a sister, Gerry Hodes of Greenwich, Conn.; and nine grandchildren. His marriage to Tucky P. Heller ended in divorce.