Lakewood Mourns Historian Sheldon Wolpin, 89
Time stands still for a moment in Lakewood to honor the memory of the man who dedicated his life to chronicling its evolution. But Sheldon Wolpin would not have been happy with time standing still. That would only be an obstacle for an ardent historian.
Wolpin, longtime chairman of the Lakewood Heritage Commission and founder of the museum that bears his name, has lost a long battle with cancer at age 89. He leaves his wife of 63 years, Edith, and four children.
In addition to the family and friends who will miss him, Wolpin leaves a legacy for countless people he never will have met – the Sheldon Wolpin Lakewood Historical Museum, now being resurrected in Kuser Hall in the township’s Pine Park section.
“Lakewood has suffered a tremendous loss,” mused Deputy Mayor Steven Langert. “The whole Lakewood community should understand that the institutional knowledge we’ve lost along with Sheldon Wolpin can never be replaced.”
Lakewood’s Heritage Commission formed in 1984, but it took Wolpin and his group 20 years to find a spot to display artifacts tracing the community’s path from a playground for Jay Gould and John D. Rockefeller to the thriving multi-cultural center it is today. The space in the original Lakewood High School dried up with the building’s sale by the Board of Education. But its resurrection now under way validates his decades of curating and years of storage.
Wolpin’s passion for his home town, says Langert, offers a guide for every official who wants to lead the town forward. “It’s important to know where the town has been. We have to know how to set the road map for where we’re going.”
Charlie Brandt, the key organizer of ReClam The Bay, had long ties to Wolpin through the Red Oak Music Theater.
“He was one of the inspirations that brought [the theater] many years ago back into the Strand Theater,” Brandt recalls. “The Carriage House, Sheldon’s family’s furniture store, was located right next to the Strand on Fourth Avenue for many years. He had a love for the Strand.”
Wolpin held a spot on the Board of Directors for Sons of Israel, led by Rabbi Shmuel Tendler. The trait that stands out to him is selflessness.
“Sheldon was a giver in every sense of the word,” remembers Rabbi Tendler. “He was a tremendous husband. He placed his wife on the highest pedestal…cherished her, loved her, honored her. He should be a role model for all husbands.”
Rabbi Tendler adds that Wolpin treated his children the same way, giving them an understanding of his character and interests by clipping print articles that he thought they’d enjoy, or that he thought they should not miss, and continuing to send them long after they’d become adults themselves.
“He brought life to people’s lives. He gave them enjoyment,” says Rabbi Tendler. Moreover, Wolpin took his leadership of his Jewish War Veterans chapter as more than a figurehead post. “Even at age 87, 88,” he recollects, “every Memorial Day, he’d come to the cemetery and lay out flags on the graves of the veterans. By himself. Taking care of his buddies.”
Wolpin’s service takes place Wednesday, 11 AM, at the Congregation Sons of Israel Holocaust Memorial, Seventh Street in Lakewood.