When Neil Marglous turned 65, he decided it was time to retire. But make no mistake — the man never stopped working. Rather, his focus shifted, from a 40-plus year career in the wholesale hardware distributing business, to ramping up his volunteerism.
“While Neil Marglous may have retired in 2010, he’s still ‘all business’ — the business of giving back,” says Carol Wolf Solomon, who nominated Marglous as a 2014 Unsung Hero. “His dedication to his synagogue, Temple Israel, and to the greater St. Louis Jewish community, is extraordinary. Through his countless hours of volunteer service and his generous philanthropy, he has quietly gone about the ‘business’ of tikkun olam — repairing the world.”
It’s hard to figure out where to start when it comes to discussing the number of volunteer efforts in which Marglous is involved. And not just a little involved — we’re talking both feet, both arms, both legs, head-on, fully involved.
To begin, he has volunteered with the St. Louis Men’s Group Against Cancer (STLMGAC) for more than 30 years and been its president for the past 12. The non-profit, made up of dozens of St. Louis area businessmen, raises funds that are directed to specific cancer-related organizations, which focus on research, prevention and care activities. All of the money raised stays in the St. Louis cancer community.
“I first got into the group for business purposes because it was good networking,” says Marglous, who lives in Clayton with his wife of 45 years, Ricki. The couple, who has two grown sons and two grandchildren, met at Drake University, where Marglous received the “Outstanding Retail Student in the United States” award in 1967.
“I got deeper involved in (STLMGAC) when a good high school (University City) friend of mine’s wife passed away from cancer,” Marglous explains. “It’s a terrific organization made up volunteers. Last year, we gave away a quarter of a million dollars to 21 (St. Louis area) cancer groups that have the opportunity to positively affect the nation due to research here for which we might have provided start-up funds. We have distributed over $3 million to various cancer-related research and support organizations.”
These groups include Camp Rainbow, Siteman Cancer Center, Friends of Kids with Cancer, Gateway to Hope, Kids Rock Cancer, St. Louis Ovarian Cancer Awareness, St. Louis University Cancer Center, Cancer Support Community, Barnes-Jewish Hospital Breast Health Center and many more.
As executive director of STLMGAC, Margie Price works closely with Marglous, whom she describes as an expert taskmaster.
“Neil is no-nonsense in his approach — even though he’s retired he still has a business head,” she says. “He gets done what needs to be done by forming an action plan and implementing it. Sometimes the guys, who are businessmen themselves, are shocked at how he can push through a meeting, remain on task and get so much accomplished in a reasonable amount of time. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.”
As someone who has achieved great success in business — Marglous grew his wholesale hardware distributing company to be the second largest in the United States, then sold it to the largest independently owned one — he believes in paying it forward. He now helps four start-up companies through Gateway VMS, a nonprofit that connects up-and-coming area entrepreneurs with mentors. Think of it as a local version of TV’s popular “Shark Tank.”
“Only we’re not allowed to invest in the companies we mentor,” says Marglous. “We select ones that can benefit from our experience and expertise. Then we meet with them once a quarter to offer advice, guidance, go over business plans.
“Some have developed into things, some have not,” he adds, explaining that he can’t divulge the companies he’s working with or any of the details. What he can say is that in the two years since he’s been volunteering, “we haven’t attained our goals yet but we continue to move forward.” He remains hopeful.
In fact, Marglous isn’t one to give up on anything, or anyone, easily. That ideal also figures into why he helped start JAMI (Jewish Attention to Mental Illness), a monthly support group for families that takes on issues related to mental illness and mental health, with special emphasis on the Jewish community. The group has been meeting for the past five or so years, though Marglous is the first to admit that attracting participants has been slow.
“The biggest problem is getting people to acknowledge the fact that they are dealing with someone in their family who has mental illness,” he says. “Once they come, I think they find the meetings quite helpful. We not only share experiences but also bring in speakers and advisers like lawyers and accountants to help people learn how to get SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) benefits, establish estates for their (mentally ill) family member and the like.”
After he retired, Marglous began volunteering at the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry once a week. He also is secretary of Temple’s Israel’s Board of Trustees and serves on the boards of the Jewish Community Center and Camp Rainbow. He is currently a member of the Jewish Federation Community Advisory Study Committee for the local Jewish demographic study that Federation has just begun.
And if all of this wasn’t enough, he keeps “busy” taking four lifelong learning classes at Washington University, which each meet once a week. In addition, he’s part of a men’s roundtable discussion group through OASIS that meets twice a month to discuss current events and he takes a similar class through CAJE (Central Agency for Jewish Education).
When he’s not in class or volunteering, Marglous enjoys traveling with his wife; the two especially enjoy cruises. He also looks forward to breakfast everyday after he works out with some of his cronies from the JCC.
“I like keeping busy, but I like being busy doing things that I enjoy and feel strongly about,” he says. “The more I’ve gotten involved with Temple Israel, the more I’ve come to the conclusion that there is something about being Jewish that makes us not only want to take care of our own families but also other people. It’s just the right thing to do.”
Quote: “Through his countless hours of volunteer service and his generous philanthropy, he has quietly gone about the ‘business’ of tikkun olam – repairing the world.” — Carol Wolf Solomon, talking about Neil Marglous.