Barry A. Solomon ’68
Alumnus follows his family’s philanthropic footsteps, gifting a life insurance policy for the construction of Perkiomen’s student center.
When Barry Solomon was a child, his grandmother once gave a flour salesman $1,000. “She didn’t tell me the story,” Barry shares. “He did.” In the 1950s, the flour salesman stopped by for a routine negotiation of price per pound at the Schwebel Baking Company, Barry’s family’s business in Youngstown, Ohio. Owner and operator of the company and a smart and shrewd businesswoman, Grandma (or Aunt Dora, as she was commonly referred) took the time and care to properly work out a fair price, negotiating over a couple of pennies for just as many hours. With a deal struck, the salesman turned to leave, but paused to ask if she would be interested in contributing to his college for Jewish cantors. Without hesitation, she opened her desk drawer, pulled out her checks, and wrote him one for $1,000 on the spot. Family lore like this inspires Barry to be a philanthropist himself. As far back as he remembers, the thread of selfless generosity is woven throughout his life.
Like so many, Barry knows a little something about history. Political strife in the United States, a contentious election, friction and heartache over issues of systemic racism and equal rights, the climate surrounding Barry’s graduation from Perkiomen School in 1968 may sound all-too familiar. Like our students today, Barry was focused on his high school experience and may not have realized he was living in a momentous period in our history. Studious and serious when it came to academics during the two years he spent at Perkiomen, he took occasional trips to New York City with his classmates, but as he says, he mostly “went to class and paid attention.” Fifty years later, Barry can now reflect: “It’s hard to believe, but we are still seeing some of the same old things that we thought were corrected years ago. They are out there haunting us today.”
Regardless of any external challenges, our students of yesteryear and today share a common thread of transformative growth. Returning to Perkiomen for his 50th class reunion in 2018, Barry sensed this and recounts his feeling of being on campus again. “They kept the same charm and yet it was brand new. It was a nice thing to see.” Already grateful for the skillset he was afforded as a student in the 60s, Barry is in awe of the diversity of opportunities. “The programs I see going on [at Perkiomen] today are so sophisticated… there is no comparison. It’s like two different worlds! What the students do today is amazing compared to what we did. I hear a lot of people say, ‘The kids are lazy today.’ [From my perspective], they just have more to do!” Barry reflects that sure, kids have their computers, a valuable resource. “But you have to know how to use that resource, too!”
Upon graduation from Perkiomen, Barry went on to Kansas State University to study Bakery Science and Management. At the end of a full career at the Schwebel Baking Company, he retired as the Purchasing Manager in 2009.
Following his grandmother’s example, Barry has been annually contributing to Perkiomen since 1985 (and at a Leadership Level since 1993)! As a major shareholder for his family’s company, he was offered a life insurance policy after he retired. Recently, he assigned this policy to Perkiomen, making the school the irrevocable owner and beneficiary, to support Our Moment to Lead, A Campaign for Perkiomen School. Barry takes a tax deduction now and makes an extraordinary gift. Because life insurance costs “pennies per dollar” of coverage, it is a popular way to make a sizable gift at a modest cost relatively. With a continued interest in giving back to his alma mater and the opportunity to leave a legacy within the new student center, Perkiomen was a natural choice to receive this investment!
Reflecting upon both his grandmother and mother, Barry is proud of the hearts of these women and – by extension – the heart of his family. Investing in bonds for Israel and supporting several charities in the community, they were inspirational philanthropists. To him, it’s simple, because in Barry’s family, you grew up understanding the importance of giving back. When asked why he continues to support Perkiomen each year: “I went to school there! I’m going to support my alma mater! That’s the only way I can answer that. It’s the truth.”
To honor his career in the baking industry and acknowledge his generosity to the school, a plaque with Barry’s name will be displayed in the Teaching Kitchen. Located on the ground floor of the new student center, this space will promote education, engagement, and community building. In this attractive space, faculty, students, parents, and alumni will come together for food-centered special events and hands-on programming that support goals such as healthy eating, learning about cooking and baking, team building, and expanding cultural understanding.