Barry ’63 and Howard ’66 Forman

Brothers use philanthropy as a personal tribute to the lessons they have learned.

Brothers Barry ’63 (left) and Howard ’66 (right) Forman are grateful Perkiomen alumni! Reflecting on their time as young adults in Pennsburg, they each recount personal histories of perseverance, passion, hard work, and a commitment to family. Retired and dedicated to giving back, both have served on Perkiomen School’s Board of Trustees (Barry from 2003 to 2016 and Howard from 2016 to the present)! But long before Perkiomen would bookend their careers and philanthropic endeavors, the Forman brothers’ story begins in Bethesda, Maryland.

Their paternal grandfather, a woodcarver by trade, immigrated from Russia in the early part of the 20th century. As Howard tells the story, he needed a way to make about $100 a week to support his wife and six children, and started a wholesale liquor company at the end of prohibition.  Barry and Howard would become the third generation of Formans to run the family business in the Washington, D.C. area. Howard oversaw purchasing and Barry was the company’s President. In 1999, together with their cousin, they sold Forman Brothers, Inc. to the third largest liquor wholesaler in the country.

We thought it would be fun to dig in a bit further and learn more about them through a quick Q&A…

Share a memory from an activity you were involved in as a student.
Howard: My first attempt at getting onto the varsity wrestling team was during a match against The Hill School. The guy I had to wrestle was practicing for the state championships and one weight class above me! It wasn’t easy, but I accomplished my goal. I told myself, “I might not be able to beat him, but I won’t let him pin me!”

Barry: The football coach, Hal Cragin, was on the Board when I first joined. He didn’t know it, but he taught me a great lesson. During a Homecoming or Parents’ Weekend game, it was pouring! It was also the only time my father came to campus to see me play. I didn’t like the rain and I wasn’t playing very well so Coach benched me. I look back and realize I had not been giving 100%! Reflecting upon the teachers then and now, I don’t think any of them take their tasks for granted. They apply themselves and take their responsibilities seriously for the students!

What institutional strengths exist for today’s students that would have benefited you during your time at Perkiomen?
Howard: Today, the school recognizes that not everyone who enrolls has the same academic strengths as everybody else. We make a huge effort to address those areas for growth where we can. For example, I had a classmate from the Dominican Republic who spent all his time studying. I remember he said, “I have to first translate my assignment from English to Spanish, do the work, and translate it back to English.” So, he didn’t have much time for anything but studying. Today, we have a robust ESL (English as a Second Language) program that serves students in ways that we didn’t have back then. Additionally, a student with dyslexia (like me), would not go undiagnosed as I did, but instead receive the assistance necessary to thrive through Perkiomen’s TLC (The Learning Center) program.

Barry: What strikes me the most is the forward-looking educational direction the school has taken. When we renovated the lower level of Carnegie Library to establish the Innovation Center, that was really an eye-popping initiative for me. Additionally, I’m impressed by the vast networking and skill-building opportunities for students with potential for future employment and career paths. In my own mind, when I was there, the education was rather straightforward and traditional. While Perkiomen served me well at the time and made me who I am today, I am struck by the innovation and fresh perspective that are informing a Perkiomen education over the past 15 years.

Tell us about some of the community organizations you serve and contribute to.
Howard: My late wife collected the bags that Bloomingdale’s had back in the 70s. In 2002, she convinced me we should start The Museum of Bags [now titled the Lee L. Forman Collection at the University of Akron, donated in 2018]. In February 2007, we launched our website. Two years later, she lost a fight to cancer. When she passed, my daughter and I joined a bereavement support group called “The Next Step.” I did the group so my daughter would realize it’s okay to get help. It worked! Through the group, I met a member who was involved in 1st Stage Theater in Tysons, Virginia. I ended up becoming Treasurer and then served a three-year term as President ending in 2020.

Barry: I was involved in the National Trade Association and served as President in 1995. I was also involved on my synagogue’s board for about 6 months and went on to serve as President of the nearby Jewish Community Center. That was around the time of the sale of the family business. I spent 10 to 15 years involved in various leadership positions for an array of community activities. I also created a consulting business on my own for about 10 years.

What motivates you to give back to Perkiomen?
Howard: We grew up in an atmosphere of giving. I have a framed certificate that was my grandfather’s from the early 1950s from a Jewish charity commending him for his participation in their fundraising drive. In short, charitable giving has been instilled in me and my family. Through our family business, we prioritized charitable giving and budgeted dollars annually specifically for that purpose. And as I have been fortunate personally, I like to give back to the people and organizations who have helped me get to where I am!

Barry: There came a time when I looked back and appreciated what Perkiomen contributed to my worldview and experiences. I concluded that my chances of achieving what I have would have been pretty slim if I’d stayed in my public high school and I would never have gone to University of Pennsylvania. As a donor, I have used my means to support organizations where I am, or have been involved. And like my parents, I also encourage my children to be donors and to involve themselves in things they’re interested in. To me, if you have the means to write the check and can also give time, you do both!

What does it mean to “risk becoming your best self”?
Howard: When the 1st Stage Theater came to me and said, “We want you to be Treasurer,” that was not a problem because I knew I could do that. When they wanted me to be President, I was a bit less certain. My wife Elaine asked me, “What’s the hesitancy?” and I said, “I don’t want to be the last president!” I took an intermediate step to ask questions and learn what was involved in being president. That extra step led me to take the risk, which I am glad I did – it was rewarding. That said, [half-jokingly] I am quite content now no longer having that responsibility!

Barry: It means giving yourself the opportunity to excel. In the 80s, I allowed myself to be involved in something not directly related to my business. It took me quite a long time to have the self-confidence to make that reach and feel good that I could hold my own. Over time, in incremental steps, taking risks grew into a mindset. I began to recognize I had a different view and good managerial and leadership experiences to apply and offer outside my comfort zone. 

Describe your brother in 10 words or less!
Howard: Very focused!

Barry: Conscientious.

Howard and Barry’s parents’ names can be found on the plaque in Parents Hall and soon, as a result of a combined gift to Perkiomen, Barry and Howard’s names, along with a tribute to their parents, will be featured on a plaque in the art gallery and studios of the new student center. Howard’s gift is a combination of an estate bequest and a pledge spread out over five years. Barry has made his pledge over a similar period of time that will be drawn from the annual minimum required distribution he takes from his IRA (individual retirement account). 

Each step along Barry and Howard’s individual paths has led them to opportunities for making a difference in their respective communities. Though some chance may have created a few twists in their journeys, there has been intentionality and compassion behind each of their decisions to give back and help others. As their stories teach us, so often there are voices and influences behind the scenes that shape the future for an organization and its people. Perkiomen School is fortunate that the Forman brothers have chosen to be a part of our history and our future.

*Responses have been edited for length and clarity.