Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Simkin family going down in history

Pledges gift to foundation through Jewish Book of Life

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Although successful in business, to Abe Simkin family was his most important asset.

And it is thanks to Simkin's love of family that in future years, both the Jewish community and the community at large will benefit.

It's because Simkin, 90, the last survivor of the brothers who founded what became the largest company in Western Canada, BACM Industries, which later was merged with Genstar, recently decided to sign the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba's Book of Life.

It's a program in which a person promises to leave the foundation a gift from his or her estate and in return the signor is able to chronicle the family's history.

But Simkin didn't want to do it on his own -- he wanted his more than 50 children, nieces and nephews to join him.

They have, and last week several members of the Simkin family, including Abe, signed the book at a recognition evening event with 18 other individuals and couples.

"They were all delighted in being part of the project when I asked," he said. "It has made me realize the importance of putting down the Simkin history... I felt a strong need to remember and record my family.

"In hindsight I am shocked I waited so long."

The Simkin family joins the more than 700 individuals and/or families who have signed the book since it began more than 10 years ago, with the Jewish Foundation already receiving more than $20 million from several estates.

Marsha Cowan, the foundation's executive director, said the best thing about the Book of Life is "the commitment people are making to the future of this community and Winnipeg.

"It is really exemplary. As a community, we have a debt of gratitude to the people who remembered the foundation in their will."

Simkin was born in 1922, the youngest of seven children born to Samuel and Fanny Simkin. At the time, the family farmed in Pine Ridge, on a property that is now part of Birds Hill Provincial Park.

The family moved to Winnipeg and his father started Simkin's Fuel.

Later, as the brothers, Jim, Saul, and Israel (Blackie), became adults, they all joined the family business and later founded BACM Industries.

At its height, the company employed 10,000 people across the country, built 5,000 houses annually and took part in the construction of every major dam and airport between Winnipeg and Vancouver.

Simkin also had three sisters, Jen Cohen, Clara Erlichman, and Esther, who died when she was two.

Meanwhile, the Jewish community also honoured the memory of former teacher Wanda Tolboom, who taught English for more than 30 years at Ramah Hebrew School and Talmud Torah.

Tolboom died in 2007 and left a bequest to the foundation that has been used to buy books for grades 4 to 6 students at the Gray Academy of Jewish Education.

Daniel Kroft, a recent graduate of the school, said his mother was one of her students, and they all appreciate the books Tolboom's generosity provided.

"(She) felt a deep connection to Winnipeg's Jewish community and had a tremendous impact on hundreds of Jewish children," Kroft said.

"While not Jewish herself, Wanda felt at home in Winnipeg's Jewish schools. She loved the kids, took the time to learn about Jewish culture and religion, attended many bar and bat mitzvahs and even spent a summer in Israel.

"We were blessed to have Wanda Tolboom in our midst."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 9, 2012 B3

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