On Thursday July 4, 2013 our father, Benjamin B. Shekter passed away one month short of his 98th birthday. It was the end of a generation of Shekters who were all born and raised in their beloved city of Hamilton.
Ben, a first generation Hamiltonian, the third child of James and Lillian Shekter was an activist, a lawyer, a musician, an advocate, a brother, son, father, grandfather, uncle, husband of 65 years to his beloved wife Dorothy, and most importantly our dad.
Dad was many things to many people. To Dorothy, herself a pioneering woman of the Jewish community in Hamilton, he was her rock; to his father, he was an incredible person who stepped in to help when his business, the Shekter hotel on James North went under. He was a wonderful brother and brother-in-law who helped establish Floor-Tex also on James Street North. He supported his brother Jack who decided, later in life, to go to medical school, and became a highly-respected family physician in the city.
Ben was also committed to the Hamilton Jewish community and the City of Hamilton. He wanted to ensure that there would be services and supports available to Hamilton’s Jewish community, while at the same time making Hamilton a vibrant city that people would want to live and work in.
When Hamilton was looking at developing and creating the Jewish Community Centre on Delaware, Ben spent countless hours working on the design, meeting with the architect and going over plans, going to Toronto to see the Toronto Y and getting the community involved. As president of Hamilton Jewish Federation he was keen on seeing families engaged in the use of the building. The Centre hosted the first Jewish Cubs and Brownies. Camp Kadimah was based there during the summers, where his wife Dorothy volunteered as Camp Director.
Not long after, because Jews at the time were not allowed to play golf at some of Hamilton’s leading golf clubs, Ben, along with a few others, decided that Hamilton should have its own Jewish golf club. The birth of the Beverly Golf and Country Club was in many ways, his fifth child. Again Ben spent countless hours finding the right farmland, going over the many sets of plans until the right one was chosen, and promoting the club within the Jewish community. They needed members to make this financially work. Because there were few golfers in Hamilton’s Jewish community (Ben himself was a non-golfer), Ben ‘sold’ the club as a country club where members could bring their young families. He insisted on installing a pool, encouraged the teenagers to pick up golf, and later built the tennis courts. The Beverly was born in 1957. Ben was president of the club several times. His proudest moments however, were taking both old and new members around the golf course to see the many trees he had planted (based on an arrangement he reached with the Ontario government to purchase 10,000 saplings at 10 cents each). His picture still stands in the front lobby of the new club house in tribute to him and the other co-founders who had the vision almost 60 years ago.
Almost two decades later, Ben became involved with his third major project, the development and design of Shalom Village. Motivated by the lack of Jewish services and accommodation for Hamilton’s Jewish elderly, and his experience with his own father, Ben was committed to establishing a Jewish seniors’ residence and nursing home in Hamilton. Again, as he had done with the other projects, he spent countless hours to ensure that Shalom Village would become the world-class facility that it is today. As its first president Ben could not have been prouder of opening day, or of the basement that now houses the Synagogue and other great services. That basement almost did not happen.
Between these projects, and his leadership roles, Ben was also active in the downtown Businessman’s Association, was a board member of Hamilton Place, and participated in many other ad hoc initiatives whenever he was concerned about an issue. One such issue was the location of McMaster’s future medical school. His concerns were many including the closure of a key main east-west artery (King Street), and the destruction of the Royal Botanical Garden’s Sunken Gardens. Unfortunately he lost that battle and although the medical school and later the hospital would become world renowned, the traffic issues and the destruction of the gardens are issues the city continues to deal with today.
Ben was always intent on doing the right thing even if it meant challenging the status quo – which he did throughout his life. His ethics were impeccable and his business sense was amazing. But most importantly, it was his passion and love of family, the Jewish community and the city that drove him.
He will be missed but his story and the fruits of his labours shall live on.
Mark, Richard, Lorie and Rhona Shekter