By Stacey Dresner
Charlie Nirenberg, founder of the Dairy Mart Convenience Stores, died Nov. 11 at the age of 90. A resident of Suffield, Conn., he was a longtime supporter of the Springfield Jewish community and a major donor to the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts.
Nirenberg, whose parents, Louis and Sarah came from a town in the Ukraine called Koretz, was born in Boston and grew up in Millis.
In a 2007 interview with the Ledger, Nirenberg explained that he came from modest means. “I started from nothing,” he stated.
When he was 12, his older brother, Morris, who had an ice cream truck, set him up with his own ice cream peddling box. Young Charlie sold eight dozen ice creams daily and made $2 a day. At the age of 15, he sold ice cream from a bicycle, and by 16 he began driving an ice cream peddling truck.
He later went to the University of Massachusetts for a year before joining the U.S. Army. The army put him through college, but he also served in France and Germany during World War II, earning a Bronze Star.
After Nirenberg married Jan Shamitz in 1949, they moved to the Springfield area. He sold ice cream from a peddling truck in the back lot of a gas station and before long he operated more than 60 ice cream trucks. He opened his first convenience store in 1957, which grew to become the Dairy Mart chain of more than 1,200 stores.
He was a devoted member of Temple Beth El since 1954, and was deeply committed to his Jewish faith. He founded the Sandi Kupperman Learning Center at Temple Beth El and served on many boards, including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Both Charie and Jan Nirenberg were honored by the Western Massachusetts Jewish community in 2007, after they made a large financial contribution to five Jewish agencies. With an eye toward insuring support for local Jewish organizations, Nirenberg had decided back in 1987 to put aside a block of stock from the sale of his company for the Jewish community of Springfield.
“I was active in the Jewish community and I thought I should put it aside,” he told the Jewish Ledger. “That was my life – 90 percent of my free time was spent in the Jewish community. I felt as though the Jewish community was good to me and I had to do something for the Jewish community.”
In 2007, the Nirenbergs presented five different Jewish organizations with generous gifts from that fund, which by then was worth $2 million.
The funds went to The Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, Jewish Geriatric Services, Heritage Academy, Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy, and Temple Beth El and The Sandi Kupperman Learning Center. In honor of their generosity, the Nirenbergs were honored with a special tribute at the Combined Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Western Massachusetts.
In June 2013, Hillel House at the University of Massachusetts Amherst honored Nirenberg at its annual “Tribute to Excellence.”
In addition to Jan, his wife of 65 years, Nirenberg is survived by a daughter, Pam Nirenberg; a son and daughter-in-law, Larry Nirenberg and Cathy Ziehl; a son-in-law, Mitch Kupperman; five grandchildren, Josh, Jill, James, Maddie, and Katie; and three great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughter, Sandi Kupperman, in 1998.
The funeral was held on Nov. 14 at Temple Beth El. Memorial contributions may be made to Temple Beth El, 979 Dickinson St. Springfield, MA 01108; to the Sandi Kupperman Learning Center, 979 Dickinson St., Springfield, MA 01108; or to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 450 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA 02215. ASCHER-ZIMMERMAN FUNERAL HOME