By Stacey Dresner
Springfield native, businessman and philanthropist William Foggle died April 4 after a battle with pancreatic cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
A longtime leader in the Springfield Jewish community, Foggle did much for his local community and was a staunch and vocal supporter of Israel.
“Jewish life always mattered to him,” Lynn said of her husband. “We lived in a very unique time — we watched the birth of Israel. We were young adults and we watched that amazing thing happen when Israel became a state, so we were very interested in Israel and its Israel and its growth.”
Richard Gaberman met Bill at a meeting of the Jewish Federation in 1967 when the Six-Day War in Israel was raging.
“Because of that war we became wonderful friends and shared common interests,” Gaberman said, especially concern for the state of Israel.
Foggle became deeply involved with the Springfield Jewish Federation (now the Jewish Federation of Western Mass.) and a member of the UJA National Young Leadership Cabinet.
Gaberman recalls when he and Foggle went to Israel in 1973 on a Young Leadership Cabinet meeting two day after the end of the Yom Kippur War.
“When we arrived in the country we were in shock,” Gaberman recalled. “There was no traffic on the roads, no buses, no trucks and no pedestrians walking anywhere. The economy of Israel had come to a full stop. Our trip at that time was incredible, but we both came back extremely depressed when we realized what a war can do to a small country like Israel. That experience just reinvigorated us to do more for the Jewish community and Israel.”
And indeed, Foggle, continued to do more, donating and raising money for Israel and the Springfield Jewish community. He went on to receive the UJA’s Young Leadership Award, and remained actively involved in fundraising for the Federation. He served as president of the Springfield Jewish Federation in the 1970s, and was instrumental in the creation of the Endowment Fund of the Springfield Jewish Federation.
“Our Jewish community has truly lost an outstanding and exceptional person,” Gaberman said. “We will not forget him. His footsteps are truly deep in our community.”
Born and raised in Springfield, Bill Foggle was the son of Jack and Beatrice Foggle.
Beatrice was born in Holyoke. Jack was born Jacob Feigelman in Pinsk, Poland. He left Poland, first landing in Argentina before arriving in Springfield in 1928. He soon started his own business, Springfield Upholstery Works.
When World War II began, Jack begged his parents and siblings to leave Poland, but all but one brother, who brought his wife and children to the U.S., refused. Jack lost most of his family, including his parents, grandparents and several siblings. Of the 35,000 Jews living in Pinsk, only 16 survived the war.
A proud jew
Bill, his sister Muriel and brother Lawrence, were all raised in Springfield; Bill was bar mitzvahed at Kodimoh Synagogue. He went on to attend Dartmouth College and its Amos Tuck School of Business Administration.
He met Lynn, a student at Skidmore College, in 1953. After graduation, the two were married. Bill joined the U.S. Army, serving in the accounting division at Fort Devens. He and Lynn settled in Longmeadow where they raised their children and Bill joined his father Jacob’s furniture manufacturing company, Hearn Furniture Co. The Foggles became members of Temple Beth El in 1960.
“He worked really hard, but he was always a lot of fun,” said his daughter, Andrea Foggle Plotkin of Boston. “He always wanted to engage us in doing things around the house. He was always up for conversations about politics and business. He always talked about current events, and when I was growing up almost all of the conversations were about Israel. He was a huge Zionist.”
In all Bill took nine trips to Israel; two were on Prime Minister missions, including one with Golda Meir.
At one event at American International College, that was to feature pro-Palestinian speakers, Foggle and Dick Gaberman lobbied hard to be able to be on stage to present the pro-Israel point of view.
“Bill loved to discuss politics,” Gaberman said. “He cared deeply about being a citizen of the United States and was a proud Jew. He would look for good candidates for public office that he could respect and then offer his support,” said Gaberman. “He would never shy away from speaking out on an issue that was important to him. His strong character and ethics were his compass.”
Most likely influenced by the loss of his father’s family during the Holocaust, Bill was a founder of the Hatikvah Holocaust Center in Springfield and was a major supporter of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. His and Lynn’s names are inscribed at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial, in honor of their generous support of the institution and its mission. When their names were unveiled, Bill was already in the throes of Alzheimers and was unable to go to Washington; their grandson attended the event in their stead.
“My father never knew his grandparents, so it framed a lot of who he was — the loss of what he never had and what he never knew,” Andrea explained. “It definitely framed how he was as a grandfather. He always would say, ‘I never knew my grandparents.’ He just felt like he wanted to be the best grandfather in the whole world. He was so obsessed with my children… he just couldn’t get enough of the grandchildren.”
Until the end of his life, Foggle read The New York Times every day from front to back. That was a habit he picked up while at Dartmouth, in his favorite class — Great Issues. The class charged its students to read a series of newspapers daily and to discuss current events. Noted speakers were also brought in in conjunction with the class.
“He loved it,” Lynn said. “He felt very strongly that it made him the thinking, caring human being that he was.”
So in 2018, the Foggles created the Great Issues Lecture Series at Temple Beth El in Springfield and endowed in perpetuity.
“When he created that he did it just for the purpose of people hearing good speakers,” Lynn said.
The first two speakers were Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief at The Atlantic and Professor Robert Watson. In August, New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss is set to speak.
A few years ago, Bill and Lynn decided to downsize, selling their house in Longmeadow and moving to Lennox. There he and Lynn also became involved in the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires.
“It was clear that both Bill and Lynn cared deeply for the different communities in which they lived,” said Dara Kaufman, executive editor of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires. “Early on in my tenure at the Federation, Bill would sometimes stop by my office to chat. He always asked lots of questions and I really valued his input and expertise. Our conversations often left me thinking just a little bit deeper about the “big picture” of Jewish life and Jewish continuity. I will miss his generous spirit and gentle manner.”
Last September Foggle was interviewed for “Beginning of the End: Portraits of Dementia” by journalist and photographer Joe Wallace.
In the piece Foggle told Wallace that his father Jack taught him to, ’maintain his faith and contribute to his community.’ When asked to define what that means to him, Bill replied, ‘Love of my country. Love of my family. Love of my faith…It’s giving … being part of a community. It’s sharing common goals and interests.’”
“He sounds like a man who is incredibly pragmatic and accepting of whatever the future holds,” marveled Lynn. “I’m incredibly proud of the man that he was.”