Seymour Alper was born April 27, 1915 in Long Island City, N.Y.; the fourth of six children of Max and Rose Alper. He grew up in New York, where his parents and brothers sacrificed so he could be the first of his family to attend college. He graduated from New York University in 1937 and obtained a teaching certificate from Columbia University in 1938. He was a man of letters and culture who enjoyed all that New York City had to offer.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he volunteered for the military and served for three years in the Army Air Force in the South Pacific Theater. He served as a navigator and squadron navigator, reaching the rank of Captain. On his 13th mission, his bomber crashed on takeoff with a full load of fuel and bombs. He survived and went on to fly 58 missions. He returned to the States in January 1945 and served the balance of the war as an intelligence officer debriefing pilots upon their return from overseas.
On Feb. 12, 1945, he married his sweetheart, Mildred Smith, and they had a loving and happy marriage for 67 years. They had three children, Marilyn, Jonathan, and Barbara, and they set about the business of raising their family. By that time, his father had died, and he and his brother, George, operated a scrap metal and steel company in Long Island City, NY. Eventually, the brothers decided that New York was no longer a great place to raise their families, and they decided to move South.
After several trips to search for their new home, the choices boiled down to Baton Rouge, where there was tremendous business opportunity, or Wilmington, where the quality of life was outstanding. The choice was easy, and the two families moved to Wilmington in 1952, purchasing a small scrapyard which became Southern Iron & Metal. The next year they re-opened their steel company, and kept the name Queensboro Steel.
Mildred worked as a "Pink Lady" at James Walker Hospital, and she would tell Seymour about the substandard conditions that patients endured at that facility and of the need for a new hospital. After the departure of the Coast Line Railroad, the Committee of 100 was formed to recruit industry to replace the jobs that had left with the railroad. It was obvious that, without a modern hospital, it would be difficult to convince industries to move into our community. Thus was formed the Committee For a New Hospital, and Seymour quickly became its chairman.
In 1960 the County Commissioners voted to allow a bond issue to raise money to build the new hospital. Seymour campaigned vigorously for its passage, having to overcome white voters' fear of new taxes, and black voters' skepticism that they would be granted equal access in the new facility. The bond issue passed by about 200 votes, and Seymour was appointed Chairman of the Building Committee and charged with the planning and construction of the new hospital. During the planning stage, the hospital became their fourth child, as family life revolved around the schedules of the planners.
Construction of the new hospital was completed in 1967, but there was still one major challenge. The voters had passed the bond issue to build the hospital, but had turned down a second bond issue to provide operating funds. The Committee had a new building, but no money to operate it. Seymour obtained a grant from the Duke Endowment to fund operations, and the hospital opened in 1967. He served on the Board of Trustees of New Hanover Memorial Hospital from 1961 until 1978, and he was its first Chairman. He also served as Chairman of the Area Health Education Center.
While the hospital was one of his greatest achievements, Seymour felt strongly that he should give back in other ways to the community that had welcomed his family and provided him so much opportunity. He served on the Boards of St. John's Museum, the Arts Council of the Lower Cape Fear, the N.C. Symphony Orchestra, the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra, the Governor's Council for the Arts and Humanities, and the Association of Steel distributors. He served as Chairman of the New Hanover Industrial Bond Authority, which provided low cost financing to attract new industries and promote growth in existing industries, from 1977 through 1989. In 1976 he chaired the committee that planned Wilmington's celebration of our Country's Bicentennial. For 25 years he served as Chairman of the Wilmington Concert Association, through whose auspices he brought quality classical music and dance to our community.
After witnessing the horrors of World War II, Seymour became involved in the United Jewish Appeal, which he supported for 65 years, and he served as its North Carolina Chairman in 1964. In 1986 he joined several businessmen and established the Cape Fear Community Foundation, charged with promoting philanthropy and providing opportunities for individual donors. He served as President of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Foundation, and on the New Hanover Arts Foundation and the Friends of Public Radio boards.
He served as a Member of the Board of Trustees and as President of B'nai Israel Synagogue. He also served as President of Marcus W Jacobi Lodge of B'nai B'rith, a Jewish charitable and fraternal organization. In 1967, he was honored by the Civitan Club as its Citizen of the Year for his work in building the Hospital, and in 1968 the Wilmington Star News named him Citizen of the Year, also for his work establishing the Hospital. Several years ago the Wilmington Star News began awarding Lifetime Achievement Awards, and he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award for his many years of service to his community.
Seymour Alper is survived by his loving wife, Mildred, of the home; son Jonathan and wife Reba of Wilmington; daughter Barbara Behar and husband Robert of Philadelphia, PA; grandchildren Richard Davidson and wife Andra of Denver, CO.; Rebecca Kaltman and husband Jonathan of Bethesda, MD., Wendy Alper and Emily Behar of New York City, Scott Behar and wife Brooke of San Francisco, CA., and four special great grandchildren, Hannah and Max Davidson and Madeline and Jacob Kaltman – as well as a host of cousins, nieces, and nephews..
The funeral will be Monday, July 16th at 11:30 AM at B'nai Israel Synagogue, 2601 Chestnut Street, with burial to follow in B'nai Israel Cemetery. The family would like to thank the many caregivers who made his last months comfortable. Donations in his memory may be made to the Child Advocacy Commission, P.O. Box 4305 (28406); the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Foundation; or the charity of one's choice.