Isidore Myers and his three siblings had a less-than-carefree childhood. Their parents, penniless immigrants, eked out a living early in the last century in Akron, Ohio, where their barely literate father painted houses. Although the family managed food and shelter, they scrambled for odd jobs like peddling papers so they too could to contribute something to the household.
From such hardscrabble beginnings, Myers nonetheless recently made a gift of more than $3 million to Newport Beach's Temple Bat Yahm, the largest single contribution in the synagogue's 31-year history. To honor the philanthropist and his late wife, the 7-acre site recently was renamed The Isidore C. Myers and Penny W. Myers Temple Bat Yahm Campus.
"I'd rather have a temple named after me than a jail," said Myers, 87, whose wife died last July after a 16-month battle with Lou Gehrig's disease at 78. He expects to complete a memoir about her by July. Until then he won't have his picture taken alongside the plaque erected at the synagogue that bears both their names, which was was dedicated in February, days before what would have been their 60th wedding anniversary.
"I want to hold a copy of the book so she'll be there. She deserves it as much as I," said Myers, who met his wife on a blind date arranged by an older brother.
The couple joined the synagogue in 1974, shortly after moving to Newport Beach from Ohio for a fresh start.
"I wanted to make my life a little easier," said Myers, who had sold his share of a tire making and distribution business back to his two brothers. Their company got its start as a used tire shop in 1931, the last year Model A Fords were produced.
Over the ensuing 30 years, Myers invested the proceeds from the tire business into commercial properties throughout Orange County. He also got involved in Jewish philanthropy. Twice without success he tried to start a local Jewish newspaper by promising financial backing.
"To build a Jewish community, you need to put a face on leaders so people will emulate them," Myers said. "We need more role models. You want to have Jewish people looked up to."
In the family business, Myers' job included writing for company catalogs, bulletins and business letters.
"It comes easy to me," said Myers, whose sister, Goldie Singer, resides in Laguna Woods.
Myers is the self-published author of two personal memoirs. One documents his own family's journey and the other honors his parents' families in Poland and Russia. The books are intended as guidebooks for his two married sons, Todd and Jay, and their grandchildren. In its pages, Myers advises "whatever I have didn't grow on trees" and "have ambition of their own and make the most of life."
In December 1999 the couple decided that upon their deaths, the 600-family synagogue would be the beneficiary of their home in the gated, golf-course community of Big Canyon.
Half of the proceeds are to be used as an endowment held at the Jewish Community Foundation. Its income, perhaps as much as $60,000 per year, will support new programs and the synagogue's $2.3 million annual budget. The other half of the Myers' gift is unrestricted and could be used for operations or to defray debt, said Bill Shane, the synagogue's executive director. Last year, Bat Yahm cut some costs and took out a mortgage to cover construction cost overruns from a major expansion.
"I'm sure they'll use it to good purpose," said Myers, who says he isn't a synagogue regular, but recently attended the synagogue's Purim gala and fall lecture series. "I know it's hard to raise money and this will make them more secure."