One of the first things I knew I needed to do when I moved to Columbus to become rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim was to meet with Florence Melton. Florence was one of the greatest gifts to Jewish education in recent time. Sitting in her apartment, I was extremely impressed not only with her intellect and concern about Jewish education, but with her innovative ideas as well. I am grateful for that meeting with Florence and to my congregant Don Ruben, her neighbor who helped organize the meeting.
At the time of our meeting, she was planning to leave the next day for her winter in Florida where she would celebrate her 95th birthday at the end of January and be honored in Boca Raton. Rather than prepare herself for the trip, she spent well over an hour with a young, new rabbi in town (and his wife). She asked about my own pedagogical philosophy, my view on day school education versus synagogue religious school, and what I thought should make up the curriculum of a Jewish high school student. She certainly didn’t show her age — she was sharp and witty. She was a beautiful woman with deep insight and a passion for the Jewish people. I am fortunate to have met her and to have taught in the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School in Detroit.
Several weeks ago, I received a message that Florence would like me to call her in Florida. She was writing an article about her “Communiteen” educational program for high school students in Columbus and wanted my assistance. By the time I picked up the phone to call her, her son Gordy informed me that she had gone into a hospice program. I didn’t get to have that conversation with her, but I will be certain to make sure her article is published.
May the legacy of Florence Melton continue to be a source of inspiration and blessing for all who knew her. May her lifetime of work for Jewish learning continue to bear fruit for generations to come.
Florence Zacks Melton, successful inventor, entrepreneur, philanthropist and advocate for Jewish education, died tonight in Florida. She was 95.
Melton, formerly of Grandview Heights, had been living in Boca Raton, Fla., for the past couple years and had taken ill recently.
Born in Philadelphia to Russian immigrants, Melton grew up too poor to have dolls, she once said, so instead she imagined.
That creativity sparked practical inventions such as foam-rubber slippers and innovative Jewish education programs.
At R.G. Barry Corp., which she co-founded in 1947 with her first husband, Aaron Zacks, Melton invented a type of women’s shoulder pad that snapped into a bra strap, simplifying a popular fashion item of that era.
She also created a line of chair pads, adjustable car seat covers and neck pillows. A few years later, R.G. Barry would take off after the idea for foam-rubber slippers came to her.
By 1980, R.G. Barry was the world’s largest producer of comfort footwear. Her son, Gordon Zacks, was CEO at the time.
Several years after Aaron Zacks died, Florence married Samuel M. Melton. Together they helped establish Ohio State’s Melton Center for Jewish Studies in 1976, and also spearheaded other charitable efforts geared mainly toward education.
In 1980, she developed a two-year adult Jewish literacy program affiliated with Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Today, the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, as it is known, operates in more than 70 communities in North America and Australia. Melton was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994. She was preceded in death by both husbands and son, Barry Zacks. She is survived by son Gordon Zacks of Bexley.