Jacob Shoifet March 24, 1920 – June 4, 2015
Jacob Shoifet died peacefully on Thursday, June 4, 2015 in Houston, Texas at the age of 95. He is survived by his beloved wife of 56 years,
Shirley (Abrahamson) Shoifet, his son, Jay Shofet, his daughter, Laura Yaffee and husband, Wayne, and his grandchildren Shani, Nadav, Shosh and husband Yaron, and Gabi. He is predeceased by his parents, Rose and Benny Shoifet, his sister, Florence Shoifet, and his brother, Sidney Shoifet. He accomplished many acts of chesed (kindness) and tzedakah (charity) and truly exemplified the expression that actions speak louder than words.
Jake was born on March 24, 1920 and raised in Sharon, Connecticut, for the first five years of his life in a country house without indoor plumbing. The son of a shochet (a Jewish ritual slaughterer), Jake spoke Yiddish at home until he started school at a one-room schoolhouse. He graduated Sharon High School in 1938, and joined the US Army Air Corps in 1941. Jake trained as radio operator and served in that role, and as a wing gunner, with the 307th Bombardment Group on a B-24 bomber during a four year stint in the Pacific. Among other medals, Jake received the Distinguished Flying Cross with the Oak Leaf Cluster. A bombing mission he flew in December 1943 from Guam was at the time the longest bombing sortie ever undertaken.
After his army days, Jake opened his own business in Millerton, NY, the Gateway Drive-In Restaurant, 90 miles north of New York City. This hot spot for both locals and New Yorkers was known for its tasty menu, impeccable cleanliness, and of course, its hard-working and soft-hearted proprietor, Jake who trained teens with disabilities to work in the restaurant. Jake’s idea caught on, and other businesses trained dozens of youths who needed a good break.
Jake met Shirley, the love of his life, and his partner for the last six decades on a blind date in 1957, but the couple might never have seen each other again as Jake was scheduled to spend that winter in South Padre Island, Texas. But fate intervened when his father was tragically hit by a train and the dutiful son cancelled his trip; it wasn’t yet Jake’s time to go to Texas. The two married and raised their family in Millerton. On the Shoifets’ oversized back lot, all the neighborhood gathered to play baseball in the evening while Jake tended to his vegetable garden.
Jake worked as a school lunch manager from 1960 to 1986 in the Webutuck and Pine Plains school districts. Child nutrition was the cause closest to Jake’s heart, and he spent many years lobbying in Washington for more nutritious and affordable lunches for school children as an official of the American School Food Service Association. One of his major accomplishments in that field was when he was invited to testify before Senator George McGovern’s Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs at a series of hearings which eventually culminated in America’s groundbreaking Child Nutrition Act.
A life-long liberal Democrat, Jake was always immersed in Millerton politics. Having lost a mayoral bid by two votes in 1965, Jake sought the office again two decades later and won. Jake served two more mayoral terms subsequently and proudly gave the “Key to Millerton” to friends and family.
In addition to local politics, Jake, like his wife Shirley was involved in numerous civic and community organizations. He fostered youth baseball leagues, was instrumental in bringing a public swimming pool to Millerton, and was the Lion’s Club Citizen of the year in 1983. Jake was also a private caterer, serving up spaghetti and meatball dinners and his famous steamboat round at events all around the area.
Jake’s last job in the northeast was as a site manager at the Senior Nutrition Program in Lakeville, CT, where he showed that his desire to serve nutritious meals to people extended across the generations.
At the age of 88, Jake decided it was time to get away from the cold and snow to move closer to his family; though proud of his son in Israel, and always happy to visit there, Houston was a more realistic destination and this time he was able to get to Texas! He sold his house and moved to be near his daughter and family. In Houston, Jake retired to a place where he liked the weather more than the politics and he enjoyed sitting on the porch and playing a little poker. For a change, someone else was making three meals a day. Jake was lucky enough to make a dear friend in Houston, Bernie Bootin, who was his constant companion in his last years.
When this army airman took his last flight, we lost a husband, father, grandfather, restaurateur, school lunch manager, lobbyist, mayor, civil servant, and tzadik (righteous person).