SULLIVAN COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY HISTORY MAKER AWARD 2015
Harold Gold (09/20/1923 - )
There are many ways to make history. A person can hold political office and decide vital matters of war and peace, invent machines that reshape the economy, or solve mysteries of the galaxies. Or a person can do ordinary things to an extraordinary degree and through dedication make the community a better place. My father, Harold Gold, has never held political office, invented transformative devices, or revolutionized science, but he has made local history through his business and community service in Sullivan County.
Harold has lived in South Fallsburg for all of his ninety-two years. That in itself is certainly a historical oddity, maybe even a record. True, he was absent temporarily to attend college and serve in the army, but he was born in South Fallsburg and never called anyplace else home. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Harold
entered the world on September 20, 1923, in a second-floor apartment of what was once the Hotel Ryan on Main Street. It was a world very different from the one we now inhabit, a world without computers, televisions, or even refrigerators. Children would bolt from their classrooms and run outside to witness the passage of an airplane overhead. South Fallsburg had no elementary school building when Harold started school. He attended several grades in the community center. Other kids went to school above the movie theater or in the basement of a local hotel. After school, Harold and his friends trapped muskrats to sell to fur dealers from New York City. (Talk about change! I grew up in South Fallsburg, too, but I never saw a muskrat.)
Harold graduated from Fallsburgh High School in a class of twenty-six students. He is now one of three surviving members of the class of 1940. After high school, Harold went to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied economics, participated in the student ruckuses known as “Rowbottoms,” and made lifelong friends. With one semester to go, he received a draft notice—but only after writing to the draft board to find out why he had not yet been called up. Harold could have avoided service during World War Two. He failed the physical due to poor eyesight and had to have someone talk the doctor into declaring him physically fit. He never went overseas because a comrade revealed the truth about his eyesight—how could someone with such poor vision be sent into combat?—but he served stateside in several capacities, most notably in the Information and Education Division.
In 1945, still in uniform, Harold married Pearl Cutler, the daughter of the proprietors of Cutler’s Cottages in South Fallsburg. After his discharge from the army, Harold finished college, and he and Pearl returned to South Fallsburg. That’s when Harold began making Sullivan County history.
Harold’s father Izzy was a successful plumbing contractor who helped build many of Sullivan County’s resorts. His business included propane gas as a sideline. Izzy’s three sons eventually took over different aspects of the operation, with Harold running the enterprise called Fallsburg Gas. Sullivan County boasted many gas
companies in the 1950s and ’60s, and the competition was brutal. I didn’t know much about that growing up. I just thought it was normal for a man to be up and out by 6:00 a.m. and to go out again in the middle of a frigid January night to deliver a tank of gas. But one by one, most of the other gas companies dropped out of existence. Through Harold’s sound business sense and commitment to customer service, Fallsburg Gas remained and grew. At the end of the twentieth century, when Harold finally retired from the business, it was one of the oldest gas companies in the nation continuously owned by a single family. Notwithstanding the time it took to run a business, Harold involved himself fully in community affairs. He was an active member of the fire department, serving as president of the fire
company and as a fire commissioner. He was an officer of the South Fallsburg Hebrew Association and a charter member of the local Lions Club. He spent so much time and energy on fundraising and other activities for the Anti-Defamation League and the United Jewish Appeal that both organizations gave him major awards.
Harold was intimately involved with the founding of Sullivan County Community College. A member of the original college board of trustees, he served on the board for thirty-four years. Today, the administration building is named for him. In recent years, at an age when most men would happily retire to their frontporch
rockers, Harold served on the board of the SCCC Foundation and the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency. And, of course, he is an active member of the Sullivan County Historical Society board of trustees. All of this community activity was something I did not fully appreciate as a child. I knew that my father was always taking phone calls in the evening and running to one meeting or another, but I didn’t understand how unusual that was. Just as it seemed normal
to me for my father to be working morning, noon, and night, it seemed normal for him to be so involved in community affairs. But there was even more that I did not comprehend at the time, and that is my father’s great sympathy for and generosity toward others. When I was in high school he gave money to a student he didn’t know so the boy could go to college. When I was a student in Israel, he sent me money to deliver to a poor family. Not so long ago, he gave a substantial sum to a local church that needed money to finish a renovation project.
I don’t know how many times my father helped others in this fashion, but I do know that such generosity was, and is, in character. We sometimes see bumper stickers urging us to do “random acts of kindness.” Harold has never needed the urging. He just does them, even though, unlike the more public acts of
working for organizations, they go unrecognized. I like to think that the private generosity has ripple effects, enabling the recipients to improve their lives and to help others in turn, and thereby make the community a better place. That, too, is a way in which Harold Gold has made history.