It would be difficult to find a person who has done more for war veterans and Jewish war veterans in Baltimore than Chester Silverman. So much of his life has been devoted to serving the community with which, even at 94 (this month), he is still a very active part.
Though his walls are decorated with dozens of plaques and commendations that document his leadership and accomplishments, he shrugs it off and says he’s just doing what needs to be done, and he loves it. His family and friends say Silverman is unstoppable.
When the JT met with Silverman, he had just returned from visiting his son Alan in New York. On that trip, Silverman and his girlfriend — yes, girlfriend — Florence attended a nightclub performance, saw an opera and a made a backstage visit to the director (his son’s friend) after seeing a Broadway show. Tuesday is bridge with friends or poker with fellow war vets. Thursday is dancing with his girlfriend at the Pikesville Senior Center. Friday is usually a dinner out somewhere and every Saturday he attends shul at Winand’s Road Synagogue Center in Randallstown. Sunday is typically brunch and football. He talks with his children Alan, Bruce and Shelley every day. Thankfully, he has Mondays off, so he can use that day for last-minute activities, such as meeting with reporters.
Silverman’s family came to Baltimore from Philadelphia when he was seven. They lived in East Baltimore on Montford Avenue near Patterson Park where he, his brother and four sisters would play with the neighborhood kids.
“I can remember a corned beef sandwich for a dime,” said Silverman. “Get it on the heel and it was 15 cents, but the heel was like a sub. And a hot dog and coke for a nickel,” he reminisced. “I sold newspapers, I sold magazines, I sold Liberty magazine, and I used to hop the street cars and sell them.”
Silverman’s feisty, independent, entrepreneur spirit continued into his adult years. He worked for 35 years as a collector salesman, a long-extinct profession that existed decades before credit cards or the Internet. He would sell furniture, clothing, appliances — whatever someone needed — door to door, have it delivered and customers had the option to pay it off weekly or monthly. He would collect due fees in person.
He loved his loyal customers and they loved him back.
Silverman began his army service in 1943, during World War II, three months after he married his wife, Gloria. He was stationed in England, France, Belgium and Germany, where much of the work he performed was organizational and administrative. He was promoted to staff sergeant before returning home in 1946.
Though Silverman chose not to become a career soldier at the time, his military duty was just the beginning of his long involvement with, and devotion to, his fellow servicemen.
Silverman has served as commander for the Paul D. Savanuck Jewish War Veterans Post #888, commander of the Roger C. Synder Jewish War Veterans Post #117, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and department commander for Jewish War Veterans. He was appointed to the state of Maryland’s Veterans Affairs Committee, which ensures veterans receive all of the information, assistance and benefits they have earned. Silverman is also responsible for establishing five veteran cemeteries throughout the state of Maryland in Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Dorchester and Prince George’s counties. He still meets regularly with the members of the Paul D. Savanuck Jewish War Veterans Post #888 at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion synagogue.
The work Silverman is most proud of, and is still very much engaged in, is his involvement in establishing the Maryland Center for Veterans Education & Training. The center is home to 200 formerly homeless war veterans. In 1997, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recognized it as the “National Model” for seamless services to homeless veterans. Silverman still attends the board meetings and is on the executive committee.
“We discuss the various issues that are going on right now,” said Silverman. “I’m not included in a lot of these things anymore because who the hell wants an old cocker, an old guy like me involved anymore? I still go in there and I still have my say, I’m not bashful,” he said.
There is nothing bashful about Silverman, whose personality is big and welcoming. For years before, and now during his retirement, his tirelessly volunteered his time and offered his compassion by visiting fellow veterans in hospitals, advocating for their rights and services and entertaining them with parties and treats — often out of his own pocket.
When asked what keeps him going strong, Silverman said: “Florence gives me 10 vitamin pills to take every day. She said that’s what’s kept me going all these years. But I say it’s God’s will. You’re given so many years to live and that’s the way it is. And if I go tomorrow I ain’t got no complaints. God’s been good to me, he gave me my strength. Geshriben Torah. It’s written in the book. So that’s the way it goes, whatever it is, it is.”
In his home, Silverman proudly pointed to a plaque he received from the Maryland Center for Veterans Education & Training that reads, “Presented to Chester Silverman for your vision and dreams for helping veterans.”
Silverman’s dream continues — with gusto.