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Howard Abrams remembered as 'a good guy'

by on March 13, 2013 10:59 AM

A graveside burial service was planned for today for Howard Abrams, who friends described as a man who deeply cared about his family, community members and his home of Indiana Borough.

Abrams, 79, died Saturday at Indiana Regional Medical Center.

Abrams was born in Pittsburgh but had lived in Indiana since he was 3 years old, and his was a much-recognized face around town. He was well-known from his years working in his family’s Ash Shoe Store and then in Brody’s Department Store, both downtown, before becoming the borough’s zoning and code enforcement officer in 1985.

“I always said if you walked up to Howard and gave him a street number, he’d tell you who lived there,” he was that familiar with Indiana Borough, said Tom Harris, who was a borough councilman while Abrams served as the code and zoning officer. “If you’d say (to Abrams), ‘Can I have a minute of your time,’ or ‘Can you help with this,’ the answer was yes. … He was just a good guy.”

“He was wonderful to work with,” said Susan McClure, who joined the Indiana Borough Planning Commission in 1979 when Abrams chaired the commission. “He knew so many people. He knew the history of every property in the borough. And he loved Indiana Borough.”

McClure said Abrams was very knowledgeable about the borough’s codes and zoning regulations, and when issues and disputes were being discussed by commission members “he respected our opinions and we respected his. … He took great pride in his family. His respect for his parents was inspiring. … He was just one of those wonderful people to know. And he always had a smile,” McClure said.

Norma Tarnoff met Abrams and his wife, Ina, nearly 40 years ago when the Tarnoffs moved to Indiana.

“The Jewish community was tightly knit. There were a lot of Jewish businesses (in Indiana) at that time” and Howard and Ina Abrams were very gracious in welcoming new people to the community and to the Beth Israel Synagogue in Indiana, Tarnoff said.

“He loved people. He enjoyed just talking to people,” Tarnoff said of Abrams.

For many years Abrams served on a synagogue committee and coordinated burials in the Jewish section of Oakland Cemetery.

“It’s a trying time when someone passes away, but Howard made it easier for everyone” through his careful keeping of cemetery records, Tarnoff said.

“He was always a supporter” of the synagogue, Tarnoff added. “Howard was always one of the first ones” to help with Jewish holidays and to make new members feel at home. “They’re just social, gracious people who make everyone feel welcome.”

Abrams was also well-known and respected for his devotion to ICW Vocational Services Inc., formerly known as the Indiana County Workshop Inc., which he helped start and direct for more than 40 years. In late January, he stepped down from the board due to health reasons.

ICW Vocational Services Inc. is a nonprofit organization that provides vocational services to individuals with varying degrees of disabilities. Abrams was part of the group of people who organized a board of directors in 1969, and the workshop opened in 1972.

At its beginning, the workshop had only three clients and a budget of $50,000. Today, from its location at 155 N. 10th St., Indiana, it serves nearly 100 clients and has an approximate $1 million budget.

“It has grown, and I’m very proud of that,” Abrams said in an interview last month as he retired from the board.

Ken Schnarrs, the board’s president, said Tuesday the directors were aware of Abrams’ declining health but his death was still shocking news.

“The board was planning a presentation in April or May for his years of service,” Schnarrs said. “We were looking forward to that. … We’d like to do something in lieu of the presentation” to show the board’s respect and admiration for Abrams’ long service to ICW.

“The uniqueness about Howard is that he was one of the founding members of the board. … He’s the only person who was there the whole time,” Schnarrs said. “When you think of ICW, you think of Howard Abrams.

“He always brought a sense of humor” to ICW functions, Schnarrs added. “He was a great story teller” who could bring some levity to nearly any situation.

Abrams, in the interview with the Gazette last month, attributed his many years of service to the cooperation and commitment between ICW’s board and employees.

“It’s a wonderful organization that’s doing wonderful work with the mentally handicapped,” Abrams said then. “I stayed on this long because I was very proud of it and the people did wonderful work. It has a wonderful board and an excellent professional staff.”

Randy Wells has been a reporter and staff writer at The Indiana Gazette since 1988. His regular assignments include coverage of the Indiana County commissioners, Indiana Borough council and the Marion Center Area School District. His email address is
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