By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
David Hymes recently marked two major milestones – his 100th birthday and his founding of a Jewish War Veterans post 50 years ago.
He celebrated his centennial at a gathering of four generations at the Signature Room at the John Hancock Building. The occasion gave him opportunity to reminisce in an interview about his longevity and the kinship he feels with Jewish veterans of World War II.
Serving JWV on local, state and national levels, Hymes has worked tirelessly for the betterment of veterans. After 49 years, he still brings doughnuts and plays bingo with disabled vets at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center.
A veteran who saw combat and received a Purple Heart, Hymes still travels to national JWV conventions, missing only two in the past 50 years for family reasons. After serving as state commander, he was elected the national commander in 1994. In that year assignment, he traveled 60,000 miles, visiting posts from the Atlantic to the Pacific and meeting with dignitaries in Israel. He had the opportunity to speak to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and President Ezer Wiezman. “I’ve said this more than a thousand times, that if you can afford it, every Jew should visit Israel at least once to see what they’ve accomplished with that sandy area.”
Hymes was born on Sept. 16, 1917. His parents were Romanian immigrants and started a mom and pop grocery on Chicago’s West side. Hymes attended Lawson Grammar and Marshall High schools. He had to work his way through college. It took him six years of night school to graduate from Northwestern University with a degree in finance.
Hymes entered the Army in 1941, shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor. His early career took him from duty in Panama to Officers Candidate School and eventually to England as a first lieutenant. He landed on Omaha Beach to carry out the assignment of furnishing all Army Post Offices with their supplies.
While on duty in February 1945 he was wounded and was hospitalized for nine months in England. He returned to civilian life in 1946.
Hymes acquired a finance company and three apartment buildings during his long professional career. He worked until his late 80s.
From the start, he wanted to connect with veterans. He said he had never heard of Jewish War Veterans of the United States, just the American Legion. He attended three meetings and felt out of place with the predominately World War One vets. In 1961, a friend told him about JWV. He attended his first meeting in Skokie featuring a lecture on anti-Semitism by a retired dentist, Dr. Samuel Perlman. By then, Hymes and his wife, Evaline, were living in Lincolnwood with their two daughters, Helaine and Rhonda.
He joined the Skokie post and remained with them for three years. Then he decided there should be a post in Lincolnwood so he formed one. The Samuel Perlman JWV Post 800 grew from a dozen members to 350, making it the largest post in Illinois. Many members have died off and fewer than 50 remain today.
Hymes remains a loyal volunteer and booster of JWV. “I feel I have to give back for all I’ve been given.” He contributes financially to several causes including the National Museum of American Jewish Military History in Washington, D.C.
He retired in 2004, the year his wife died of Alzheimer’s. He had cared for her at home as she declined.
Now, he lives independently in Winston Towers where he serves on the condominium board.
He is interested in politics, business and sports. He’s a huge Cubs fan and loves the Bears and the Bulls.
He reads the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune cover to cover every day. He likes having irregular hours so he can sleep in and eat breakfast at noon, if he chooses.
His longevity, in part, can be explained by his father living to 105 with his mind sharp until the end.
Hymes also credits a long life to healthy eating. “I don’t deny myself any food that I want to eat. I stay away from fried food. I broil my fish, meat and buy rotisserie chickens at Costco.”
His girlfriend is Irene Goodman, a 93-year-old who lives near family in Michigan.
His friend, Joel Fabrikant, 71, accompanies Hymes on visits to the VA hospital. He praises his friend on reaching 100. “His mind is still sharp. He doesn’t have anywhere near the disability you would expect of a person that age. He enjoys meeting with people, trying to make things better for vets.”