On July 10, WPI lost one of its best friends. Sam Mencow '37, who died of cancer, was the volunteer every organization dreams of.
It would be impossible to tally the hours he devoted to his alma mater, so numerous were they, and just as impossible to measure the impact his service had on the success of the university and its alumni association.
"Sam was a truly selfless person. He would say, 'What can I do to help?' Pure and simple." -- Rabbi Sigma Coran
But Sam's service to WPI was most remarkable because he gave it freely, without expecting anything in return. He did it because he loved WPI and because it was a fundamental part of his nature. "Sam was a truly selfless person," Rabbi Sigma Coran said at Sam's funeral. "He would say, 'What can I do to help?' Pure and simple. And even when he became sick, he didn't want to stop helping others. He didn't feel that was an excuse."
Sam Mencow didn't have room in his life for excuses; he was too full of energy, ideas and dreams. He was born in Worcester in 1917, the fourth of the seven children of Russian immigrants David and Ida Mencow. An extremely bright child, he graduated from high school when he was 16. He enrolled at WPI to study electrical engineering and graduated cum laude. Opportunities for engineers were lean in the pre-War years, and for a time he worked as a gas station manager, a salesman in an electrical supply store, and a machinist.
In 1940 he became a civilian employee of the Air Force, serving as head procurement inspector for war material in Boston. He signed up for active duty in 1943 and flew as a navigator in heavy bombers over Europe. After the war, he was hired as a draftsman at Riley Stoker Corp. in Worcester, where he spent the rest of his career.
He was soon made an engineer in the boiler division, but not long after he joined the sales office. From that point on he devoted himself to marketing, rather than designing, Riley products. He retired in 1982 as assistant vice president for marketing.
When he talked about his years at Riley, it was clear that they were enjoyable and rewarding and that he pursued his work with the same vigor and dedication that marked all of his activities. But he was not one to dwell too long on his own achievements, preferring to revel in the accomplishments of others. It was only after his death that many friends learned that he had once risked his life by diving down a flight of stairs to tackle a gunman who'd shot three Riley senior executives - including Sam's boss.
Sam had long been involved in the activities of his WPI class, and after retirement he threw himself into alumni affairs with a passion. With classmate Gordon Crowther, he chaired the class's major Reunions. As class secretary and later class president, he sat down at his manual typewriter and wrote beautifully crafted and devilishly humorous class newsletters. He and his wife, Bea, were active in the Tech Old Timers. He served on the Alumni Council and the Alumni Association's Executive Committee, and gave many hours of service to Executive Committee subcommittees - including those that drafted an association master plan and conducted the first major alumni survey.
For 16 years, he was a member of the Alumni Publications Committee, chairing it for nearly 10 years. He presided over the committee's two yearly meetings with style and good humor, but that was just the beginning of his service to WPI's alumni publications. He met regularly with the editors and writers of the Wire and Journal, bringing them news tidbits, story ideas and truckloads of encouragement. He never missed an opportunity to trumpet their work to anyone who would listen, and he did everything he could to nurture and protect the alumni association's periodicals.
Sam modestly accepted the accolades of the alumni association, including the Herbert F. Taylor Alumni Award for Service and the Tech Old Timers Distinguished Service Award. His favorite honor was his election to Skull in 1994, when he was 77. He gladly joined the student inductees for their initiation rituals in the wee hours of the morning and relished the chance to spend time with his fellow Skull "alumni."
With the many hours he spent at WPI over the years, one might wonder if by serving his alma mater, he neglected his family. Nothing could be farther from the truth. His siblings describe Sam as their "pillar of strength." In his later years, he devoted himself to a brother, who'd lost his eyesight, and his wife. "Sam was a source of dependability to every family member, and would come through even at the expense of other things that were important to him," Rabbi Coran said.
He was especially devoted to Bea, his wife of 57 years. They met at WPI and were married in 1939. When he became sick, Sam wanted to stay at home as long as he could, and Bea made that possible by caring for him for more than nine months and, in Rabbi Coran's words, "doing more than one would think possible."
Sam, himself, did more for the people and institutions he loved than most of us would think possible. With his death, he left a void that can never be filled.
Michael W. Dorsey
email@example.com Last Modified: Thu June 10 11:52:02 EDT 1999