Last Friday, in the office of his respirologist at Kingston General Hospital, Irving Rosen, gravely ill but ever restless and restive, turned to his wife, Gini, and announced, “I’m bored.”
He phoned his office at Kimco Steel Sales Ltd., the sprawling metal and recycling business that Rosen’s father, Hyman, had started nearly a century earlier.
“Any messages, Joan?” he inquired of longtime secretary Joan Hill in a voice buttressed by the flow of oxygen from a portable tank.
There were two: One from a person who said he would call back on Monday, the other from a disgruntled customer who wanted a call back ASAP.
“Give me the number,” the company president said.
“They were discussing some deal about re-bar, or something,” Gini recalled of the telephone chat. “At the end of the conversation Irving said, â€˜I hope that’s the end of it. Have a nice weekend.’”
Hours later, the quintessential workaholic made one final stop at his office on John Counter Boulevard.
“He somehow found the will and a way to get here,” noted Kimco vice-president Gregg Rosen, the son groomed by the father to take over the business.
Gregg Rosen said his dad was a humble, unassuming man who was wholly consumed by his fondness of family and work.
“You won’t find a picture of him anywhere in his office,” the son noted on Monday, one day after his 81-year-old father died at home on Copperfield Drive. “No plaques, no citations â€“ only pictures of his family and his scrapyard. He didn’t need to be honoured. His family and his work were his life.”
When a man of position and prominence passes on, it’s not uncommon to hear people refrain that here was a man who will be greatly missed, that there are so few of these selfless souls that we as a society can ill-afford to lose one.
Irving Rosen was such a man.
The list of charities, causes, organizations and, indeed, individuals that he supported are far to numerous to name here. Suffice to say his perpetual assistance and backing were immense and came, as always, with no strings attached.
“He was a pillar of our synagogue and the community,” said Shalom Plotkin, rabbi of the congregation at Beth Israel.
Plotkin, who succeeded Rabbi Daniel Elkin just four months ago, said “”one can’t be a member of this congregation and not know who he was or what he meant to our synagogue.”
He recalled a scene in late September at Beth Israel, on the Holy day of Yom Kippur. The board of directors had been pressing, in the face of uneasy protestations, for a change from orthodox to conservative.
Rosen, weakened by sickness and infirmities, cast aside his walker and climbed the steps to the bima, where he “spoke from the heart,” supporting the change in direction.
“His charge to the board was beautiful,” Plotkin remarked. “It sent the board strength. He knew his days were numbered, but he wasn’t doing this for himself. He was doing it for the children and children of the future.”
Rosen was born in Kingston on Halloween 1931, the youngest of Hyman and Annie Rosen’s five children.
His father, an immigrant from Lithuania, arrived in Canada at age 16 with little more than clothes and a insatiable hunger for work and prosperity.
The beaver-like work ethic that young Irving later embraced was handed down from his father, who, following in his own father’s footsteps, collected bottles and rags with a horse and buggy. In 1921, Hyman, patriarch of one of the city’s first families of commerce, opened a small scrap-yard on Charles Street, later relocating it to Rideau Street with a new name: Kingston Scrap Iron and Metal Co.
In 1950, Irving joined the business and contributed innovative ideas such as the baling press, which compacted wrecked automobiles into tightly packed bundles of steel. Ten years later the company expanded into new steel sales, and in 1975 the business moved to its current Counter Street location. In 1977 the Canadian Recycling Association named Kimco Steel Sales as Canada’s Most Outstanding Recycling Operation.
Gregg, the oldest of Irving and Gini’s three children, said incidences of his father’s “genuine generosity” are well known and widespread.
“He was generous towards not one organization or one person but so many organizations, so many individuals, so many charities.
“I’ve had email after email after email, all describing that love and generosity that he had for people.
“He was my father, my mentor, my partner,” the son continued, his voice cracking. “He guided me through everything and really brought out the best in people.”
That cohesive spirit was never more evident than at the annual summer company party at Grass Creek Park.
“Mr. Rosen was always the first one to sit on the seat of the dunk tank,” said operations manager David Roy, part of a three-generation family at Kimco.
“I first met him when I was five,” added Roy. “He’d come to our house at Christmas to personally hand out presents. He did this for all the children (of employees) and the tradition continues to this day with a special company party for kids.”
Though Rosen, as a Jew, did not celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense, Dec. 25 was nevertheless a significant date.
In 1957, Irving, in New York City to visit a sister, went on a blind lunch date, meeting the young woman at Grand Central Station.
After lunch, the girl, who hailed from the town of Scarsdale in nearby Westchester County, gave a brief account of the set-up to her mother.
“He’s OK,” she said indifferently before adding: “I’m going to marry him.”
True to her word, Regina Back married her blind date a year later in White Plains, N.Y., on Christmas Day.
“Irving chose that day because he knew the business would be closed and he wouldn’t have to go to work,” said Gini.
Nearly 55 years later, that joyful union, blessed with so much happiness, ended the only way possible.
“He was the ideal husband,” added the widow, whose own philanthropy and generosity in her adopted hometown are legendary.
“He gave me complete and total support and the freedom to be what I wanted to be and to do what I wanted to do. He gave me the gift of the life I could choose to live, and he gave his children that same support.”
Kimco Steel Sales is Eastern Ontario's most innovative and modern New Steel, Scrap Metal and Recycling Centre. Kimco is a high technology sales and processing operation on an impressively maintained 45 acre site in Kingston's Industrial Park.
When one sees what Kimco has become today, it is difficult to conceive of it's humble beginnings. As a sixteen-year-old immigrant, Hyman Rosen came to Kingston in 1911 to start a new life. Following in his father's footsteps he collected rags and bottles with a horse and buggy. Hyman opened his first shop on Charles Street with the proud name of H. Rosen. He later moved to Rideau Street under the new name of: Kingston Scrap Iron & Metal Co. In 1950, Hyman was joined by his son, Irving, who brought with him new and creative ideas like the baling press. It compacted wrecked automobiles into dense bundles of steel. In the 1960's, Kimco expanded into New Steel sales. They also began their refuse operation serving industrial, commercial and construction customers. October 1975 marked Kimco's move to it's present location on Counter Street. Here Kimco further expanded it's New Steel sales operation, Ferrous and Non-Ferrous metal division, Recycling Centre and Container Service. All four divisions began servicing customers within an ever-expanding radius of Kingston. In 1977, the Canadian Recycling Association named Kimco Steel Sales "The Most Outstanding Recycling Operation in Canada".
In May of 1979, Gregg joined his father Irving. With his help, Kimco expanded into the American sector. He is consistently incorporating the newest equipment available in the industry so that the company can handle the challenges of a changing and environmentally conscious society. Times and technology may change, but at Kimco Steel Sales one thing has always remained the same ... a dedication to hard work, service to its valued customers and a commitment to a healthy environment.