Herman Marks sold $5 knick-knacks and little brown grab-bags at Kiwanis Club of Longboat Key meetings and jewelry at the Red Barn Flea Market, in Bradenton. At Toys for Tots golf tournaments, he took photos of golfers and immediately developed and framed them so that they would be ready to sell at the end of the tournament to raise money for the organization. Even in retirement, he was ever the entrepreneur.
Marks, of Sarasota, died Jan. 29. He was 87. Born Feb. 10, 1922, in Chicago, he became a salesman early in life to help out his family during the Great Depression. As a child, he peddled pencils on the street and roses in cafés. He didn’t go to college, but, instead, founded the Little Big Dollar Store with his twin brother.
Eventually, the store expanded to include more than 150 locations. According to a 1994 article in a local newspaper, he later moved to Longboat Key in search of a slower pace of life.
Marks used his ease as a salesman to give as much as he sold. He joined the Kiwanis Club in 1992 at the invitation of Edith Barr Dunn, owner of the former Shenkel’s Restaurant. That same year, Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida, and Marks filled the Shenkels’ entire patio with items to sell to raise money for victims.
And his table at the Kiwanis Club pancake breakfast always brought in money for the club.
“He was what I would consider a doer,” said longtime friend Jeremy Whatmough.
When a Kiwanis Club member suffered a major stroke, Marks practically took over the man’s care, staying with him while the man’s wife worked during the day.
He relished in his role as an auctioneer for Jerry’s Kids fundraisers. At Christmas time, he made a jolly Santa Claus, dressing up for a local charity’s children’s Christmas party. And, although he was Jewish, he finagled his way into meeting the pope while traveling through Vatican City to ask him to pray for a sick friend.
“He was loud and boisterous but had a heart of gold,” said Longboat Observer Senior Editor Dora Walters.
He was also a natural entertainer, often drifting into Shenkel’s in the late afternoon.
“He would start dancing at 5:30 in the afternoon and would be dancing every night, 5:30 to 9,” Barr Dunn said.
Marks never could sit still, even at Kiwanis Club breakfasts. Instead, he wandered around greeting people, wearing his signature cap cocked slightly to the right and vest, which was filled with more than 400 airline-wing pins collected from his wanderings around the world. He was one of the first contributors of “It’s Read Everywhere” photos to The Longboat Observer.
One of Marks’ trademarks were the angel pins that he mostly gave away, instead of selling them.
“There was one time you couldn’t go into a store on Longboat Key without seeing a cashier with an angel pin,” said friend Bill Sceva.
Marks was honored for his service to the community with the 1998 Kiwanis Club of Longboat Key “Citizen of the Year” Award.
Eventually, Marks moved to Sarasota and stopped attending Kiwanis Club functions. And, although the pancake breakfasts went on, Marks was missed.
“Pancake breakfasts,” Barr Dunn said, “have never been the same without him.”
Marks is survived by his wife, Ruthie; daughters, Lenora Hausman and Marilyn Marks-Frey; four grandchildren; and six grandchildren. A service took place Tuesday, Feb. 2, in Arlington Heights, Ill.
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