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Melvyn Wolff

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Melvyn Wolff Obituary
Melvyn Wolff
Melvyn Wolff passed away the 25th of May 2017, too soon at age 86. He transformed a small family-owned, low-end, credit-oriented store into one of the most successful retail furniture operations in the United States – Star Furniture – different by his design. Star was sold to Berkshire Hathaway in 1997, but Melvyn kept his full-time job as Chairman. Every day, until his final days, he skipped to the office, dressed impeccably in clothes he had laid out the night before. To the end, he continued to build and encourage the wonderful Star team of 750 in four Texas cities.
Melvyn and his wife and life partner, Cyvia, who married the 6th of June 1956, wanted to make a difference in the design of Houston, Texas, by involving themselves in health care, fine arts, Jewish communal affairs and education for budding entrepreneurs and the under-privileged. They haven't just given money, they rolled up their sleeves and got involved. An indefatigable couple, with Cyvia, he somehow also found time to have fun, be with their many friends, and be adoring, attentive and involved family members, especially as Grunkle Melvyn to his great-nephews and nieces.
Melvyn Lee Wolff was born the 12th of May 1931, at St. Joseph Hospital in Houston, Texas, to Boris Wolff and Fannie Cohen Wolff. Boris Wolff escaped from a work camp in Russia and arrived in America around 1915, penniless and not knowing a word of English. Boris became part owner of a multi-family owned business called Star Furniture. Melvyn attended San Jacinto High School and Wentworth Military Academy. While Melvyn was pursuing pre-law at the University of Texas, his father had a heart attack. Melvyn left Austin with hopes of returning. He enrolled at the University of Houston and took over responsibilities for his ailing father. After earning a BBA at UH and completing his two years of service as an officer in the U.S. Army, he rejoined the family business. On the firm's 50th anniversary, Boris Wolff died of a heart attack. Thirteen days later, the remaining senior partner died. Melvyn competed for and ultimately took control of the management and enticed his sister Shirley to join him. They purchased the interests of the other partners and began to reposition Star to be "Different by Design," appealing to the middle and upper income members of Houston's growing diverse population. After the sale to Berkshire Hathaway, Star continued to grow under Melvyn's leadership. Warren Buffett joined in each new store grand opening ceremony.
The Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston's Bauer School quickly became a leading entrepreneurship education institution and is frequently ranked first in the nation by the Princeton Review. A highlight of the year has been Melvyn taking the top half of the class to visit the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett. Hundreds of young men and women from diverse backgrounds have been inspired by Melvyn on this life-transforming experience.
Melvyn has served as Vice President and convention chairman of the National Retail Furniture Association, on the board of directors of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas Health Science Center and the advisory board of Ronald McDonald House Houston, as well as leadership roles in many other not-for-profit boards and two corporate boards. He is a past president of Congregation Beth Israel and a past Vice President of the American Cancer Society.
Melvyn has been inducted into the American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame, is a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Houston College of Business, has received the Max H. Nathan Award from the American Jewish Committee, the Trail Blazer Award from the American Cancer Society, the Samuel Karff Award from Congregation Beth Israel and received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Houston ("Don't call me 'Doctor'"). The Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Foundation will continue, seeking to make a difference in the greater Houston community.
Melvyn had three families – his family, his Star Furniture family, and his dear friends. Each was tied for first place.
Melvyn had a way of making good times even better and bad times not as bad. His final days were made better and enriched by the many calls, notes and visits from family and friends, new and long-time.
Melvyn is survived by his wife, the former Cyvia Rose Grossberg, their children Carrie Boudreaux and Curtis Wolff, granddaughter Sherrie Boudreaux, his sister, Shirley Toomim, his brother-in-law, Marc Grossberg, his loving nieces and nephews, Ellen Robinson and husband, Steve Robinson, Lee Ann Grossberg, M.D. and wife, Margaret Stone, Toni Grossberg Oreck and Nicole Emily Grossberg Webster and husband, Adam Webster, and by adoring great nieces and nephews, Sandhya Krishnan, Nikhila Krishnan, Keshav Krishnan, Carly Oreck, Naveen Krishnan, Jaya Krishnan, Max Oreck, Sadie Oreck, Adam Robinson, Erica Robinson, Caitlin Toomim and Nicolas Toomim and special family Sherrie Bender, Patricia Quintinilla and Javier Tellez.
He was pre-deceased by his best friend, Mr. Ed.
A memorial service will be held at half-past four o'clock in the afternoon on Sunday, the 28th of May 2017, in the sanctuary of Congregation Beth Israel, 5600 North Braeswood Boulevard in Houston, where Senior Rabbi David A. Lyon, Cantor Daniel Mutlu, Associate Rabbi Adrienne Scott, and Associate Rabbi Joshua Herman are to officiate. Immediately following, all are invited to greet the family during a reception in the adjacent Wolff –Toomim Hall.
Prior to the service, the family will have gathered for a private interment at Congregation Beth Israel Memorial Garden Cemetery in Houston.
In lieu of customary remembrances, memorial contributions may be directed to the University of Houston Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Jewish Family Service or the .
Published in Houston Chronicle from May 27 to May 28, 2017
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