The Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage News Article September 27, 2011
Azeez Donates $5 Million, Museum to Richard Stockton College
WOODBINE — This Rosh Hashanah, The Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage in the former Woodbine Brotherhood Synagogue will have a new owner, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
That historic gesture of the borough landmark was done at a Mon., Sept. 26 ceremony, which culminated in a document signing in the historic red brick building by Michael Azeez, businessman, civic leader and founder of the museum has donated, through the Azeez Foundation, $5 million to the college, as well as the museum itself. It is the largest sum ever given to the Atlantic County college in its 40-year history.
Stockton President Herman J. Saatkamp, Jr., who signed on behalf of the college, said the $5-million gift would be used to establish The Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage Endowment Fund to perpetuate the mu-seum’s activities, support its ongoing operation and maintenance for the continuation of its mission.
“I wish for the continuity of the Museum’s efforts to continue,” Azeez said. “There exists a synergy between the Museum, Stockton’s General Studies program, its Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, and its community partnerships. This collaboration enables the Museum to advance its goals, accessibility and visibil-ity.”
N.J. Acting Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks, a former history teacher, told the gathering she was in awe of the museum and what had transpired during the afternoon’s events.
“Stockton is gratified and humbled by the trust Michael Azeez has placed in the college,”. Saatkamp said. “The financial commitment Michael has made is remarkably significant. However, the act of placing the Museum, its contents and operation under our care represents something more important – the preservation of the region’s rich history as well as a commitment to reduce prejudice.”
The historic Woodbine Brotherhood Synagogue, which houses the museum, was built in 1893. It was owned by the Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage of which Michael Azeez assumed control in 2001.
Michael Azeez spent several years restoring the interior, exterior and grounds of the building, a National His-toric Landmark, as closely as possible to its original form. In 2003 he established the Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage, named to honor the memory of his father, a successful entrepreneur who grew up in Woodbine.
The Museum is a teaching center focusing on perpetuating the history of the wave of Russian Jewish immigra-tion to the area in the late 19th century and working for the reduction of prejudice. Since its inception, the Mu-seum worked with Stockton and the New Jersey Holocaust Commission in education, teacher training, the col-lection of oral histories and other activities.
The Museum contains a rich collection of historic photos, artifacts and documents detailing the story of the town’s settlers who had been denied the opportunity to pursue agriculture in their native lands. Russian and Eastern European Jews were being persecuted through the various pogroms that drove them from their homes to seek safety in other countries. Through the efforts of the Baron de Hirsch Fund, they were resettled in the United States and Argentina. Woodbine was one of the largest and most successful towns.
“To this day, Woodbine remains a living example of the values and ideals of its founders,” Azeez stated. “Our partnership with Stockton ensures the important story of Woodbine’s history will endure.”
Under terms of the gift, the Museum property, buildings and contents will be transferred to the College. In ad-dition to the collection currently housed in the building, there are more artifacts currently housed at the Phila-delphia Jewish Archives as part of Temple University’s Urban Archives. As part of the agreement, Stockton will utilize the property and any improvements for the advancement of the Museum and its mission.
“This collaboration with Stockton continues Woodbine’s heritage,” said Mayor William Pikolycky “As a town our best ‘crop’ has always been our young people, with education foremost to the benefit of the growth of that ‘crop.’ Our relationship with Stockton will enhance educational opportunities through the Museum for the en-tire community.”
“Stockton has long been a pioneer in the reduction of prejudice and hate through the activities of the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, our policies of inclusion and our community outreach initiatives,” Dr. Saatkamp said. “The partnership we are announcing today is a natural fit.”
Sam Azeez grew up in the area and as a young boy worked in his family’s bakery. By the time he was 12, Sam was operating his own bicycle repair shop, launching an entrepreneurial career that would include banking, real estate development, venture capital investments and a pioneering role in the cellular phone industry. Through his company, Ultronics, he co-developed the world’s first real-time computer quotation system, revolutionizing securities trading around the globe.
“My father never forgot his Woodbine roots, the more successful he became,” Michael Azeez said. “The Mu-seum aims to preserve the heritage of Woodbine and its contributions to the development of the region and be-yond. I look forward to advancing the mission of the Museum in partnership with Stockton for many years to come,” he concluded.
Michael Azeez, a graduate of the University of Denver, is co-founder of UNITEL, which operated cellular phone systems in rural areas around the United States. He is currently involved in a wide range of venture capi-tal and real estate investment activities. In 2008 he became Managing Partner of Vermiel Wines, in partnership with former Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs Coach Dick Vermiel in producing quality wines from the Napa Valley region of California.
He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Museum and the Friends of Yemin Orde and the Executive Committee of the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Natural Liberty Museum and Stockton Affiliate Services, Inc.
He is also a co-chair of the recently announced You Make The Difference: The Campaign for Stockton College, which seeks to raise $20 million by June 30, 2014 for student scholarships, academic program enhancement and faculty support.
Azeez and his wife of 29 years, Kathy, are the proud parents of two grown children, Zach and Jessica.