Henry Zachs ’56: ‘Give back and set an example’

by Rhea Hirshman

Henry Zachs speaks during the dedication of the Kassow Hillel Kosher Eatery in Mather Hall in May 2012. Photo by John Marinelli

Henry Zachs speaks during the dedication of the Kassow Hillel Kosher Eatery in Mather Hall in May 2012.
Photo by John Marinelli

When Henry Zachs ’56 made his first gift to Trinity College–a donation to support the professorial endowment fund–he was just a junior, and the gift came from the commissions he earned selling ads in the college yearbook.

Five decades later, in 2006, Zachs was awarded the Eigenbrodt Cup–one of the greatest honors that can be bestowed on alumni–for his outstanding contributions and service to the College.

A political science major at Trinity, Zachs received his M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. When he returned home in 1959 to the Hartford area after graduate school, Zachs says, he “wrote 13 checks–one to my dentist and the other 12 to various charities.”

From that time forward, Zachs went on to found Message Center Beepers in 1960 and to become a leader and nationally recognized expert in the telecommunications industry, including paging, cellular communications, and Internet services. Throughout his career, Zachs has shared his time, expertise, and financial resources with his alma mater and with Jewish groups, cultural organizations, educational institutions, foundations, and medical facilities in the Greater Hartford area and statewide. He has received numerous honors for his good works.

Zachs likes to note that his Trinity connection goes back to his mother’s brother, Abraham Silverman, Class of 1918–the College’s first Jewish valedictorian. Zachs has served Trinity as a class agent, a member of numerous committees, a trustee of the College, and the first Jewish trustee of the Watkinson Library. He has supported the Watkinson Library and campus cultural houses and was instrumental in building and endowing the Zachs Hillel House and the Kassow Hillel Kosher Eatery in Mather Hall. Since the Zachs Hillel House opened in 2001, it has offered Jewish cultural, educational, and social events; religious services; and kosher meals. Trinity Hillel has been a welcoming space for all members of the Trinity community, regardless of religious affiliation.

While Jewish interests are particularly close to Zachs’s heart, his philanthropy is motivated also by a larger sense of community. Zachs notes that “Jews need to support fellow Jews but also look beyond those horizons. You can’t take it with you, so you have to give back and set an example for your children and grandchildren.” The message has resonated, as the entire family (two sons and four grandchildren) is involved with charitable giving.

Zachs is the epitome of the hands-on philanthropist. “If I can figure out a way to make an institution better, I want to do it,” he says. Making an institution better might mean anything from consulting on the decorations for a campus Hillel (he has supported three others in Connecticut in addition to Trinity’s), to soliciting donations from someone who has not previously given to a cause that Zachs believes deserves the person’s support, to working with an organization’s structure to make it more efficient in carrying out its mission.

A deeply personal mission for Zachs is his involvement with the Association of Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Hartford, a consortium that provides proper care and ongoing maintenance for more than two dozen Jewish cemeteries. In 2002, after witnessing vandalism of the cemetery where his own grandparents are buried, Zachs not only provided financial support for cemetery restorations around the city but began a practice of making regular visits to all the cemeteries himself, a practice he continues to this day. “Someone has to care for these sacred spaces,” Zachs says, “so I got involved.”

Still, as he puts it, “pretty well occupied with the business,” Zachs plays tennis five or six days a week, gets in an occasional golf game, and visits museums, including the Wadsworth Atheneum, whose board is one of the dozen on which he currently serves. With a mother who lived to be 108, Zachs doesn’t see himself stopping anytime soon. That’s good news for his family, his friends, his business, and the innumerable people whose lives his generosity has touched.