Local Obituaries

Cuban immigrant Isaac Olemberg who built shoe company, turned philanthropist, dies at 86

Isaac Olemberg founded Olem Shoe Corp. in Miami with his wife, the late Nieves Olemberg, in 1964. He endowed the Olemberg Family Chair in Neurological Disorders at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and supported many charities.
Isaac Olemberg founded Olem Shoe Corp. in Miami with his wife, the late Nieves Olemberg, in 1964. He endowed the Olemberg Family Chair in Neurological Disorders at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and supported many charities. Courtesy Olemberg family

When Isaac Olemberg was born 86 years ago in Havana to Polish immigrants the family exclaimed, “Es un toro.”

“It’s a bull,” seemed apt. Olemberg weighed 13 pounds at birth.

When he died on Nov. 10, at 86, he remained “larger than life,” his daughter Lisette Olemberg Goldstein said.

Olemberg founded Olem Shoe Corp. with his wife Nieves in 1964 in Miami. Son Roberto is now president. Nieves died in 2014.

Read Nieves Olemberg’s obituary.

As the business grew, so did Olemberg’s philanthropy. He endowed the Olemberg Family Chair in Neurological Disorders at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He supported numerous institutions including Greater Miami Jewish Federation, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and Jewish National Fund.

“When you talk about Isaac you have to talk about the love of his wife, they were exceptional people, exceptional philanthropists,” said auto magnate Norman Braman on Monday. “Yesterday I went to two funerals — Isaac’s and [philanthropist] Sue Miller’s — and for the community to lose two people like that is truly a blow. Isaac and Nieves came here as refugees from Cuba, built a substantial business, and gave it all back to the community. He enriched my life and all of those who had the privilege of coming into contact with him.”

For more than 50 years, Isaac’s unshakeable commitment to Israel, Jewish peoplehood and collective responsibility represented a pillar of strength and leadership in Miami’s Jewish community.

Jacob Solomon, CEO, Greater Miami Jewish Foundation

In 2010, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation honored Olemberg with the Federation’s Friend of Israel Humanitarian Award. He was a founding member of the Cuban Division and life member of the board of directors. Jacob Solomon, the Federation’s chief executive officer, said in an email to his staff: “For more than 50 years, Isaac’s unshakeable commitment to Israel, Jewish peoplehood and collective responsibility represented a pillar of strength and leadership in Miami’s Jewish community.”

Olemberg quit school and got into the shoe business at 17 in Cuba with a loan from his dad, Leon. There, he opened Miami Shoes on the promise he would be able to support himself or go back to school. By 18, he doubled the size of the store. He met his wife when she walked into the store as a customer.

The Olembergs married in 1955 at the Dilido Hotel in Miami Beach. In 1960, the couple and their eldest children, Roberto and Lily, left Cuba for Miami Beach.

Olemberg started over as a shoe store clerk. By 1962, he opened a couple shoe stores in North Miami Beach and Cutler Ridge. In 1964, he sold both stores to his business partner and opened Olem Shoe Corp. with his wife and prospered. “He was a genius at what he did,” son Roberto said. “In footwear he had a real talent.”

He was, they all say, a big man.

“It wasn’t only his stature, it was everything,” Goldstein said. “He’s been honored by every organization in Israel and here. Everyone knows about his philanthropy. But I want them to know he was a great Dad.”

The children speak of the weekly Friday night family dinners he orchestrated at his Miami Beach home. “He was a big patriarchal man, the old-school way,” Roberto said. Lily said she thinks of her father when she hears Eric Clapton’s “My Father’s Eyes,” a song that yearns for the guidance of paternal love.

Bit by bit, I've realized/That's when I need my father's eyes.

“I don’t think that there could ever be a love like the kind a father has for his daughter,” she said.

Olemberg is also survived by his daughter Janine, seven grandchildren, and his sisters Felicia Gorodetzky and Rosita Berenthal. Shiva will be held at 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday at Olemberg Hall at Temple Menorah, 620 75th St., Miami Beach.

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