Jeweler David Balogh was the kind of guy who could hear a line like “bombs bursting in air” and only marvel at the beautiful colors.
As a Navy soldier during World War II in Normandy, he wrote letters to a young woman he had met years earlier while teaching piano lessons at age 15 in their Astoria, New York, hometown.
After the well-known South Florida jeweler died at 94 on June 4, his family found a collection of these letters, lovingly written in cursive, a relic of the analog age. The letters to Sallie Rappaport reveal much about their writer.
“He always saw the glass as full full,” said granddaughter Cara Erdheim. “As the bombs were going off, he was commenting on how beautiful everything was. ‘The water was so blue.’ And just that positive attitude toward life was the key.”
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
‘You should see me today, angel girl, it would do your heart good — I’m wearing dungarees (things I haven’t worn for two years) — and a sweater and a dirty hat. I’ve been working hard all morning — doing real manual labor. … It’s quite an experience playing with the wind in your face and the salt sea air all around you…darling sweetheart.’
During the war, he married his “angel girl.”
In 1945, he and Sallie Balogh, his wife of 63 years until her death in 2005, would open one of South Florida’s top independent jewelery shops on 41st Street in Miami Beach. Balogh Jewelers also had branches in Coral Gables, Hallandale Beach and on New York’s Madison Avenue, with offices in Belgium and Japan.
Clients included Frank Sinatra, who ordered a special diamond and emerald necklace and bracelet, and the Shah of Iran who sent an emissary to Balogh Jewelers to pick up a 50-carat oval diamond. The main shop on 447 41st St. was festooned with crystal chandeliers on the ceiling and antique curio cabinets lining its walls.
Balogh Jewelers, until its closing in 1999, catered to entertainers, royalty and well-heeled residents. “We’ve been unique,” Balogh said at 78 in a Miami Herald story a month before he closed the Beach flagship store. “We design and make almost everything in the shop ourselves. That’s why we’ve been able to reach such a sophisticated group of people.”
Balogh recognized beauty from an early age. He was born to Hungarian immigrants on July 7, 1920, in Astoria, Queens. His father ran a small antique shop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. His mother insisted that her two sons, David and Julien, excel in two instruments. Balogh proved proficient in flute and piano.
Balogh, nicknamed “Happy” by his family, studied music at the Manhattan School of Music and played first flute in the Miami Beach Symphony Orchestra. “I remember feeling such pride when my father came to play at my elementary school,” said daughter Joan Erdheim.
“No nickname was ever more appropriately given. Behind his infectious smile was a beautiful soul,” added son Bobby. “Dad achieved an awful lot in his lifetime but perhaps his greatest accomplishment was his ability to love others the way he did.”
He knew loss, too. Brother Julien, who ran the Gables location and once paid a $10 parking ticket on Miracle Mile incurred by customer Mike Tyson, the boxer, was poisoned at 67 with cyanide in his café cubano at the store. The 1993 murder case was never solved.
Balogh Jewelers ended its run after David Balogh had a heart attack. “Everything has got to come to an end. I can’t continue forever,” he told the Herald in 1998.
“He had this saying, ‘You never fail until you stop trying,’ and that defined his life and the final weeks of his life,” granddaughter Cara Erdheim said. “I’m getting married in three weeks and he wanted to see his family content. He wanted to see his family comfortable. I think that big word with his generation was ‘sacrifice.’ He was part of this greatest generation and there are not many of them left. He really was an iconic figure in Miami.”
In addition to his granddaughter Cara, son Bobby and daughter Joan, Balogh is survived by his grandchildren Anna Henschel, Andrew and Alexandra Balogh and his companion of 10 years, Monique Beaudet. Services were held in Miami Beach.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.