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Jack Cole: Helping ‘overgrown country town’ prosper

Jack Cole
Jack Cole

Jack Cole’s path to leadership began when his life was transformed by Jewish Family & Children’s Services. He and his wife, Joan, adopted Davis, their youngest of three adopted children, through the agency. Cole was motivated to give back so that others could benefit from their services as well.

That meant contributing both time and resources. Cole served on the JFCS board of directors, including a term as board chair in the late 1960s.

Cole says that when an organization makes that kind of impact on your world, “that will do it every time. You become somewhat dedicated and committed to that agency forever. Once you know all the things they can do, you become willing to work on their behalf.”

As chair of JFCS, he was appointed to the board of directors of the Tucson Jewish Community Council, the precursor to the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, and served as its chair from 1977-1978.

Cole originally came to Tucson from Los Angeles in 1950 to earn a bachelor of science in pharmacy from the University of Arizona. After completing his Ph.D. in medical chemistry at the University of Minnesota, he returned to Tucson in 1957, when he was hired to teach at the UA College of Pharmacy. He continued in academia, serving as dean of the College of Pharmacy, provost and as the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs. He still teaches as a part-time professor at the UA.

“We were a smaller Jewish community then. I couldn’t get on a plane out of Tucson without running into someone I knew,” says Cole, who is now 84. “Since then, our status as an overgrown country town has changed to an even bigger overgrown country town.”

Cole played an important role in preparing for that growth. As board chair of the Tucson Jewish Community Council, he signed the papers for the property where the Tucson Jewish Community Center now stands. At the time, it was a controversial decision to move the campus from Plumer Avenue to River Road. There were concerns about the cost and whether there were enough Jews to support it. The site was in the middle of nowhere, and there was the risk of Tucson’s legendary 100-year floods. “A lot of people got very angry, but reason prevailed, and that’s a tribute to the Tucson Jewish community,” Cole says.

The capital campaign involved significant fundraising. “I hated calling people to raise money, but it was essential,” says Cole. “The participation in those activities over the years helped me mature as an adult and a Jew. They helped me grow up, for lack of a better term.”

These skills also helped him launch a successful capital campaign to expand the College of Pharmacy during his tenure as dean. He was recognized for his ongoing support by the UA Alumni Association as Alumnus of the Year in 2013.

Fundraising and planning continue to be the main challenges Cole sees facing Tucson and the Jewish community. “I just hope we can do more for our local community and for Israel. Nothing has changed in that respect. We need to continue to grow, to take care of everybody — the local Jewish poor and the Israelis. I would think that should be a little easier, now that the recession is over, but [JFSA President and CEO] Stuart Mellan says it’s still hard. Lots of people have not recovered from the recession. We still need to find a way to provide as much as we possibly can.”

Support for Israel has always been important to Cole. As Jewish Community Council board chair, he led several missions to Israel. “What’s going on with Israel is still of concern. That has been a constant all of my adult life, from 1948 on.”

Although he still participates in review committees for the Federation and shares his advice from time to time, Cole is reluctant to give specifics about how to meet those challenges. “I’m not as involved as I was years ago.”

Looking back, Cole says that he gained at least as much as he gave over his years of involvement. “Whatever you put into it, you get out of it. It works both ways.”

Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson. She can be reached at nancy_ozeri @yahoo.com.