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Synagogue advocate Jack “John” Marvin Gellman dies

Jack “John” Marvin Gellman

Jack “John” Marvin Gellman passed away on December 24, 2020, after a brief battle with COVID-19. A tireless champion for synagogues throughout his life, his many years of devotion to the Jewish community in general and Congregation Anshei Israel in particular were well-known. Having joined the congregation in 1977, John was very active in the synagogue, serving on various committees and the board (including being president), as well as serving on the Chevra Kaddisha and as the head usher for many years. John was named a Life Trustee by Anshei Israel, honoring his years of dedication to the Jewish community and the congregation.

Born in Rock Island, Illinois on August 4, 1933, John was the middle child of Israel (“I.C.”) and Anna Gellman. John and his two siblings were regular visitors both to Gellman Manufacturing and the family’s synagogue, the Tri-City Jewish Center, both founded by I.C., a Russian immigrant. Sadly, their family life was shattered when I.C. passed away from a rare autoimmune illness when John was not quite ten years old. Recollections of his father would comfort and inspire John throughout his entire life, including in recent years, after so many other memories had been erased by Alzheimer’s.

Attending Purdue University, John wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps as an inventor. He was devoted to his studies, and he also made time to play football for the college. John was a member of Purdue’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity, staying in contact with some fraternity brothers for most of his life.

During the summer break of 1954, John got a job in Los Angeles where his mother then lived. There, through a fraternity brother, he met Rayna Nathan, whom he would marry the following summer. The newlyweds lived in Lafayette, Indiana, until John graduated from Purdue in 1956. They then moved to John’s home town where he began work at Gellman Manufacturing. John and Rayna’s two daughters, Linda and D’vora, were born during their time in Rock Island.

In the summer of 1961, John and Rayna moved their young family to Los Angeles, where John had taken a job as an aerospace engineer at Hughes Aircraft Company. John had a small but exciting role as part of the design of Surveyor, the first soft landing lunar vehicle; later he was involved in the company’s contracts with the US Air Force. In time, their son David joined the family. In 1967, the family moved to Chatsworth (in the San Fernando Valley), and were soon actively engaged at Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge. John had his first stint as a synagogue president there in the early 1970’s.

John and Rayna moved their family to Tucson in the summer of 1977 when John was transferred by Hughes. Fortuitously, this brought the Gellmans into close proximity with a large proportion of their extended family who had migrated to southern Arizona over the course of decades, including both of their mothers and Rayna’s two sisters and their families. Holidays and other family gatherings, always important, became an even bigger part of life. John – known as Jack in this context – had even more joy when grandchildren arrived to join the family.

John was preceded in death by his wife, Rayna, who passed away in 2019, and by his two siblings, Stanley Gellman and Rhoda Wertheimer. He is survived by his children, Linda Braun (Steven Braun), D’vora Richards (John Richards), and David Gellman (Eric Banks); grandchildren Clare Braun (Rich Collins), Willie Braun, David Richards, Jack Richards, and Nick Ferro; and great-granddaughter Lucy Collins Braun, as well as numerous cousins, nephews and nieces.

Donations in John’s memory can be made to Congregation Anshei Israel or the Humane Society of Southern Arizona.