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Florence Zacks Melton

November 11, 1911–January 8, 2007

by Sylvia C. Ettenberg

Florence Melton.
Courtesy of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School Institute, The Melton Centre for Jewish Education, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
In Brief

Florence Zacks Melton helped create and support important adult education programs in the Jewish community, as well as secular causes. Dedicated to Jewish education, Melton was a founding member of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education and created the Florence Melton Adult Mini School, a two-year certificate program, through Hebrew University’s Melton Centre. She also initiated the local Meals on Wheels program in Columbus, Ohio, and established a foundation to provide prostheses for underprivileged children. She received a number of awards for her efforts, including honors from B’nai B’rith and the Janusz Korczak Humanitarian Award from Kent State University.

Philanthropist and visionary innovator, a lay leader for over fifty years, Florence Zacks Melton helped build institutions that improved the quality and broadened the scope of Jewish education throughout North America. Together with her family, she was also cited for outstanding contributions to the welfare of the Jewish people in Israel, and, in particular, to the support of the Hebrew University.

Early Life and Career

Born on November 11, 1911, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Florence Melton credits her immigrant bubbe (grandmother) who sparked her soul with Jewish values and taught her menshlikhkayt (being a decent person). Music was a vital part of her early life, and she studied music, art, and ballet. She married Aaron Zacks in 1930. They had two sons, Gordon Zacks, who distinguished himself on a national level through his activities in the United Jewish Appeal, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and many other organizations, and Barry, a restaurateur who died in 1990.

In 1946, she and her husband founded the R.G. Barry Corporation, the largest manufacturing company for soled slippers in the world. Her invention of the use of foam in footwear revolutionized the industry, and she continued to serve as a consultant for project development and design. Her love and concern for children motivated much of her career in the business world as well as her involvement in Jewish education. She established a foundation to provide prostheses for children whose parents could not afford to purchase them. For many years she was a leader in her community and was the first woman invited to serve on the Board of the Huntington National Bank. She also started the first program for Meals on Wheels in Columbus, Ohio.

Aaron Zacks died in 1965. In 1968, Florence married Samuel Mendel Melton, an engineer who built a highly successful business and became a community leader in Columbus with a special mission for Jewish education. In 1959, he had endowed the Melton Center for Research in Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America

Philanthropy and Legacy

Melton served as a founding member of CAJE in 1975 and continued to support this effort. She was the creator of Columbus’s Discovery Program, which found innovative ways to keep children involved in Jewish education through their high school years. She was a distinguished member of the Commission on Jewish Education in North America.

Melton is best known for having created and supported the successful community-based two-year program known as the Florence Melton Adult Mini School for adult learners. The program operates in many communities in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Its graduates receive certificates from the Hebrew University’s Melton Centre, which was responsible for developing the unique curriculum.

In recognition of her many achievements and great contributions, Florence Melton received many honors and awards from B’nai B’rith, including the Janusz Korczak Humanitarian Award from Kent State University. In 1991, she was awarded an honorary Ph.D. from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Florence Melton died on January 8, 2007.

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How to cite this page

Ettenberg, Sylvia C.. "Florence Zacks Melton." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 23, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/melton-florence-zacks>.