William Howard Merz, 88, a retired insurance executive and youth leader, died Oct. 8 at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. He was a resident of Center City for more than 60 years.
Merz grew up in Jenkintown, attending Jenkintown High School, where he received the American Legion Medal, which recognizes youth leadership and scholarship. He also delivered the commencement address for the class of 1938.
He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1942. While at Harvard, he began what would become a lifelong pursuit of working with youth, by teaching and counseling children at Settlement House in South Boston.
He entered the Army after graduation from Harvard, serving in the Special Service Company, predominately in the South Pacific, where he became a newspaper editor to report the news and, as he said, "to boost the morale of the guys in the foxholes." His articles were newsworthy but also included humorous insights.
After his discharge from the Army in 1945, Merz co-founded Blue Bell Day Camp, in Blue Bell, Pa., which would become one of the most successful and highly-regarded summer camps for more than 60 years.
In 1948, he joined the family insurance business, Leon Merz Company, based in the Insurance District of Society Hill in Philadelphia, where he worked for 55 years, with a specialty in underwriting and property/casualty insurance. Upon his retirement in 2003, he was executive vice president and partner of the firm, after it relocated to Swarthmore and became known as Merz Huber.
While in the insurance business, Merz devoted himself to working with young people, most notably through the Big Brothers Association of Philadelphia and the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization.
He received numerous commendations from B'nai B'rith over his 40 years of service with the organization, including the Henry Monsky Chapter Achievement Award; the Aleph Zadik Award; and the Raymond Rosen AZA Chapter Award for providing the spiritual, mental and physical development of Jewish youth.
Merz was the basketball coach of the Ray Rosen Chapter No. 865 boys' team, which won numerous league championships. Some of his former players recalled him as the "AZA's Red Auerbach," who was also Jewish. To add to the likeness, he coached with an unlit cigar in his mouth and paraded around the court with program in hand.
He also was active in community welfare organizations, including the United Fund, the YM and YWHA of Philadelphia and Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, where he was named an honorary trustee after numerous years of service on the board of directors. He was a member of Philmont County Club, the Locust Club and the Vesper Club.
Memorial donations can be made to: B'nai B'rith Liberty Region, 1420 Walnut St., Suite 720, Philadelphia, PA 19102.