Irv Segal was a creative force in the formation of social agencies serving the travel needs of challenged individuals.
Irv Segal, a creative force in the formation of social agencies serving the travel needs of challenged individuals, and a man whose own travels included a stint in the Navy, where he served as a lay rabbi, died Feb. 3.
The Warminster resident, formerly of Elkins Park, was 81.
In 1972, the U of P grad — he earned his master’s in social work there after getting an undergrad degree from Penn State — established Guided Tour, Inc., for individuals with special needs. The Elkins Park company’s aim, according to its website, is to “provide a growth-producing experience for our travelers, in which they are able to travel and socialize independent of their families.”
The company evolved from earlier efforts by Segal, namely the Ronald Bruce Nipon Association, which he set up in 1964, and the Association for Developmental Disabilities, formerly the Young Adult Group.
Segal’s efforts earned him many plaudits and awards, including the proclamation of “Irv Segal Day,” accorded him by Mayor Ed Rendell in 1998.
A year later, Segal was honored with the Betty Linker Award from the Montgomery County Office for Mental Health/Mental Retardation.
His expertise in the field was much in demand as he was called on to present papers at conferences throughout the world. He also consulted on establishing programs similar to his, helping them get off the ground in such locales as the Caribbean and Europe.
His work received national attention from the White House as well; he was granted a private audience with President Richard Nixon. For his commitment to community, Segal was presented with a small replica of the Liberty Bell by Philadelphia Mayor Frank R. Rizzo.
His activity in the Philadelphia Jewish communty was widespread. He served on boards of agencies focused on individuals with special needs, such as JCHAI; in the ’60s, Segal headed up the Vacation Bureau of the Federation of Jewish Agencies of Greater Philadelphia and also served the Association for Jewish Children and the Rebecca Gratz Club.
Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne feted Segal for his humanitarian work.
With all the awards and honors — including being given the key to the city of Cheltenham, England, for his assistance with their special needs programs — the irony is Segal got involved in what would be his life work almost by happenstance.
“My dad had been a case worker for the Nationalities Services Center in Philadelphia,” which, with Segal at the helm, ran the International Folk Fair, relates his daughter, Tali.
At one such event, “a woman came up to him and asked for his help; she had a son with disabilities who had no friends.”
She was hoping, says Tali Segal, he would be able to start a forum for her son.
Although he had never worked with differently abled individuals before, Segal took on the challenge. The ad hoc group he founded first drew in that woman’s son and a few other challenged individuals; within a short period of time, says his daughter, it was attracting 60 people to its meetings.
She said there was a magnetism about her dad — “he was a people person” — which enabled him to always get the job done, whether it was forming organizations or taking on the challenge of conducting services for fellow Jews aboard an aircraft carrier in the ’50s while he was serving in the Navy.
He certainly was no stranger to liturgy; a longtime member of Congregation Rodeph Sholom, he had been “a paid professional singer” in the choir at the synagogue while still in high school, says his daughter. But then he also sang at churches both here and abroad, which included two years of the family living on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, from 1962-64. During that time, he got some help from the tight-knit local Jewish community in finding temporary lodging on his arrival — in author Herman Wouk’s island house.
Her father, says Tali Segal, as well as her mother — Zipporah, an Israeli, Irv Segal’s wife of 55 years — always believed they should do things while they were young, which included travel, and resulted in their moving to St. Thomas, where Segal was based while serving as lead social worker for the U.S. Virgin Islands school system.
“My father was a collector of people,” says his daughter. “People were drawn to him. That is an attribute both my brothers” — Ari, a social worker and now director of the Guided Tour, and Doron — “and I got from him.”
She got quite a lot: “When I was quite young, my dad was a case worker at the Downtown Children’s Center, a daycare center that was a predecessor for Federation Early Learning Services. I remember how much I learned from going to work with him. I met children my age who lived in South Philadelphia and did not have yards; our dad had me gather items of nature from around our home to show to these kids. These were items I took for granted, but which these kids had never seen!”
In addition to his wife, daughter and sons, Segal is survived by seven grandchildren.
Donations in his name may be sent to the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, 305 Seventh Ave., 19th Floor, New York, NY 10001.