Phyllis Malissa Finkelstein said the greatest gift her father passed along to her and younger brother Dean was instilling in them the confidence to excel in life.
Just as child of the Depression Louis G. Malissa overcame obstacles to build a small family business into the international Penn Ventilator Co., he taught his children they could succeed in whatever path they chose.
That’s the effect Malissa, who died July 23 at the age of 93, had on people.
“My father taught us to maintain your family relationships and your friends,” said Finkelstein, chair of endowments for Women’s Philanthropy at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. “He taught me tenacity and how to work hard.
“He had high expectations for my brother and me. Several years ago, he gave us a wine decanter, which said, ‘You’ve exceeded my expectations.’ The truth is it all happened because he gave us a wonderful launching pad.”
Malissa, who stood 6-foot-6-inches, also was loyal, hiring several boyhood friends from the Logan neighborhood to work for him while maintaining close relationships with those he served with during World War II. During the war, the sergeant found himself under sniper attack in France and later was at the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.
But Malissa rarely spoke about those experiences until later in life.
“He had been a soldier and saw what war was about, but you could not pry a word from him about his service,” Dean Malissa said. “Then, as if some veil lifted in his late 70s, he began to speak more about it. My father was a good man who, like all of us, had his fears and foibles and rose above most of them.”
Judaism played a part in that.
Following his 1946 marriage to Irma Silver, the Malissas moved to Wyncote and began attending Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park. They remained members his whole life.
“He had a real affable personality and knew how to be very engaging and sociable,” Finkelstein said. “That drew a lot of people to him. He was also a very good storyteller.”
Perhaps that’s why Malissa considered becoming a journalist, writing for the Army base newsletter at Fort Dix, N.J., before his discharge. Things changed once he met his wife and began working in her family’s business.
“Life took him in a different direction,” Dean Malissa said. “He met my mom and had the opportunity to join her family’s fledging firm and build it up. He was a man who revered the written word — either writing or reading it. He never ever shirked from hard work and had a singular objective in life: to provide for his wife and family.
Funeral services were conducted by Rabbi Greg Marx of Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen on July 25. It included full military honors, followed by interment at Montefiore Cemetery in Jenkintown.
He’s survived by his wife of 71 years, Irma, along with his two children, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Donations in Louis Malissa’s name may be made to the Abramson Center for Jewish Life in Horsham.
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