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2019-2020 Season

August 30, 2019: Yale Abrams, leader at United Way of the Wine Country and Santa Rosa Symphony, dies at 78

by Chris Smith, The Press Democrat, August 30, 2019

Yale Abrams was a marketing whiz and former United Way leader who savored the Santa Rosa Symphony, community service performed collectively, Penn State football, romps with his three grandkids, “Pink Panther” movies and good laughs to bad jokes.
Given the way life tickled him, Abrams almost certainly would be amused that his final meal was one of his guilty pleasures: a hot dog at Costco.
The gentle-natured Sonoma County volunteer and management consultant to nonprofits and businesses was enjoying a food-court snack with his wife of 50 years, Terry Abrams, on Aug. 20 when he went into heart failure. He died a short time later in the emergency department at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
Abrams, a Philadelphia-born community booster who for decades brightened all sorts of benefit and cultural events in and around Santa Rosa, was 78.
“He had an incredibly beautiful sense of humor,” said friend and fellow Rotary Club of Santa Rosa member Cathy Vicini.
“And his heart! If you ever asked him to do something, or you needed a volunteer, his hand went up.”
Abrams’ constant, unpaid work for the greater good included an unmatched 40 years of service to the board of the Santa Rosa Symphony.
Its president and CEO, Alan Silow, was grateful to Abrams for sharing his historical perspective on the evolution of the symphony, based now at the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University.
Silow praised Abrams also for “his vast marketing knowledge that helped tremendously in our audience development strategies.”
Abram’s years of leadership on the Sonoma County Workforce Investment Board, charged with promoting the county’s economic vitality through job creation and readiness, brought him a 2018 Spirit of Sonoma award.
He’d worked most of his career in sales and marketing when, in 1995, he became president-CEO of what is now called United Way of Wine Country.
He told The Press Democrat early in 1996 that switching from business to the nonprofit United Way, which grants donations from community members to a host of local programs and causes, was not difficult.
“I asked myself, ‘What do you really care about?’ And I decided that I’d rather spend my time working for my community than for myself.”
Abrams was born Nov. 8, 1940, in Philadelphia. He earned admission to the city’s Central High School, the second-oldest public high school in America, and upon graduation continued on to Penn State, where he became editor of the campus newspaper.
A student he’d dated introduced him in 1962 to Terry Salmon, who’d come to Penn State from New York. Little did they know that in 2019 they would make plans for celebrating 50 years of marriage.
Not long after Yale Abrams graduated in 1963 he was drafted into the Army. America’s war with North Vietnam was heating up as Abrams was sent to Fort Lewis in Washington as an intelligence specialist. He was honorably discharged in 1966.
He went to work as a helicopter parts buyer for the Boeing Co. in Philadelphia, and at the same time earned an MBA in marketing from Temple University.
Terry Salmon was living in San Francisco and carrying on a bi-coastal relationship with Abrams when he asked her, not for the first time, to marry him.
He launched that last proposal on July 20, 1969, the day of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. She said yes. He was over the moon.
The couple married Sept. 6, 1969, at the Swedenborgian Church of San Francisco. A short time later they set up housekeeping in San Francisco, and Yale Abrams began his career in marketing.
His and Terry’s first of two sons, Kim, was born in 1974.
It was two years later that an opportunity arose to move to Sonoma County. Abrams took up an offer from Canada-based Ecodyne to become marketing manager of its cooling tower division in Windsor.
The Abrams family settled into a home in Larkfield, just north of Santa Rosa. Son Dale was born in 1978.
Something profound happened to Yale Abrams early on in his tenure at Ecodyne. Higher-ups asked him to help out as a loaned executive to what was then United Way of Sonoma-Lake-Mendocino.
That introduction to the world of community nonprofits opened Abrams’ eyes to the vast need for — and rewards of — volunteer service and local philanthropy.
While advancing in his marketing career he immersed himself in the missions of a variety of community organizations. He was active over the years on the boards of the Sonoma County Family YMCA, Blood Bank of the Redwoods, Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, World Affairs Council of Sonoma County and Sonoma State University Enterprises.
“He was all over the community,” said longtime friend and fellow Rotary Club member Rich de Lambert.
“He was a leader; just a pleasant guy, kind of rolled with the punches. You can’t say anything bad about him.”
In the mid-1980s, Yale and Terry Abrams became partners in Abrams Thompson, Inc., a marketing and advertising agency. That firm would become the current Abrams Consulting.
Yale Abrams, whose career also included working as a marketing executive at Data 3 Systems Inc. and teaching marketing at Santa Rosa Junior College, took a long break from corporate life starting in 1995. He returned to the regional United Way office as the operation’s president and CEO.
Abrams held that position until 2003, then rejoined his wife at Abrams Consulting. The two made plans to travel to Italy in October to celebrate a half century of marriage.
On the evening of Aug. 20, they stopped at the Costco in Santa Rosa for gasoline and Yale offered to treat his wife to one of his favorite meals: the warehouse store’s hot dog and soda deal.
As they were eating, Terry Abrams said, “I could see he was feeling discomfort.” She went for help.
Yale Abrams was taken by ambulance to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. “He was actually awake and talking when I got there,” Terry said.
But a short time later his heart stopped. His wife of 17 days short of 50 years will go ahead with the anniversary journey to Italy, but will travel with her sister and brother-in-law.
In addition to Terry Abrams in Santa Rosa, Yale Abrams is survived by sons Kim Abrams of Oakland, Dale Abrams of San Jose and three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be private.
Abrams’ family suggests memorial donations to Santa Rosa Symphony, or 50 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa 95404; Sonoma County Family YMCA, or 1111 College Ave., Santa Rosa 95404; Disability Services & Legal Center, or 521 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa 95401; or United Way of the Wine Country, or 975 Corporate Center Parkway, Suite 160, Santa Rosa 95407.

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