Jack Gerson, the son of Jewish parents Samuel Gerson and Gutta (Cohen) Gerson, was born on June 20, 1892, at Wladyslawowo – which I believe is located in modern-day Poland but given as Lithuania at times. As a young man he decided to immigrate to the United States. He left Hamburg, Germany, by ship on November 10, 1913, and arrived in New York harbor six days later. He made his way to New Castle within a few years and found employment as an apprentice at J. F. Perelman’s jewelry business on East Washington Street.
In May 1918 he was drafted into the U. S. Army and sent to a medical corps training facility known as Camp Greenleaf, located on the grounds of Fort Oglethorpe in northern Georgia. I’m not sure if he ever saw service overseas during the Great War (World War I), which was raging in Europe at the time. After his stint in the Army, during which he became a naturalized U. S. citizen, he returned to New Castle. In 1920, after a successful apprenticeship as a jeweler, he moved on to manage the downtown jewelry store operated by Sigmund and Harry Klivans.
The enterprising Gerson opened his own jewelry store in October 1923 in the new Penn Theater building on North Mercer Street. He started out with a single employee but by his business quickly grew and within a decade he had about fifteen employees. He was married to the Pittsburgh native Rebecca Moltz on January 20, 1929, and together they eventually had two daughters named Ina and Sarelee. Gerson and his wife became active members of the Temple Israel, a Jewish Reform congregation founded in New Castle in 1926.
On Thursday, April 16, 1936, Gerson relocated and opened a larger store at #200 East Washington Street – at the intersection with Mill Street. He became the premier jewelry and watch dealer in New Castle and was known as the “King of Diamonds.” His brother younger Harold Gerson (1905-1977) worked with him with as well, and later operated his own jewelry stores in Ellwood City and Beaver Falls.
Gerson was very involved in community affairs and took the lead in numerous conservationist causes. In the late 1950’s he established the Jack Gerson Camp, a popular camping and fishing spot on the Neshannock Creek near Eastbrook, and helped restore the lake at Cascade Park, long filled with silt and debris, to its past glory. Gerson was the recipient of New Castle’s Distinguished Citizen’s Award for 1957.
In April 1968, after forty-five years in operation, Jack Gerson sold his downtown store to Zales Jewelers. Zales was a successful jewelry store chain founded in 1924 and headquartered in Irving, Texas. In early 1968 the chain operated 400 stores across the country, but this was their initial foray into Pennsylvania. Gerson’s made a deal to ensure that his employees remained employed with the new company. Zales reorganized and decided to pull out of New Castle in early 1972. King’s Jewelry store relocated into the old Gerson location in October 1972.
Gerson, who resided on Winter Avenue in the North Hill area of New Castle, settled into retirement. He passed away at the age of ninety-four on Thursday, January 29, 1987 and was laid to rest in the Temple Israel Memorial Park in Neshannock Township. His beloved wife Rebecca was buried by his side after she passed away at the age of ninety-four on May 28, 1998.