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Developer began family philanthropy tradition

| Monday, June 12, 2006

Charity is a trait of members of the Soffer family, known not only for their business acumen but for their philanthropy.

Joseph Soffer, of Squirrel Hill, founder and chairman of the Soffer Organization, supported numerous Jewish charities and other organizations. Family members expanded that generosity to benefit Children's Hospital and the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Mr. Soffer, who founded a real estate business that leased office and retail space throughout Western Pennsylvania, died Sunday, June 11, 2006, at UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland. He was 94.

While stationed with the Army Air Corps Transportation Command in Texas during World War II, Mr. Soffer joined the Masonic Order. By the time he was discharged from the military in 1946, he had risen to the 32nd Degree and become a Shriner, joining an organization that fit his charitable endeavors by supporting children's hospitals throughout the United States.

In 1964, Joseph Soffer established the Soffer Organization, a commercial leasing, property management and development company that owns and operates about 2 million square feet of office, retail and residential property in the Pittsburgh area.

The Soffer portfolio includes Penn Center East, the Shoppes at Penn Center East, Norwin Towne Square, Penn Center West and the Technology Park at Penn Center West. It is developing the SouthSide Works, 34 acres of riverfront property on land that once was the site of the coke and steel furnaces of the South Side Works of J&L Steel Corp.

His son, R. Damian Soffer, CEO and president of the Soffer Organization, credited his father for the independence he gave him in developing the SouthSide Works.

"My knowledge and background in creating the SouthSide Works was based on the freedom that my father gave me in allowing me to study, be educated and work abroad."

Born and raised in Duquesne, Joseph Soffer was one of four children in the family of Jacob and Lena Haber Soffer, who had emigrated from Eastern Europe. Like many businessmen during the Depression, Jacob Soffer, in order to care for his family, operated several small business, including a grocery store.

Joseph Soffer, while attending Duquesne High School, worked in the grocery store.

"My dad often said how lucky they were in owning a grocery store. They had food on the table," Damian Soffer said.

While home on leave during World War II, Mr. Soffer met and married Violet Gusky, a resident of Braddock.

After leaving the military, Mr. Soffer and his brother, Harry, owned and operated Baldoc Hills Golf Club in Irwin and the Norwin Shopping Center.

His wife of 61 years recalled her husband as a low-key man.

"He didn't say much, but when he said something it got done," she said. "And most of all, he was an incredible grandfather."

Mr. Soffer is survived by his wife, Violet Gusky Soffer; two sons, R. Damian Soffer, of Fox Chapel, and James Soffer, of Squirrel Hill; two sisters, Sylvia Chotiner and Ruth Pressman, both of Florida; and four grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by a brother, Harry Soffer.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Tree of Life Congregation, 5898 Wilkins Ave., Squirrel Hill. Visitation will be from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at Tree of Life. Burial will be in Temple B'nai Israel Cemetery, Versailles.

Arrangements are by Schugar Chapel, 5509 Centre Ave., Shadyside.

The family asks that memorials be in the form of donations to Violet and Joseph Soffer Educational Fund at the Tree of Life Congregation, 5898 Wilkins Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15217 or a charity of the donor's choice.

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