Jerome (Jerry) S. Heisler, Sr. died peacefully on Sunday, November 5, 2017 at the age of 91. Born in Wilmington, Delaware on October 31, 1926 at the former Delaware Hospital, to the late Morris and Sadie Heisler. Jerry grew up in Wilmington on West 23rd Street and attended the now closed Primary #30 School, then Warner Junior High followed by P.S. DuPont High School, graduating in 1944 during World War II.
After graduating High School, Jerry attended Temple University for six months before entering Basic Infantry Training with the U.S. Army. After completing the program, he became Cadre and taught small arms. With the invasion of Okinawa, Jerry volunteered to serve overseas joining the 10th Army on Okinawa until the War ended. Shortly after the end of the War, Jerry was recalled home as his mother was dying.
Jerry’s mother, Sadie, was well known in Wilmington. She had to work to support Jerry and his brother Albert after their father died when they were just 7 and 9 respectively. Sadie Heisler worked in the family business, The Delaware Barrel Company, a cooperage (construction of wooden barrels). She learned the business and in doing so became unique; in those days, widows during the Great Depression were generally housebound. She was one of the few women who operated a business, occasionally riding the delivery truck to customers. Sadie Heisler was successful and became active in various Civic Organizations in Wilmington, including opening her home to runaway children. Mrs. Heisler volunteered to take children in rather than placing them in the overcrowded institutions until their parents arrived.
Mrs. Heisler died in June 1946 when Jerry was 19 years old at which point, he entered the family business with his older brother Albert joining him a few years later. Together the brothers built Delaware Barrel into a regional supplier of wooden barrels and steel drums.
In the early 1950’s, Jerry learned of a new plastic that the government had released from being “Top Secret” during the War to the public. The plastic was Polyethylene which had excellent chemical and dielectric resistance. At the time, plastic was only available in pellet form and could not be made into a liquid to coat the interior of steel containers. The Heisler brothers and their team spent three years trying to develop a coating while the National Research Laboratories were also attempting to develop the same solution. The brothers and their team were the first to succeed and a number of patents for processes, product and design followed. Jerry has a total of 12 U.S. patents and numerous foreign patents. The brothers opened plants in Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and South Brunswick, New Jersey. In Wilmington, the brothers bought the Pullman Rail Car plant on East 12th Street. The plant was 250,000 square feet. With the opening of the facility, the company opened a plastic compounding plant which served the special material requirements of customers and a compatibility laboratory which served the container business.
In the early1950’s, the brothers took the company public with an IPO that was oversubscribed. Jerry was President and Albert was Chairman. As the company grew over the years, it received numerous offers to merge or sell the company. In 1964, the Board of Directors of well known businessmen and lawyers elected to merge with Containers of America (CCA) one of the world’s largest international paper board manufacturing and packaging company. CCA had a small plastic division which was absorbed by Jerry’s group. Jerry became the division Vice President and spent 20 years with CCA of which 10 years was with Mobil Oil which acquired CCA. The division became the largest industrial plastic container manufacturer in the world with nine factories in the United States and three plastic bottle plants, located in Mexico, Columbia and Venezuela. Jerry licensed his patents to Container Companies in Europe and Asia. His division was also the first to develop and produce the foam egg carton which is a standard still today.
Jerry was known world-wide representing the industry in many domestic and foreign government matters concerning the shipping of hazardous materials, chemicals, food stuffs and pharmaceuticals domestically and abroad. He worked with the Atomic Energy Commission in developing containers to handle their unique products. Jerry’s containers were used by every nuclear plant in America and on every American Naval vessel. Every branch of the military used his products for the transportation of hazardous chemicals. He was responsible for co-authoring the Specifications for the military as well as the Nuclear Energy Commission and the Specifications for the Inter State Commerce Commission for Railroads, Motor Trucks, Air Freight and Coast Guard.
Jerry wrote numerous articles for the Packaging Encyclopedia and other industry publications as well as he was the subject of numerous articles. His industrial plastic containers were exhibited by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and other museums throughout the Country for their design. He was a member of the Society of Plastic Engineers, a member of The Packaging Institute, the American Management Association, the Industrial Container Institute and The Foam Cup and Container Institute. He was President of the Foam Cup and Container Institute at one time and twice the president of the Industrial Container Institute.
Later in life, Jerry went to the Stanford University Business School and graduated from their Executive program.
Through the years, Jerry served on numerous Industry and Civic Boards. He served with the Board of Directors of MCD Holding Company (Medical Center of Delaware. He also served on the Boards of the Delaware Art Museum, The Leukemia Society of Delaware, Rodney Square Club, The Jewish Community Center, The Business Council of Prescott College, The Kutz Home for the Aged, National Conference of Christians and Jews, the 2000 Condominium Association, the Zoological Society of Palm Beach, The Jewish Federation of Delaware, and others. He was on the Board of Directors of three Country Clubs, President of two and scheduled to be president of the third but resigned from the Board due to the recession of 2008 to devote time to his business.
Over the years, Jerry received numerous awards including: The International Award from the Society of Plastic Engineers for “Achievement in the Plastic Industry” for invention of the plastic shipping drum; from the Chemical Marketing Association for “Contribution to Packaging”, and from the Manufacture Chemist Association for “Contribution to Packing”; and other awards and citations from industries and civic associations. He counseled the Packaging Authorities from the European Union during their formation and received their “Certificate of Merit”.
In 1984, Jerry retired at 58 years of age after attempting to buy back his division from Mobil. Mobil refused and so he decided to retire and spend more time with his wife Leslye. Jerry soon found, however, that retirement was not for him, so he and his brother Albert became active again in 1986 and purchased the Delaware Industrial Park. The Park was successful as they built a number of warehouses and offices in the Park. They then purchased the Briggs Mobile Home Company and incorporated it into a new company, “The Reybold Group of Companies”. That company has grown to what Reybold is today, one of the larger real estate developers in Northern Delaware with multiple operating divisions. Jerry, who was Chairman of the Board, was active until his passing.
Jerry met Leslye Mathes, who was from St. Louis, on a blind date. Six months later they married. Over the years, Leslye and Jerry traveled the world, sometimes on business, sometimes as tourists and sometimes as golfers. They were very close. Both played respectful golf and played on courses throughout the United States, Canada, Central America, South America and Europe. They were members of the Wilmington Country Club and the High Ridge Country Club in Palm Beach Florida where they had a home. The two were married for 63 years until Leslye’s passing on October 22, 2013 shortly after returning from a safari in South Africa.
Continuing his late mother, Sadie Heisler’s, attitude of giving, held to the ideal that if you have something to give back, you should. To honor his mother in this, the Heisler family in later years built and gave to Child Inc a multi-room house and ground for battered women and children in New Castle County. The house is called “Sarah’s House.” Jerry also had a number of philanthropic causes that he contributed to through the years including his favorites: the Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, which his wife’s family helped start in the early 1900’s and for which he established the Leslye Mathes Heisler Financial Scholarship for young folks that would like to be nurses but did not have the financial resources for tuition; and the Leslye Mathes Heisler Trust at University of Pennsylvania for research to cure lung cancer. Contributions may be made to either fund.
Jerry is preceded in death by his wife, Leslye Mathes Heisler, his son, Leslie “Skippy” Heisler, and his brother, Albert Heisler. He is survived by his daughter Carla Graeff (Stephen) of Chevy Chase, Maryland, and his son Jerome S. Heisler, Jr. (Dr. Rebecca Jaffe) of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, grandchildren Jennifer Graeff of New York, New York, Katherine Bristow (Adam) of Edwards, Colorado, Joshua Heisler and Rachel Heisler of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.