David A. Levitsky, 89, businessman, Cohanzick Zoo patron

Posted: April 25, 2013

David A. Levitsky, 89, a South Jersey businessman who learned the entrepreneurial ropes on his father's cattle farm and used that acumen to grow a large medical-supplies distributorship, died of complications from surgery Friday, April 12, at Virtua Marlton Hospital.

Since 1996 he had lived in Moorestown. Two of his life's focal points, however, lay to the south, in Bridgeton. One was Leon Stotter Inc., the company he shepherded for 27 years. The other was the Cohanzick Zoo, whose hundred denizens - from white tiger Ganesha to Stabby Cuddles, the porcupine - he adored.

Mr. Levitsky was a civic-minded soul who made time in a fully booked business schedule for causes as various as the Boy Scouts, Cumberland County College, and the local Jewish Federation. But it was more than community duty that drew him to the tiny independent zoo on the Cohansey River, where he was president of the Cohanzick Zoological Society from 1989 to 1998.

He was its relentless fund-raiser, and ran an annual charity golf tournament. He paid for the luxe travel of tiger cubs from Sweden to New Jersey, and in 2000 helped cart a trio of little clouded leopards to the Statehouse as thanks for a grant. He donated a baby donkey named Davey. He checked in on everyone, and even in recent failing health called in.

"He never lost his passion for the animals," said current society president Bonnie Facemyer. "He was the greatest benefactor the zoo has ever known or will ever know."

Well beyond Cohanzick, she added, "he and his wife, Velda, were a formidable force for good."

In part, his attachment to the zoo came from his inner farm boy, said his daughter, Susan Kaufman.

His parents raised cattle and dairy cows in Salem, N.J., along with five children. At Salem High School, he played sax, football, and pranks. He also met Velda Stotter, a violinist as quiet as he was brash, at a Jewish youth event. He later claimed he knew that instant she was the one.

After graduation in 1941, he went to Temple University for two years and into World War II for three. He served with the Army's 176th Evacuation Hospital as a medic in Italy, Africa, and the Philippines.

Discharged in 1946, he married Stotter. He joined the family business, where the work was demanding. He was "up in the very early hours of the morning to ensure the cows were milked, taking in hay in the heat of the summer, traveling great distances to buy and sell cattle," his daughter said.

By 1960, he felt he knew enough about business to change course.

His father-in-law, Leon Stotter, had a small oxygen-supply firm. Under Mr. Levitsky, it burgeoned into a large medical-supply concern, to which he added some smaller, related ventures.

After the main company was bought by Owens & Minor in 1987, he stayed on. He ran his other enterprises - physician supplies, home health care, real estate - for many years afterward, inching into very late retirement.

He also helped found an underpad manufacturing business, and from the 1980s into the '90s was majority shareholder in Bridgeton's Coach Room restaurant.

Mr. Levitsky also was the first to help a budding entrepreneur, his associates said, or somebody in need of a job.

All the while, he shied from recognition. He got it anyway, and from many sources, including from Temple Beth Hillel-Beth Abraham, where he was a board member.

"He would tell you that what matters is what you give back to the community, and to people in need," said Facemyer.

A measure of Mr. Levitsky's contributions came in a ticket, incurred when he parked illegally to run an errand in Bridgeton.

"We always referred to him as Peck's bad boy because he believed rules were made to be broken," his daughter said.

When he returned to his car, he was getting a ticket. "The officer apologized that he didn't recognize that the car belonged to my father. My father told [him] to write the ticket because people were watching."

At home, Mr. Levitsky looked closer. On it was written, "God bless you!"

Besides his wife and daughter, he is survived by a son, Mark, and eight grandchildren.

Services were Sunday, April 14.

Donations may be made to Cohanzick Zoological Society, 1101 Highway 77, Suite A, Bridgeton, N.J. 08302.

Condolences to the family may be offered via e-mail at plattmemorial@comcast.net.

Contact Kathleen Tinney

at 610-313-8106.

comments powered by Disqus