Obituary: Robert Morris Appelbaum

Robert Morris Appelbaum, died Jan. 29
at Pennswood Village in Newtown, Pa., of natural causes.
He was 98.

He was a successful businessman and a socially engaged citizen with an unconventional streak.

Appelbaum was born Nov. 29, 1921, in Trenton, New Jersey. His father was a chemist and an entrepreneur, while his mother provided support and ran the household. His experience as a Jewish child in a Gentile neighborhood sensitized him to broader issues of difference and prejudice.

He studied at Bucknell University and then served in the World War II infantry, earning a Bronze Star. Afterward he returned to Bucknell, where he met his future wife Elizabeth, a fellow chemistry major. They graduated in 1948 and married in September 1949. A few years later they joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) together. They remained active Friends and peace advocates for the rest of their lives.

Appelbaum spent most of his career in the family business, the International Products Corporation, which manufactured chemical and household projects. He took over as president after his father’s retirement in the mid-1950s. His most notable introduction was Micro, a detergent for laboratory and industrial applications. In 1981, he retired and sold the company, which is still operating today.

He worked extensively for social betterment. He was a founder and longtime board member of Mercer Street Friends Center (now Mercer Street Friends), which rebuilt an old Friends Meeting House as an urban social-services center. He served on the school board in Hopewell Township (Mercer County, New Jersey) from 1962 until 1965, and on the planning commission in Newtown Township (Bucks County, Pennsylvania) for eighteen years, beginning in the late 1960s. As a member of the George School Committee, the school’s governing board, he headed its buildings and grounds committee for many years. He and Mrs. Appelbaum were overseers at Newtown Friends Meeting, where he also led adult classes regularly. With others, they founded the Peace Center of Bucks County in 1982. At Pennswood Village, he served on the community garden committee, supervising its greenhouse until 2016. He was a beloved elder at Trenton and Newtown Meetings and a generous donor to George School and other nonprofits.

His personal interests ranged widely. He was an avid and skillful gardener. He also foraged for wild foods – specializing in mushrooms – and he appreciated good food in any form. He enjoyed beaches, sailing, and canoeing. A music lover, he sang bass and at one time played the violin with a Hungarian band. With his wife, he collected bargain-priced Victorian antiques. He regularly completed crossword puzzles in ink. And he particularly loved setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July – in his early years at community celebrations, later at home or wherever opportunity arose. In all his activities, he was known for his irreverent sense of humor and for a contrarian streak.

He is survived by his children, Lorraine, Patricia, Alan, and Martha; Martha’s husband Paul Feltman; four grandchildren, three nieces, and a nephew. His wife Elizabeth, his sister Louise Beddow, a niece, and a son-in-law preceded him in death.

Newtown Friends Meeting
will host a memorial service
at 1 p.m. on February 22.

Memorial donations to Mercer Street Friends
are most welcome.