“I’m a people person – I like to be busy and to take charge,” says Bram Besner, a former President of the CJCS Foundation from 2013-15 and, at age 88, an active volunteer and donor who remains devoted to the Cummings Centre.
“When I retired, I was looking for something to do and I was happy to connect with some wonderful staff at the Cummings Centre.” While it was already attracting a lot of people, Besner knew that there were even more who could benefit from the Centre’s wide range of activities and services.
“Many people are very lonely,” he reflects, “especially as they get older … they lose their spouse, their jobs are over – they have to have something to make them feel good about themselves. People need to belong to something. I knew what they were going through, and I wanted to bring in more.”
A lifelong Montrealer, Besner had run a successful business manufacturing boys’ suits – “every kid in Canada who had a suit, had our suit” – and turned to his impressive personal network to help increase awareness about the Cummings Centre.
“I had a lot of friends and one day I invited a whole bunch of them to a meeting at the Centre. I wanted them to get involved and they did – they became the biggest helpers in the Foundation.” Indeed, Besner brought in a group that was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the Governors Program – today the Foundation’s largest annual initiative. These friends included the late Norm Latsky, the late Irving Lubin, the late Martin Levine, and David Oberman. From this original network came the first donors to the Governors program, a group that has now blossomed to 1,500. “Look how many people are on the Governors’ list today!” he exclaims with a smile.
Besner praises the wide variety of interesting and inspiring programming that has continued online at the Centre throughout the course of the pandemic: “There are fantastic speakers, about travel and politics – we really need that.” As a previous member of the Centre’s choir, he is especially fond of a weekly online sing-along led by music therapist Victoria McNeill every Thursday morning, with everyone joining in to sing and remember favourites from the 60s.
As a music lover and someone inspired to give back, Besner sponsored several evening events at the Cummings Centre – featuring Kim Richardson, Cantor Gideon Zelermyer, and musical duo Bowser and Blue – and a special invitation was extended to Governors. “People loved them – they filled the room. There wasn’t a spot to be had.”
More recently, in October of 2020, he created a special designated fund to help seniors who were living below the poverty line and having trouble accessing medical and other care services. The Bram Besner Fund for Seniors in Need continues to enhance the quality of life of many recipients at the Centre.
Besner remains close to his large family including his three children, grandchildren, and a great-grandchild – all of whom live close by. Last year, he had Covid-19 and was hospitalized for a week. Now, totally recovered and fully vaccinated, he is philosophical but positive: “At my age, my friends are no longer around … but that’s what I’m doing here at the Centre – I’m making more friends as I go along.”
“You know, we have a wonderful community in Montreal and we’re lucky. The Foundation is there to support the Centre and that’s what it always should be there for,” Besner emphasizes, “It is an important part of the community. No matter what happens, the Centre has got to be there.”
The Cummings Centre’s mission is to empower and enhance the quality of life of adults age 50 and over by providing dynamic and innovative programs, social services, and volunteer opportunities in a vibrant, respectful, inclusive and compassionate environment. Building on its Jewish heritage, Cummings embraces people from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.
As the hub of Montreal’s 50+ community, the Centre touches the lives of 10,000 people on an annual basis.
For more information, please contact us by phone at 514-343-3510, online at www.cummingscentre.org or in person at 5700 Westbury Avenue.