For noted candy executive and philanthropist John L. “Jack” Asher, Jr., the dinner honoring him and his brother, Robert, featured a big surprise.
Asher and his brother were this year’s recipients of the Soli Deo Gloria Award for outstanding leadership and service to the church and to the mission of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP). (Robert was unable to attend the annual Advent Vespers in the seminary’s Brossman Center.)
LTSP Trustees Robert Blanck and Board of Trustees Chair John Richter presented the award to Jack Asher, and just as he stepped to the microphone to extend remarks of gratitude, Blanck asked him to stop. And into the hall for a surprise performance tribute to Asher and the dinner audience came 60 members of the 150-member Keystone State Boychoir featuring directors Joe “Fitz” Fitzmartin and Steven M. Fisher. Jack Asher is the choir’s founding Board member. The surprise tribute was arranged by the seminary’s interim Director of Communications, Merri Brown. Her son, Graeme, was a soloist for the occasion.
Visibly proud and moved, Asher explained the accomplishments of the vocal group, who call his congregation, The First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, their home. The choir, he said, has performed on every continent.
Jack Asher, who has served on LTSP’s President’s Council, has been a driving force behind the seminary’s capital campaigns and strategic planning. In opening remarks LTSP President Philip D.W. Krey thanked Jack Asher “for helping me to make the right associations and meet the right people when I became President.” In expressing appreciation for the honor, Jack Asher, a native Philadelphian, called LTSP “one of the signature places that I always remember.”
In his greetings to dinner attendees, Krey noted that the annual Advent Vespers program to follow under the direction of Michael Krentz, seminary Director of Music Ministries, is in honor of The Rev. Dr. Robert E. Bornemann, the late professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at LTSP, who directed the Seminary Choir he founded from 1955 to 1990. Krey told the audience that gifts to the Bornemann Memorial Fund secure the present and future of a vibrant program of music at the seminary. The vespers were held in the Schaeffer-Ashmead Chapel following the dinner. Krey told his audience of invited donors, “We live in troubled times. This is a challenging time for the church, institutions and the country. It is a tall order to keep venerable institutions like the seminary stable and thriving. Thank you for understanding the challenge. I count you as our best friends…” Krey said in the current time of transition, improvements to the seminary’s Krauth Memorial Library, including a connector to The Brossman Center, are beginning to unfold. Highlights of current seminary life include plans for a new curriculum, the ongoing 300th birthday anniversary celebrating of the life of Lutheran Patriarch Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, and a recent gathering of Philadelphia religious leaders, who strategized over “the increasing challenge of hunger in our city.”
Seminary Student Body President Laura Gorton, who is studying for a Master of Arts in Religion with a focus on Christian Education, told the audience she is striving for a career as a director of Christian Education (DCE) and urged the audience to keep in mind the rich diversity of graduates, including pastors, DCE’s, directors of music, social workers and diaconal ministers. “Thank you for supporting us with your gifts in these tough economic times,” she said.
“We watch and wait expectantly for the Christ who was given to us as a child, brother, and Savior,” The Rev. John Puotinen, said in brief remarks. Puotinen is Vice President for Philanthropy and Executive Director of the LTSP Foundation. “I welcome you to this celebration of God’s generosity,” Puotinen said. “I thank you and thank God for sending you here to provide leaders for the church — making use of gifts already given to you by God.”
With Soli Deo Gloria Award recipient Jack Asher (center), (l-r) Bishop Claire Burkat, The Rev. Dr. John Richter, Carolyn Asher, Dr. Robert Blanck, Rene Diemer, President Philip Krey
Brief remarks were also delivered by Richter and seminary Dean J. Paul Rajashekar. Rajashekar introduced The Rev. Dr. Jayakiran Sebastian of the seminary faculty. Sebastian becomes LTSP’s new Dean next academic year as Rajashekar returns to the classroom. The Dean also introduced The Rev. Dr. Richard Stewart and his spouse, Dawn. Stewart retires from the faculty at the end of this academic year. The opening prayer for the dinner was given by Trustee, Dr. Addie J. Butler. The closing prayer was delivered by Bishop Claire S. Burkat of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
After his father’s death in 1966, Jack Asher and his younger brother, Robert, took over Asher’s Chocolates in Philadelphia’s Germantown section and expanded the business. In 1991, Asher’s acquired the Goss Candy Co. in Lewistown, PA, and renamed it Asher’s Chocolates, Lewistown. The enterprise has grown dramatically over the years to become nationally known. In 2006, Jack Asher was elected to the Candy Hall of Fame while serving as president of the firm and co-chair of Asher’s Chocolates. His honors have included being named Small Business Person of the Year (Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, 1988). He’s served on many boards including as President of the Germantown Business Association, President of Whosoever Gospel Mission, Germantown, President of the Germantown Historical Society, and the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. He’s served as a volunteer firefighter for 35 years and today helps direct re-enactments of the Battle of Germantown from the Revolutionary War period. He has served his congregation, The First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, as Deacon, Trustee, Elder, Head Usher, and President of the Couples Club. Jack and his wife, Carolyn, have three adult children.
Native Philadelphian Robert “Bob” Asher serves as co-chair of the Board of Asher’s Chocolates as well as President of Robert Asher Associates. He is a member of the Session of Oreland Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Oreland, PA. He is a Pennsylvania member of the Republican National Committee and served as co-chair for the Tom Corbett for Governor Campaign. Bob Asher serves on several boards including the Delaware River Port Authority, Philadelphia Hospitality, Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation and Greater Philadelphia Executive Committee Chamber of Commerce. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business and Commerce and is a U.S. Army veteran. He has been recognized for public service by the Montgomery County Association for Retarded Citizens, Boy Scouts of America and the Union League of Philadelphia. Bob Asher has been a key networker on behalf of LTSP, facilitating the securing of grants for seminary capital projects. Bob and his wife, Joyce, have three children and seven grandchildren. Both brothers are members of the Union League of Philadelphia.
Soloist Graeme Brown performs as a highlight of the Keystone State Boychoir musical tribute to Jack Asher.
LTSP Vice President John Puotinen: “Welcome to this celebration of God’s generosity."
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Story and photography by seminary writer Mark Staples.