Robert Morris Appelbaum, 98, of Newtown, a businessman who founded a Quaker-affiliated nonprofit social service center, died Wednesday, Jan. 29, of heart failure at Pennswood Village.
Mr. Appelbaum was a successful businessman and a dedicated volunteer, but he never took himself too seriously.
“In all his activities, he was known for his irreverent sense of humor and for a contrarian streak,” his family said in a statement.
Born and raised in a Jewish family in Trenton, he graduated from Trenton High School and enrolled at Bucknell University. He then served in the Army during World War II.
After the war, he returned to Bucknell, where he met his future wife, a fellow chemistry major. He graduated in 1948, married the future Elizabeth Appelbaum in 1949, and moved to New Jersey and then Bucks County.
Several years later, they joined the Religious Society of Friends. In keeping with Quaker values, including humility, compassion, peace, and stewardship, they remained peace advocates and community volunteers for the rest of their lives.
Mr. Appelbaum devoted 26 years to International Products Corp., the family business in Trenton. The company, which is still in operation, manufactures industrial lubricants and household cleaning products. His most notable contribution was Micro, a detergent for laboratory and industrial applications.
He took over as president after his father retired in the mid-1950s and worked until 1981, when he sold the company and retired.
Mr. Appelbaum’s passion was working for social good, his family said. In 1957, he founded Mercer Street Friends Center, now called Mercer Street Friends. The Trenton-based nonprofit in an old Quaker meetinghouse provides numerous services for the disadvantaged in Trenton. It runs a food bank, a charter school, and a home health service, and provides job training for adults. He was a longtime board member.
Susan Woodman Hoskins, a family friend, said Mr. Appelbaum believed in the importance of a supportive community and a safety network for anyone who needed it.
“He knew that he was fortunate, and had things break his way, and he wanted to make sure that happened to others as well,” Hoskins said.
In 1982, he and other Quakers founded the Peace Center of Bucks County in Langhorne. Mr. Appelbaum served on the planning commission in Newtown Township, Bucks County, for 18 years, starting in the late 1960s. He served on the boards of George School and Newtown Friends Meeting, where he taught adult education classes and was an elder.
After moving in 2001 to Pennswood Village, a Newtown senior facility, he gardened and supervised the greenhouse until 2016.
He enjoyed foraging for wild foods, especially mushrooms, and enjoyed fine food. He liked sailing, canoeing, and singing bass. He completed crossword puzzles in ink.
“He loved setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July or whenever the opportunity arose,” his family said.
Mr. Appelbaum’s wife died in 2009. He is survived by children Lorraine, Patricia, Alan, and Martha; four grandchildren; three nieces; and a nephew.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at Newtown Friends Meeting, 219 Court St. Burial is private.
Donations may be made to Mercer Street Friends via https://mercerstreetfriends.org/.