March 16, 2011

They loved you too, Charlie

Charles Zell Jr., who for years operated Treasure Masters Corp. in Derry.

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- A good man is hard to find, and even harder to say goodbye to.So when Bruce Cole got the word that his dear old friend, former Derry businessman Charles Zell Jr., had died March 8 at age 96 at his home in Coon Rapids, Minn., he found some comfort in knowing that Zell would be going directly to heaven and back into the arms of his beloved wife, the late Helen Marie Zell.
For a dozen years, Cole worked for Zell as a salesman at Treasure Masters Corporation during the 1970s and ’80s, a gift manufacturing company special­
izing in wholesale novelty bridal and baby shower items featured in Hallmark and other retail stores. 

Back cover of the book Zell
published of his wife's writings.
“Helen Marie was the creative side; Charlie was the business side. They were a real team,” said Cole. 
Zell was born in 1914 in Harrisburg, Pa., and graduated from Lehigh University. He was a talented athlete and dedicated Boy Scout, eventually earning the Silver Beaver Award for meritorious service as a Scout master. 
Cole, of Londonderry, said beyond the bond the two of them forged working together for years in Derry, he and Zell were also bound by the brotherhood of the U.S. Marine Corps. 
“If you do the math, you’ll see Charlie was an ‘old man’ when he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942. He was already married with two kids and could have had an exemption,” said Cole. “He was at Iwo Jima and had one of the most difficult jobs: He was a flame thrower. Those guys had a life expectancy of, like, zero. He was so modest, I wouldn’t be surprised if he saved a life or two.” 
Dotte Wallace of Derry was also a longtime employee of Zell, working for the company 30 years. 
“I was there the day he opened the doors, and on the last day before they sold it,” said Wallace, who maintained a close relationship with Zell right up to his death. 
“He had a dynamic personality. He was generous, and a good looking man. He was a smart man and everybody liked him. He was sharp right to the end,” said Wallace. 
“The last time I spoke with him was February 28. He said, ‘I love you,’ and I said, ‘I love you,’ back. That’s how he ended every conversation,” Wallace said.
It was a trait Zell learned from his wife, a freelance writer who contributed articles for many ladies magazines and composed greeting card verses. She also wrote short stories, poetry and songs. 
The same year she died, in 2006, Zell compiled a book of her writing titled, “Love: Pass it on...” 
“Charlie started out as a salesman for Russ Craft greeting cards and became a national sales manager. He and Helen Marie had the opportunity to buy Treasure Masters, which was in Boston at the time, and they saw the advantage to moving the company to Derry. Along with being president of the company, he was also a chief fundraiser for Boys and Girls Club in Derry. If you walked into his office and asked for some kind of donation, you’d get it, no question,” said Cole. “It was just his generosity as a person.” 
Zell was also involved with Rotary Club International, traveling the world as an ambassador for Derry. 
His generosity was not lost on his employees. 
“We didn’t realize it as salesmen — there were 50 of us — but we later learned we were paid the highest commission rate of any sales force ever: 15 percent. That’s pretty outrageous in the industry. It’s because Charlie had been a salesman himself, so he could relate to us. He wasn’t just some guy who went to Harvard and started a sales company. He was in touch with everybody, and he stayed in touch,” Cole said. 
Wallace said she was fortunate that both her daughters were able to work for Zell over the years — which was only a problem at Christmastime. 
“Charlie believed in putting a 25-pound Christmas turkey on each of his employee’s tables. That was great, until the Christmas my mother, my sister and I were all working at TMC at the same time, and shared the same table and freezer. Those turkeys must have been a heck of deal. And it is not that we weren’t grateful, but you can see our dilemma,” said Lisa Wallace Mercier of Chester. 
Cole said he and Zell maintained an active friendship over the years, finding time to call one another as often as possible. Several months ago, Cole asked Zell if there was anybody from the past he’d like to talk to, and Zell recalled the name of one of the sales staff, Evan Adams. Cole connected the two. 
“I heard from Evan afterwards, who called to say he was startled that at the end of their conversation Charlie said, ‘I love you.’ I asked him, ‘Did it really shake you up? Because Charlie does that to me, too. Every time we talk.’ And he meant it,” said Cole. “He learned in life not to let a conversation end without saying what really matters.” 

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