Floral Park's Lester Reiss dies at 94
Lester M. Reiss lived a life of adventure, playing professional baseball, leading troops to liberate a concentration camp and traveling throughout the world well into retirement.
Reiss, a 30-year resident of Floral Park, died Feb. 12 in Palm Beach, Fla., where he and his wife, Estelle "Elly" Reiss, spent their winters for the past 30 years. He was 94.
Reiss was born in New York City on July 20, 1916. He received a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1940 and a master's degree in administration in 1941 from New York University.
He also played football and baseball for NYU and subsequently played for the Albany Senators, a minor league team for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His sports career ended when he joined the Army in 1941.
"He had great expectations of being a professional baseball player, but he decided to [enlist] before he got drafted," said Elly Reiss. The couple would have celebrated 69 years of marriage on Feb. 22.
As a lieutenant colonel under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Reiss commanded the 12th Armored Division - known as the Hellcats - which pushed into Germany, captured towns and liberated the Landsberg concentration camp in 1945.
"I never heard too many details from him," Elly Reiss said. "He never ever talked about battles."
When the war ended, Eisenhower tapped Reiss to create a physical fitness program for soldiers who remained in Europe.
Reiss settled in Levittown and, in 1950, moved to Bellmore. After briefly working as a teacher, he joined the printing industry, retiring in 1983 as the vice president of sales and marketing for Heidelberg USA, a manufacturer of large presses formerly in Queens.
Reiss remained an active volunteer, raising money for UJA Federation of New York, which funds a variety of nonprofit agencies in the New York City area, including on Long Island.
"He felt that after liberating a concentration camp he wanted to support a population that was almost annihilated," said his daughter, Cynthia Schwartz, 62, of North Caldwell, N.J.
Retirement for Reiss meant playing golf at least four times a week, playing card games six days a week, and traveling to more than a dozen countries, according to family members.
A memorial service was held Wednesday at Riverside-North Chapel in Great Neck with burial at Mount Lebanon Cemetery in Glendale, Queens.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Reiss is survived by his son, Steven Reiss of Brookfield, Conn., four grandchildren and a great-grandson.
The family asks that donations be made to the UJA Federation or Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.