Sheila Saks protected her Dix Hills community from commercial development for years with indefatigable spirit and passion helping the hamlet remain a sought-after leafy sanctuary.
Saks, a 48-year Dix Hills resident, died of endometrial cancer July 18 surrounded by her loved ones at home. She was 75.
She was an influential past president and member of the House Beautiful Dix Hills Civic Association. The impact Saks left in that role and her drive, kindness, focus and ability to encourage people to enter public office is dwarfed only by the legacy she leaves of a tightknit, adoring family.
“She was incredibly and unconditionally loving; never a moment that any of us in our family ever felt anything but genuine love,” said her daughter, Dawn Mintzer of Manhattan. “She was the glue for our family and all five of the grandchildren will be who they are because of my mother.”
Born in 1942 at what is now Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital, Saks grew up in lower Manhattan, the Bronx and Jamaica Estates, Queens. She received a bachelor's from SUNY New Paltz and a master’s from Columbia University. She used her degrees to work as a first-grade schoolteacher in Mamaroneck for about five years. She married Avinoam Saks on Nov. 22, 1964.
The couple moved to Dix Hills in 1970. Beginning in the early 1980s and for more than 20 years, she served as president of House Beautiful and remained an active member until her death.
Among her biggest victories was stopping camera maker Olympus Corp. from building its corporate headquarters on the grounds of the Long Island Developmental Center in neighboring Melville. In its place Saks helped get The Greens at Half Hollow built, providing one of the largest senior housing communities Suffolk County ever had.
Simon Saks, of Huntington, said his mother combined the love of family and her community into a well-fueled engine for advocacy.
“Her majesty was she understood the meaning of the royal 'We,' 'We the Community.' We will miss her presence and her community advocacy spirit will always remain with us,” he said.
Her service extended beyond her residential community. She was a longtime member of the board of directors for the Lower East Side Business Improvement District. With her husband, she served as president and co-president of Mr. and Mrs. B’nai B’rith Group, which they established together in Dix Hills, Avinoam Saks said.
Until her death she was co-owner of Ben Freedman Gent's Furnishings, a haberdashery on the Lower East Side founded by and named for her father in 1927.
County Legis. Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills) said Sheila Saks was a confidant who influenced her to run for office.
“She was my total mentor and a surrogate mom to me,” Berland said.
Avinoam Saks said people have asked, given her ability to work with people, why his wife never ran for office.
“Everything she did she wanted to be completely independent on the issue,” he said. “She was for the truth of the subject and once she articulated it, she fought for it, not party lines or politics. What’s the issue?”
In addition to her husband, son and daughter, she is survived by daughter-in-law Leslie Saks, son-in-law Kevin Mintzer and five grandchildren.
A funeral was held July 22 at Gutterman's in Woodbury.