Anita Zucker wants to be known for her heart, not just wealth

Anita Zucker

Anita Zucker doesn't want to be seen as a dollar sign - much less a couple of billion of them - walking down the road. That's not what she is about, she insists, and not the legacy she wants to leave.

Yes, she is wealthy, as headlines like this one pronounce:

Charleston's Anita Zucker moves up to No. 209 on Forbes 400 billionaires list

Those bother her.

The daughter of Holocaust survivors, ones who escaped and survived thanks to help from individuals and nonprofits, she grew up with parents who emphasized giving of one's time, talent and treasure.

Zucker still sees herself as the teen who worked at summer camps and as a volunteer with Teachers of Tomorrow in middle school. She went on to become a public school teacher for 10 years.

"The opportunity to give back in terms of treasure didn't come until later in life," she says.

Zucker is CEO and chairwoman of The InterTech Group Inc., a North Charleston-based global manufacturing conglomerate. Her family-run business also owns the Carolina Stingrays hockey team, Carolina Ice Palace and several local restaurants.

Yet, she and her late husband, Jerry Zucker, embraced the concept of tikkun olam, Hebrew for "repair of the world."

While their financial worth flourished over the years, she insists their hearts did not change. It upsets her to feel people view wealth as her defining quality.

"They only see dollar signs. They don't look at what is behind that," she says. "I don't want to be in the news because of money."

She and Jerry both worked to improve education and, she hopes, the future lives of many children. A middle school is named after him, and she recalls her teaching days when he would come to her classes to discuss chemistry with students.

"That's what it was about for us," she says.

Zucker has become Charleston's premier philanthropist in a city that ranks high nationally for giving.

Since her teaching days, Zucker has sat on the boards of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, Trident United Way, the MUSC Foundation and Porter-Gaud School, among others.

Today, she serves on the board of Coastal Community Foundation and has pledged $1 million to Lowcountry Giving Day, a 24-hour online giving event the foundation is promoting Tuesday.

Her donation will be used as a matching funds style of incentive for others to give to local education-based nonprofits. "Education really is the key to unlocking doors," Zucker says. "To me, transforming our kids' lives is so important in so many ways. When we have healthy children able to get an education, it creates a healthy community."

Zucker is especially active these days in groups that help nonprofits coalesce around common goals and generate data to create evidence-based programs.

For instance, she is chairwoman of the developing Tri-County Cradle-to-Career Collaborative, which aligns various nonprofits, local school districts, business leaders and others to overcome hurdles to education and jobs.

The key is for children to develop skills they can take into the workforce for life.

"I'm really proud of efforts like that," Zucker says.

She also is vice chairwoman of Charleston Promise Neighborhood, which serves four Neck Area schools by uniting such diverse nonprofits as MUSC, the Charleston County School District, Trident United Way's LINKS to Success program and others.

"They impact health, and they work with the neighborhood, work with families, work with children and really take a hard look at the lives of children," Zucker says. "It's already driving change."

For example, health clinics it set up in the schools prove to reduce ER visits and, therefore, reduce cost and medical instability created when families lack access to primary care.

"I invest in people," Zucker says. "I want to help people's lives get better."

Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563 and follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.

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