We are very saddened by the death of Herman Silverman, a Bucks County businessman and philanthropist who was a leading force in creating the Michener Art Museum. As a founder and chairman emeritus of the board of trustees, he contributed in myriad invaluable ways to the Museum over the past 30 years. Herman passed away on Wednesday at the age of 97. He will be deeply missed.
Herman Silverman was a very savvy and successful businessman, and an inspirational philanthropist. It is hard to imagine what Bucks County would be like without the wonderful institutions he helped to create and support, including the James A. Michener Art Museum.
Herman was born and raised in Philadelphia. He said the Horatio Alger stories he read when he was a boy taught him the pillars of success: be good to your mother, be honest, and work hard. These values served Silverman extremely well. As a young man, Herman attended what is today Delaware Valley University, an institution he later led from 1990-1991 as acting president. After graduation, he farmed for several years, then served in the United States Army at Camp Croft, South Carolina.
When World War II came to a close, Herman moved to Bucks County, and started his own business: Sylvan Landscaping Services. Soon, this business evolved into Sylvan Swimming Pool Company. Herman’s ingenuity led to the swift growth of Sylvan Pools. The lack of data available for market research in the 1940s and 50s was no obstacle for Herman. He used to look out the airplane window when he flew to find out where new homes were being built, and establish his business in those areas. Today, Sylvan Pools is known “Anthony and Sylvan Pools” and has offices in 12 states and multiple countries.
Silverman’s ability to think creatively helped him achieve success in business, and led him to create several organizations which have had an immeasurable positive impact in Bucks County. Among these are the Ann Silverman Community Health Clinic, named after his first wife; the Heart Institute at the Doylestown Hospital; the Art Mobile, a traveling trailer which brought docents who showcased professional art to children in local schools; and the Silverman Gallery, which gives young local artists the opportunity to exhibit their work in a professional setting and gain recognition.
Of course, the Silverman contribution to society which is nearest and dearest to us is the Michener Art Museum. It is largely through Herman’s resourcefulness and imagination that a former prison in Doylestown was transformed into a leading museum of American art. Having grown up in close proximity to the Philadelphia Art Museum, Herman was committed to the idea of providing public access to art. He worked tirelessly and engaged his friend James Michener to obtain funding and art to open the set of galleries in 1988, humbly deciding to use the well-known Michener name on the building to increase visibility and maximize the opportunity for donations.
In his book Michener and Me: A Memoir (which was later followed by a second book, Memories from a Life Well Lived), Herman wrote that he considers the Michener Art Museum the greatest result of his friendship with Michener, and one of the major accomplishments of his life. Doylestown and the Greater Bucks County Area are truly indebted to Herman Silverman, who truly embodied in every way what it is to be an outstanding citizen.