ALWAYS ON A HIGH NOTE: Dr. Sam Chester and his wife as pictured this summer in their Cranston home. The couple will be honored this Sunday at Temple Am David in Warwick with the grand opening of The Esther Chester Art Center at 12:30 p.m.
Richard Perlman, spiritual leader of Temple Am David in Warwick, found Esther Chester at her easel Tuesday with a caretaker at her side. That isn’t too surprising as the 93-year-old artist has been painting for most of her life and has gained her significant renown. Bill Clinton owns one of her paintings of a saxophone.
Perlman also knows that Esther likes chocolate ice cream, so he promises to have that and cake this Sunday when The Esther Chester Art Center opens at 12:30 p.m. at the temple. The goodies are a small token of appreciation for a gift that has sent a shot of adrenaline through the temple community.
In addition to Esther’s paintings, Esther and her husband, Sam, 99, have made a six-figure gift in memory of his parents, Louis and Goldie Chester, to the temple. It is the largest single gift Perlman has seen in his 11 years with the temple.
On Monday night, the temple’s board of directors voted unanimously in a special session to rename the synagogue’s religious school The Temple Am David Louis and Goldie Chester Religious School. And by the next morning, Perlman was at Shane Awards designing the plaque that will memorialize the gift. Everything was happening very quickly. Everything is being done so the couple can enjoy what they have brought the temple today and for generations to follow.
“We’re living in hard times right now,” Perlman said. He said the funds would enable the school to offer scholarships to those who can’t afford tuition and to help in the temple’s mission to take care of people.
This is not the first time this year that the Chesters, who live in Cranston, have reached out to help the community.
When Sam learned school music and arts programs were being cut, he decided Warwick would be a great place for Esther's art, and if any of it were sold, the proceeds would go toward arts funding. The couple donated signed and unsigned lithographs, which were sold for $100 and $50, respectively.
The pieces in the series were hung during a ceremony in June at Toll Gate High School's Robert J. Shapiro Auditorium. The lobby of the auditorium has been named the “Esther Chester Art Gallery” and includes pieces from her musical instrument series.
The temple art center will also feature a musical series of artwork – including paintings of a bass drum, a guitar, an accordion, a piano, a clarinet, a French horn, violin and a saxophone. The works are in several media, including oils, watercolors and gouaches. Each of her original paintings is valued at over $1,000 and will be on permanent display at Temple Am David.
“We are so grateful that Sam and Esther have chosen to honor Dr. Chester’s parents’ memory for generations to come, while they also share Esther’s incredible talent with future members and visitors to Temple Am David,” said Herbert Singer, president of Temple Am David.
Both Sam and Esther have extensive musical backgrounds. She played classical piano and began giving lessons at age 14. Sam began studying violin at 8 years old. He's played in the first violin sections of the Rhode Island Philharmonic and in the orchestra at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City. But Sam's talents extend far beyond the realm of art and into science.
As Sam told a Warwick Beacon reporter in a recent interview he was supposed to go to medical school, but his family's financial constraints prevented him from attending. Instead, he went to City College in New York but returned home after a year to help his struggling family during the Great Depression. Once back in Rhode Island, he attended Providence College and then started a businesses on his own. Sam admits he was successful, but his career wasn't rewarding to him.
“Money was never my main objective,” he said in that interview.
What Sam really wanted to do was research. So he retired at 47 and began working as a researcher for Rhode Island Hospital.
“I worked with mice with leukemia,” he explained.
Through his research, Sam discovered cell therapy for the treatment of the disease.
“I was the first in the world,” he said.
Sam continued to work at Rhode Island Hospital, and stayed with the hematology department for over 10 years. Then he started to research colon cancer. He discovered how to test a person for colon cancer through a blood test that would garner the same results as a colonoscopy. But he never patented his idea. He also discovered the “PSA” or prostate-specific antigen test. Again, he allowed others to take his idea and run with it.
Esther is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). When she was a high school student in Providence, one of her teachers recognized her artistic talent and helped her obtain a scholarship to RISD. She later went on to teach art to high school students and, during her marriage to Sam, began painting seriously.
Dr. Chester played violin with the Rhode Island Philharmonic for 28 years, retiring when he turned 85. Now, at the age of 99, Sam and other musically gifted friends visit nursing homes on a monthly basis to bring the joy of live music to elderly residents.
The religious school being named for Dr. Chester’s parents meets twice weekly and has about 40 students.
“Our children now and the children of future generations will benefit so much due to the generosity of Sam and Esther with their generous gift to guarantee years of the highest level of Jewish Education for our children surrounded by the beauty of Esther’s God-given gift,” Perlman said.
There’s more to it.
“It’s a gift from God,” he said. “It’s not just receiving the money. This is an opportunity to give Esther to really enjoy as her days wane. This is a privilege the Chesters have given us.”
This story represents a combination of reports compiled by reporter Kim Kalunian, publisher John Howell and the press release provided by Temple Am David.