An entrepreneur, a genuine “people person,” a philanthropist and a dedicated baseball fan – that’s how friends and associates described Steve Kalafer.
Kalafer, who owned a string of car dealerships and who launched the Somerset Patriots – a Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees baseball team – died of cancer on April 21. He was 71 years old.
Kalafer, who was born in Essex County and who grew up in North Caldwell, graduated from Rider University in 1971. He bought his first auto dealership when he was 26 years old, and grew it into a string of car dealerships – Flemington Car and Truck Country, Clinton Honda and Jaguar Land Rover Princeton.
Bob Zito, whose public relations firm represented Kalafer and his business interests, wrote in an email that Kalafer had a knack for making very person feel important. He loved people.
“It was stunning to me when I would be with Steve that he would remember people, names and places like very few people can. I have actually worked with two people in more than 40 years of work who had the ability to do that,” Zito said. “His love of people – of his family, his extended family, his employees, of the arts and baseball – had a way of galvanizing everyone he met. Steve was remarkable.
“My daughter got a text from one of her friends. He had met Steve when he was 12 years old, and Steve told him to visit him when he was ready to buy his first car. The young guy did, and he said in the text that ‘(Steve) did give me a great deal,’
“That was Steve,” Zito said.
Kalafer was also involved in philanthropy, including supporting Somerset County food banks, Somerset County Commissioner Director Shanel Robinson said in a release.
“Steve has been a vital member of the Somerset County community for decades as a businessman, an advocate for health care and the arts, and primarily as an extremely generous benefactor and friend,” Robinson said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kalafer ensured that the county’s food banks were filled during the holidays and also pushed for advanced medical services at RWJ Somerset Hospital in Somerville, Robinson said.
Kalafer was also a lifelong baseball fan who loved the New York Yankees, according to a release from the Somerset Patriots. He founded the baseball team more than 20 years ago and was its chairman emeritus, according to a release from the Somerset Patriots.
Kalafer’s love of baseball can be traced to the games he attended at Yankee Stadium with his father, Milton Kalafer, and that he continued with his sons, Jonathan and Josh and their families, the release said.
Somerset Patriots President/General Manager Patrick McVerry said the team was “completely heartbroken” when they learned of Kalafer’s death. The Somerset Patriots were fortunate to have such a wonderful chairman, father-figure and friend, McVerry said in a release.
“He built his dealerships and this team from the ground up with the customers, employees, his family and the communities serve always as his top priorities. Everything we have is because of his tireless efforts.
“He taught us all the value of doing things the right way, of taking time to build long-lasting relationships and making a difference where you can. To say that he will be missed is an understatement,” McVerry said.
Somerset Patriots Manager Emeritus Sparky Lyle agreed, and said that Kalafer treated everyone like family and made those he met feel like they were most important person in the world.
“From the first day I met him, I loved him. I learned so much about the right way to do things in life and how to conduct yourself in business. Every time I set foot in the ballpark, I will think of him with an unbelievable amount of love, respect and appreciation,” Lyle said in a release.
“He was the Somerset Patriots.”
Kalafer served on many boards and committees, including the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. He also was the chairman and founder of Princeton/American Communications and the Healthcare Information Network, and chairman and founding investor of Phamagistics, which is a healthcare/pharmaceutical company.