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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Nashua businessman Earl Prolman to receive Temple Beth Abraham award

Dean Shalhoup

The few minutes here and there that he wasn’t in class or studying, Suffolk University student Earl Prolman thought often of a stranger, a person he’d never met but knew for sure was out there somewhere.

Prolman, a career insurance agent and one of the region’s most prolific philanthropists and community advocates, saw that stranger every time he looked at a campus building, walked through the library or saw yet another scholarship offering. ...

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The few minutes here and there that he wasn’t in class or studying, Suffolk University student Earl Prolman thought often of a stranger, a person he’d never met but knew for sure was out there somewhere.

Prolman, a career insurance agent and one of the region’s most prolific philanthropists and community advocates, saw that stranger every time he looked at a campus building, walked through the library or saw yet another scholarship offering.

“I realized way back then, working my way through school, that somewhere out there is a stranger doing things for me, helping me learn, helping me make my way,” Prolman, 80, said this week.

“And one day, I knew I wanted to be that stranger.”

Of all that has changed over the nearly six decades since, Prolman’s youthful vow remains one of the few constants in a life that has touched countless individuals, families and agencies in ways that many can’t find words to describe.

Some of those beneficiaries will be on hand Sunday, when the community gives back a little something to the man who has given so much. At a 10 a.m. brunch program, Prolman will receive the Temple Beth Abraham Community Service Award, an annual honor that goes to men and women of all faiths.

“Earl has been involved in so many aspects of our organization. He’s a very generous man, and we’re so grateful for what he does for us,” said Mike LaChance, chief executive officer of the YMCA of Greater Nashua.

In addition to his philanthropy and ability to rally contributors, Prolman has been a familiar face at the local Y since he moved to Nashua more than 50 years ago.

“He’s here from around 6 a.m. to 7:30 or so six days a week,” LaChance said. “I think he’s been a member for something like 53 years.”

Ray Ennis Sr., a local printing executive, has been one of Prolman’s early morning workout partners.

“As soon as he walks in, I’ll say, ‘No,’ ” Ennis said several years ago, joking about his longtime friend’s sales prowess for a Telegraph story. “He’ll say, ‘Well, I’m glad I got that out of the way.’ ”

While good-natured ribbing was common, Ennis added, “Earl is an extremely honest and very charitable man. If someone needs something, he’s there.”

Prolman also was praised in the story by Bob Hussey, then a senior vice president at the former Bank of New Hampshire, who said he’d worked with Prolman for 30 years.

“I like to work with professionals, and Earl sure as heck is a professional,” Hussey said at the time. “He believes strongly in his products and services, but he also cares about the people who come to him for help.”

Amid the plethora of accolades, Prolman – though a man with the gift of gab – is humble, almost matter-of-fact about his latest in a long line of commendations.

“In my mind, I’m doing what I was supposed to do,” he said, referring again to the benevolent “stranger” he never met. “Early in my life, I didn’t have much money, but I found that I could manage my time, which is a big part of being able to give back.”

Determination and perseverance, often in the form of 80-hour wor weeks and stretching the business day to meet clients at their convenience, paid off handsomely for Prolman more than a decade ago when he began qualifying regularly for “Top of the Table” honors, the highest level of the Premier Association of Financial Professionals’ Million Dollar Round Table.

Tom Tessier, also a longtime city insurance executive, once recalled the long hours he worked early in his career and how impressed he was to learn that Prolman, though long established in the business, also burned the midnight oil.

“I’d head home on a Friday night after working 90 hours that week,” Tessier said, adding that it wasn’t uncommon to “drive by Earl’s office and the light would still be on, and his car would be there.

“He’d still be at it. The guy was always working hard.”

The community activism and philanthropy that defines Prolman was well under way long before he hit that magic Top of the Table plateau, beginning with what Prolman calls “my aha moment”: Joining the Million Dollar Round Table in the 1960s.

“They introduce the concept of the ‘whole person,’ ” Prolman said of the organization, founded in 1927 by 32 million-dollar life insurance salesmen. “The MDRT is all about getting involved with the community, giving back.”

The “whole person” focus, according to a historical account of the MDRT, balances seven aspects of life: family, health, education, career, service, financial and spiritual.

Prolman said his involvement in the founding in New Hampshire of the Make-A-Wish Foundation nearly 30 years ago came out of an MDRT project. The organization, which works to make “wishes” come true for children with terminal illnesses, granted its first wish in 1987.

“Just recently, they introduced me to a bully program, called Challenge Day,” Prolman said of the anti-bullying presentation put on at several local high schools. “We had about 2,000 kids go through the program. It touches lives in an incredible way.”

Prolman will become the fifth recipient of the Community Service Award on Sunday, adding his name to those of Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett; Stanley Juda, teacher and former Temple Beth Abraham president; downtown merchant Sy Mahfuz; and attorney William H. Barry.

Mahfuz, who called the honor among those he’s most proud of, said the award stands out because it takes into account nominees’ personal lives as well as their business success, factors that Mahfuz agrees with.

“It’s about what kind of father, husband, grandfather they are, and Earl is all of those things,” Mahfuz said, adding that Prolman represents “all the things I’ve always looked up to … to set a good example not only for his family, but the young people in the community, as well.”

LaChance added, “The ideal person to me is (a balance of) time, talent and treasure. That’s Earl Prolman.”

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Saturdays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).