Victor Remer, Children’s Aid Society Leader, Dies at 88
Published: July 4, 2008
Victor Remer, a social worker who as executive director of the Children’s Aid Society for 15 years in the 1960s and ’70s pushed the agency in grittier, more urgent directions, including addressing the problems of young people convicted of minor crimes, died on June 17 at his home in Manhattan. He was 88.
Victor Remer in the 1960s.
Under Mr. Remer’s leadership, the society, founded in 1853 and one of the largest agencies serving children in New York City, found that funds from all levels of government were shrinking at the same time that the combination of drugs, crime and endemic poverty gathered force. But the society’s budget and the number of children it served more than doubled
The society faced other transitions. After Mr. Remer arrived as acting executive director in March 1966 and took over as executive director in July of that year, he closed down several upstate homes for children with diseases that were becoming less common, like rheumatic fever and diabetes.
In addition to maintaining the society’s traditional programs, like running adoption programs, camps and community centers, Mr. Remer undertook new projects. One of those collected youths who had been in trouble with the law directly from the courts and the offices of district attorneys and probation officers.
Each youth then signed a contract to participate in the program as well as return to school or enroll in another educational program. In turn, the society provided job counseling and help in finding paid employment.
In an article he wrote in The New York Times in 1978, Mr. Remer said the society did not condone crimes and believed that perpetrators should be responsible for the consequences of their behavior. But he insisted that most of the youths could be reformed.
“Most kids in these programs want a chance to learn, and an opportunity to work and make good,” he said.
In another article in The Times in 1980, Mr. Remer wrote about the society’s new learning center in its Frederick Douglass Children’s Center, designed to transform fifth and sixth graders “with repeated failure experiences into highly motivated students.” He also wrote of a program to help families resolve tough disputes outside of adversarial court proceedings.
Mr. Remer was born in Philadelphia on Nov. 27, 1919, and reared in a tenement in East Harlem. After graduating from the High School of Commerce, he and some friends took a bus to Albuquerque on the promise of a job. The job never turned up, but Mr. Remer stayed to graduate from the University of New Mexico in 1942.
He served in the Navy for four and a half years, then returned to New York and earned a master’s degree from what is now the Columbia University School of Social Work.
Mr. Remer worked for the Neighborhood Conservation Program of the City of New York as associate director for the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House. There, he and other social workers succeeded in persuading the city to set down rules for relocation and compensation of tenants evicted to build luxury buildings.
After 11 years with Lenox Hill, Mr. Remer became executive director of the University Settlement, which provides social services on the Lower East Side. In addition to dealing with narcotics, housing problems and broken families, Mr. Remer played a major role in persuading the city to restore Sara Delano Roosevelt Park, which had become blighted.
In addition to his wife of more than 60 years, the former Alma Levine, Mr. Remer is survived by two daughters, Alice and Sari Remer, and a grandson.
After Mr. Remer retired in 1981, he oversaw the records of one of the society’s earliest endeavors, which had sent thousands of orphans on trains to new lives on farms in the Midwest. The project started in 1854 and continued for 75 years. Using handwritten volumes, Mr. Remer often helped the orphans’ descendants trace their ancestors’ lives.
The archives were donated to the New-York Historical Society in 2006 and named for Mr. Remer.