YOUNGSTOWN — Irving Lev has had many roles in his nearly 100 years: Air Force bomber, college graduate, home builder and, most importantly, husband, dad and grandfather.
Lev was born Oct. 12, 1922, the third of five boys, to immigrant parents from what is now Ukraine and Belarus who each had traveled to the United States alone.
He was born just before the Depression. His father was a carpenter and worked his way up to the point where he was able to build complete homes with his own company.
Lev graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1940 and enrolled at The Ohio State University. He dropped out of school after a successful first semester to enlist in the Air Force.
“He deployed to England with his crew as a navigator on a B-17 bomber, the Flying Fortress. He completed 35 missions, including three missions on D-Day, bombing Nazi supply lines in support of the invasion. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service,” his son, Doug Lev of Youngstown, said.
After his tour was completed, he stayed in the Air Force and took pilot training in Bakersfield, Calif. At the same time, he started seriously dating Alice Raful from Newton Falls and later Boardman, who he had known from high school and kept in touch with during the war.
The couple got married on July 25, 1945, in a ceremony in Oakland, Calif., just over a month before the war was over. The couple settled in Berkeley, Calif., where Lev went to the University of California at Berkeley on the G. I. Bill and obtained a degree in mechanical engineering. They had their first son, Steven, in Berkeley on Oct. 4, 1948.
Lev worked at a few engineering jobs in the San Francisco Bay area, but upon hearing that his father was struggling with his business, Lev returned to Youngstown and they formed Louis Lev and Son Inc.
Lev grew the business and greatly increased the number of houses they were building. He expanded the business into large housing developments of 50 or more homes that covered many city blocks. Lev built four of these. In fact, over his career, Lev built more than 500 houses in the Youngstown area and also did remodels and new construction for the Air Force base in Vienna. He also constructed a modern medical building on Belmont Avenue that is still in use as a doctor’s office.
Working with his wife, Alice Lev, he aided and advised her on her work with building affordable housing for underprivileged people, including low-cost housing developments serving predominantly the African American community and housing for mentally challenged clients.
After retiring in 1988, Lev remained active in the community by serving on numerous boards, including the Jewish Federation, Goodwill Industries, the Doris Burdman Home and the Planning Commision of Youngstown.
He often served as an expert witness in legal cases based on his extensive knowledge of construction. He became a key player in the settlement of scores of Russian Jewish immigrants who were allowed to leave the Soviet Union after years of suppression. Lev arranged for housing, brought in furniture, and helped the new immigrants with finding jobs, training and whatever else they needed.
“He was like a savior to a generation of these immigrants,” Doug Lev said.
Lev has three children: Steve, Roz and Doug; four grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. His wife, Alice, died on Dec. 14, 2016, after more than 71 years of marriage.
In his younger years, Lev enjoyed playing bridge, going to Canada to fish, playing handball and racquetball, tending to his beloved garden and watching sports.
He is known as a happy, funny, and good-natured person, always eager to chat with neighbors or anyone for that matter,” Doug Lev said.
Lev has resided at Levy Gardens Assisted Living in Youngstown for the past month, but lived near Crandall Park on the North Side since 1960.
“He is still going strong and can often be seen around the neighborhood on his electric scooter or playing music on the streets or sitting on his porch with me,” Doug Lev said.