Champion of Downtown, Brett’s friendship touched many

Downtown Altoona has lost one of its biggest supporters.

Donald Brett, 76, Altoona, passed away at his residence Saturday after a lengthy battle with cancer.

“He loved downtown Altoona,” said former state senator and lieutenant governor Robert C. Jubelirer, Brett’s first cousin. “He lived long enough to see the revitalization. No one liked Altoona more than he did. He promoted it his whole life.”

“He cared a lot about the area and the downtown he was a part of. He was so involved with the downtown. When others gave up on it, he never did,” said Michael Kranich Sr., chairman of Kranich’s Inc. and a longtime friend.

After graduating from Penn State in 1964, Brett went to New York to work in retail. His love for family and Altoona brought him back home to work for the family business, women’s clothing retailer Meyer Jonasson, with his father, Leonard.

Together, they created a store that became a pillar of the downtown Altoona community.

After his father’s death, Brett continued to own and operate the downtown Altoona store and expanded to two more stores in the coming years. The store closed when Brett retired in 2007.

He sold the building to Penn State Altoona, and in 2011, it opened as the Sheetz Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence.

“He was so happy to sell it to them, that Meyer Jonasson would continue to be a positive reminder of what downtown Altoona used to be,” Jubelirer said. “Now it is part of Penn State Altoona, functioning in a positive way. That meant a lot to him.”

“When Penn State was negotiating with him for his building, he did more than just sell them the building,” said R. Lee Hite, chairman of The Hite Company and another longtime friend. “He made a major contribution to make it happen. I gave him a lot of credit for doing that.”

Friends remember Brett as a good person.

“Don was one of the most considerate people I’ve ever known,” said Mike Irwin, president of Irwin Finan­cial and a friend since the late 1960s. “I loved Don like a brother. He was a great guy and fun to be around.”

Irwin and his wife, Gail, often vacationed with Brett and his wife, Sherry.

Gail Irwin was a frequent shopper at Meyer Jonasson.

“My wife said it was the best place to shop,” Irwin said. “She can’t find another place like it. He ran a great business.”

Joseph Stevens Sr. had known Brett since they attended first grade together at Baker Elementary School 69 years ago.

“I would consider him my best friend,” Stevens said. “He was a wonderful, genuine and caring person. He had a tremendous sense of humor. He liked to travel. He loved his condo in Boyn­ton Beach, Florida. He loved to sit in the sun in the winter time. He loved his food, especially shrimp. He never took himself seriously, and I never heard him say a bad word about anybody.”

Hite said Brett was “one of the good guys.”

“He was a fun-loving person. He always had a kind word to say or a smile on his face,” Hite said.

Growing up, the Kranichs and Bretts lived on the same block of Aldrich Avenue.

“I was always treated like a member of their family,” Kranich said. “Don was like the brother I never had.”

A funeral service will be held at 10:30 a.m. today at Temple Beth Israel, 3004 Union Ave., Altoona, Rabbi Audrey Korotkin officiating. Interment will be at Mount Sinai Cemetery, Altoona.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.