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He's the Master of Mastering the Improbable

April 04, 1993|LINDA FELDMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

David Tuch has been doing the improbable all his life, and just because he's going to be 80 soon doesn't mean he has any intention of stopping.

The way he sees it, the more improbable, the more interesting. Fear of failure doesn't even enter into the equation--if it had he would never have lived his kind of life. To understand Tuch is to understand his generosity and his love of a challenge--starting with meeting Bernice, his wife of 22 years.

"I was a widower for several years," he recalled. "I went to a social gathering. I always thought I was a good dancer, but this woman told me I didn't know how to dance. I told her that I would teach her how to play golf if she would teach me how to dance. It was a challenge. She was quite a lady. Now," he deadpanned, "I dance like she plays golf."

Thirty years ago, Tuch (pronounced "touch") took up golf after some major surgeries. But it wasn't enough for him to play the game; he had to add an extra dimension. For his 50th birthday he came up with the idea of "jet golf": playing three 18-hole matches with pros in three cities--New York, Chicago and Los Angeles--all on the same day. On his 60th birthday, he played in three countries--the United States, Canada and Mexico--also all on the same day. For his 70th birthday, he said, he took a nap.

Two years later he volunteered to serve in the Israeli army. He was beyond the age limit for the Volunteers for Israel program, but he passed the physical and he was good with his hands. Tuch was assigned to the motor pool, where he painted trucks, replaced starters, batteries and tires, checked oil levels and generally kept the military vehicles running.

Tuch says he never had a steady job. He has a high school diploma and studies architecture, worked in anthropology, served with the Tennessee Valley Authority, worked on the Manhattan Project and later built a multimillion-dollar metals business that he shared with his six brothers. But he doesn't like to talk about how he made his fortune; he does like talking about how he gives it away.

"We give money away. We put kids through school. We support charitable organizations. I read something once which impressed me: If you give when you are healthy you give gold. If you give when you are sick you give silver and if you give after you're dead it's lead. So, I like to give gold," he said.

David Tuch would not be content with signing checks. He plays the harmonica and tells jokes for nursing home residents. He has enough certificates, testimonials, scrolls, and thank-you letters to fill several scrapbooks.

There also is sadness. "When I feed a dining room filled with hungry people or supply what is materially necessary for some child to get through school, I think of my daughter who died in her 30s. It's the getting out and living that allows me go to on," he said, "and the people I meet."

Tuch has the same friends he had when he was growing up in the slums of Chicago. His father made whiskey in a bathtub, and his mother was busy raising 11 children. Tuch was the shy middle child.

"When I was a kid I figured I would always be poor but I would always have friends, and I still have the first friends I ever made. The boys still meet. It has been going on for over 70 years," he said.

Somewhere in between making a fortune and caring about the less fortunate, taking care of his family and being good to his friends, David Tuch found the time to become an award-winning photographer. "I joined a photography club when I was in my 60s, but the club broke up so I went to China and took 2,200 pictures," he said. One of them, a Chinese man herding geese, has been made into a poster and has been reproduced in magazines around the world. Others are used for charity fund-raising.

David Tuch hasn't made up his mind what he wants to do for this birthday. He'd like to play golf on the moon, but figures that won't happen until he's 90.

He continues to puzzle over why people get concerned about how old they are.

"I never worry about aging," he said. "I enjoy living too much."

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