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December 1, 2000

Santa's Wall Street Roots

By Sanford Wexler

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  • Santa's Wall Street Roots

A floor broker on the American Stock Exchange does not for get his humble upbringing during the holiday season. For Howard Lasher, memories of his own hardscrabble youth come flooding back when he volunteers for charity during the season of goodwill.

On Christmas day last year he dressed as Santa Clause and brought stuffed parcels to poor children at the University Settlement, an institution on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that traces its roots to the 19th century settlement movement.

"It is something to see the smiles on these kids faces," said Lasher, who grew up in the same neighborhood, in a rambling five-story, tenement building with a bathroom in the hallway.

Lasher, who's 59 and an Amex veteran for the past 35 years, knows their pain. He is the only child of a mother who toiled in the garment district six days a week, 10 hours a day. His father died of tuberculosis at the age of 31 when Lasher was only two-years-old. Lasher's mother, Ida, died last year at the age of 85. "My mother taught me the value of giving," he said. "I know she is looking down and is proud of a lot of the things I am doing."

Lasher is no stranger to the University Settlement. As a youngster, he spent many after-school hours there playing stickball and kickball.

"Visiting the Settlement brought back a lot of memories of times that I went without," Lasher said. "Through the generosity of others I was able to do things and go places."

For the past 12 years, Lasher and many of his Wall Street buddies have helped raise more than $3 million dollars for Variety, The Children's Charity, a New York-based organization, founded in 1948. Variety supports hospitals and children's welfare groups in the tri-state area. "Howard and his supporters are amazing," said Leslye Schneider, executive director at Variety. "Their efforts have helped save the lives of countless people." Lasher is a member of Variety's board of directors.

Lasher, who has two adult sons and three grandchildren, attributes some of his kind spirit to the inspiration of strangers during his childhood. That made it possible for him to spend his summers at a camp called Camp Loyaltown in Hunter, N.Y. "It took me off the streets and gave me a firsthand experience with nature," he said. "If it wasn't for the philanthropic endeavors of other people, I wouldn't have had the opportunity."

A few years ago while driving to his house in Connecticut he heard on the radio that money was stolen from a safe in Saint Jude's School in the South Bronx. The money was earmarked for the children's baseball and basketball uniforms. The next day, he called the school and made a donation that would replace the missing funds.

"More than his check, his sincerity and touching concern for kids in this area was remarkable," said Michael Dugan, principal of Saint Jude's School.

"He told the boys and girls at an assembly about his background and how it is possible to succeed in life no matter where you come from."

Dozens of Pros