Accent Signage founder 'wanted to make a difference in the world'

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 30, 2012 - 11:15 PM

Slain businessman Reuven Rahamim was remembered Sunday as someone who "had everyone's back."

More than 1,000 mourners turned out Sunday to pay respects to the founder of a Minneapolis company shot to death last Thursday along with four others by a just-fired employee who then killed himself.

The solemn memorial service for Reuven Rahamim took place at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park even as workers at Rahamim's Accent Signage Systems vowed to keep their company going and some new details of the killing spree emerged.

Rahamim, 61, of St. Louis Park, was eulogized as a kind, persistent and religious man born in a tent near the Gaza Strip, who came to the United States as a teen.

He graduated at the top of his class at Dunwoody College in Minneapolis and started Accent Signage Systems, which grew into a global business. The company in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood employed 28 people to make interior signs that have not only standard letters and numbers, but Braille, too, in a process Rahamim patented.

Rabbi Alexander Davis said Rahamim saw his work as "tikkun olam," a Hebrew phrase meaning to repair the world. "He didn't just make signs, he helped people find their way," Davis said.

On Thursday, the business that Rahamim had worked so hard to build became the site of Minnesota's worst workplace massacre. Troubled worker Andrew Engeldinger opened fire shortly after he was fired from his job of 12 years.

Rahamim, three of his workers and a UPS driver were killed. Engeldinger, 36, fatally shot himself in the building's basement after the rampage.

After Sunday's service, a coworker of Rahamim who also served as a pallbearer at his funeral described what he witnessed Thursday before escaping the bloodshed by jumping out a window.

After an operations manager told Engeldinger that he was being let go, he pulled out a 9mm Glock pistol and began shooting, said the employee. He said Rahamim came out of his office to see what the commotion was about, only to be shot twice in the head and once in the abdomen.

That employee said by the time Rahamim was shot, two or three people were already dead.

The coworker and Rahamim's relatives also disclosed that four years before his rampage, Engeldinger had sued Accent Signage Systems, claiming he wasn't being treated fairly.

Engeldinger lost that suit. Yet afterward, Rahamin gave Engeldinger, a loner who struggled with mental illness, a chance to stay on and see that the company was doing right by him, said the employee and relatives.

Earlier Sunday, Accent Signage's employees released a statement expressing their grief, asking for privacy and vowing to keep their company going. They said they did not wish to comment further.

Another funeral was held Sunday afternoon for victim Rami Cooks, 62, of Minnetonka, at Bet Shalom Congregation in Minnetonka. His family had requested no media coverage.

'When will we wake up?'

"This feels like a nightmare and we keep wondering, 'When will we wake up?'" Davis said at the service. "We keep saying, 'This can't be real.' ... It's so unfair."

Rahamim was so caring of his employees that when the economy soured a few years ago, he came up with product innovations so he wouldn't have to lay anyone off, relatives said. He chipped in 401K contributions even for employees who couldn't contribute.

And he tried to help the worker who later took his life.

Rahamim "really didn't deserve the tragedy that he went through," said Dr. Bahram Alyeshmerni of New York, his uncle.

"He really, truly lived the American Dream," said a cousin, Kevah Askari, a pharmacist from New York and formerly Minneapolis. "An immigrant who came here and really did good. A wonderful man."

Born on a kibbutz in Israel, Rahamim served in the Yom Kippur War at age 17. He came to America the next year to clear his head of the horrors of war, relatives said.

From scratch, he built Accent Signage Systems. His big break came when he developed a process to put Braille on signs. He earned seven patents and had an eighth pending. He'd been using "green" technology and recently had been feted at the White House. Rahamim was excited, too, because his company was working with Apple, and he was in talks with Google.

Still, he put family first. Every Wednesday morning, he left the office to spend time with his grandchildren, singing and laughing with them.

"Reuven had everyone's back," Davis said of the entrepreneur, who was active not only in his profession, but in his temple and civic activities. "He was present in everyone's lives, and he wanted to make a difference in the world."

Rahamim loved to have coffee on his deck looking out at the lake, and to share that moment. A few weeks ago, he invited his family over and they gathered on the deck. He went downstairs with his grandchildren and dog to sit on a hammock in the garden. "Take a picture!" he yelled up to his wife, Shereen.

"At that moment, all seemed right in the world," the rabbi said. "There was nothing better, for it was a moment full of life and love."

Rahamim's body will be flown to Israel for burial.

Other services ahead

A funeral for Ron Edberg, 58, of Brooklyn Center, will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Methven-Taylor Funeral Home in Anoka. Services for Jacob Beneke, 34, of Maple Grove, will be at noon Wednesday at Evans-Norby Funeral Home, Brooklyn Center. Funeral plans have not been publicized for UPS driver Keith Basinski, 50, of Spring Lake Park.

According to Hennepin County Medical Center, Accent Signage's production manager, Eric Rivers, remained in critical condition Sunday, while director of operations John Souter was in serious condition.

Joy Powell • 651-925-5038

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