Advertising executive William J. Stern, 75, who died Jan. 5, was passionate about the city of Cleveland and elevated its image at a time when the city needed a boost, according to David Gilbert, president and CEO of Destination Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.

“He was always putting his money where his mouth was in terms of helping this community,” Gilbert told the Cleveland Jewish News Jan. 10.

Stern, president/CEO of Stern Advertising, moved the offices of his advertising agency from Chagrin Boulevard in Pepper Pike to the Ernst & Young Building in downtown Cleveland several years ago.

“He was really proud of that,” Gilbert said. “It was sort of bucking a trend. Cleveland meant so much to him, he wanted to show he felt he should be downtown.”

Stern also worked with former Plain Dealer Publisher Alex Machaskee on a series of full-page ads featuring local celebrities delivering messages meant to inspire, Gilbert recalled.

Among his many board roles, Stern served on the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission from its founding and was instrumental in bringing to Cleveland two major events: the 2002 McDonald’s All-American Basketball Game and the Cleveland Classic, a HBCU event, for which he “pulled together the marketing plan.”

Gilbert first met Stern when Gilbert was a counselor at Oakwood Country Club’s day camp, and Stern’s son, David, was a camper.

He said the two liked each other immediately, and kept in touch over the years, with periodic lunch dates, often at one of Stern’s favorite meeting places, The Union Club in downtown Cleveland. Their conversations always touched on their mutual love of Cleveland and on ways to make the city better.

“He was a very passionate guy,” Gilbert said of Stern, describing him “as a great family guy. He was just a little bit of a larger than life personality in a very good way.”

Stern coined the phrase, “New York’s the Big Apple, but Cleveland’s a Plum,” and created McDonald’s commercials featuring Cleveland athletes Brad Daugherty, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Michael Dean Perry.

Stern grew up in Shaker Heights and attended The Ohio State University in Columbus. He started his advertising career at Ogilvy & Mather in New York City in 1969. Prior to returning to Cleveland, Stern was vice president, director of marketing for Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 1972, he returned to Cleveland and became president/CEO of Stern Advertising.

He was responsible for many iconic advertising tag lines, such as, “Every Kiss Begins With Kay”, “He Went to Jared,” and campaigns for jewelry lines by Jane Seymour, Neil Lane and Leo Diamond.

Stern was inducted into the American Advertising Federation of Cleveland’s Hall of Fame in 2009.

He served on the board of The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood. He was a founding member of the Great Harbor Yacht Club in Nantucket, Mass., and also a founding member of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeast Ohio.

Stern is survived by his beloved wife of 50 years, Janet; children, Lauren (Eric) Scherr and David (Danielle); grandchildren, Ethan, Graydon, Grant and Caroline; and brother, Dr. Don Stern of Boston. He was preceded in death by his parents, Nelson Stern and Shirley Whitman Bernstein.

A private family service was held Jan. 10 at The Temple-Tifereth Israel, followed by internment at Mayfield Cemetery

Due to the pandemic, family requested no visitation.

There will be a celebration of life to follow in the summer.

In lieu of flowers, the family requested gifts to Bellefaire JCB.

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