Steve Kalafer, a prominent New Jersey businessman known for his philanthropic endeavors and his ownership of the Somerset Patriots baseball team, died this morning. He was 71.
He has been involved in politics for decades as a fundraiser and advisor to elected officials from both parties.
Kalafer was the chairman of the Flemington Car and Truck Country Family of Brands. He served as chairman emeritus of Somerset Health Care Foundation’s Board of Trustees and member of RWJBarnabas Health’s Board of Trustees.
He also served as treasurer of The Actors Fund, a non-profit group that helped performers and others in the entertainment industry provide emergency assistance and social services. Kalafer has been involved in more than a dozen films and has been nominated for an Academy Award three times.
Kalafer purchased the Somerset Patriots, which plays at the TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, in 1997. This year, the team is now a Class AA affiliate of the New York Yankees.
He was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2020.
Kalafer is survived by his wife, Suzanne, two sons and five grandchildren.
“Steve was many things to many people across the state and beyond. He embodied the true spirit of entrepreneurship through his many impactful endeavors that boosted New Jersey’s economy, all while dedicating himself to corporate stewardship and philanthropy with incomparable enthusiasm, said New Jersey Business & Industry Association president Michele Siekerka. “He brought this very same passion, energy and knowledge as a member of NJBIA’s Board of Trustees for more than two decades and we will remain forever appreciative for his contributions to our association. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Steve’s family at this difficult time and we will always cherish his memory as both a leader and as a friend.”
“Steve Kalafer was a close friend and I’m struggling to get my head around the demise of a guy so full of life. We saw musicals together, sat next to each other for a dozen Patriots games and of course I bought a half dozen cars from him, including last week,” said Ken Kurson, a longtime friend. “His great line was to wrap his arm around your shoulder and say to your salesman, ‘we’re here to make a profit, but not off this guy.’
Kurson said that Kalafer “could be tough when you disappointed him – sometimes unwittingly.”
“But a huge heart and a radiating decency. And he also provided a lifetime memory when he invited my son to throw out a first pitch,” he said. “New Jersey has lost a champion. And a mensch.”
Former State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Middletown) said that “New Jersey lost a great man today, and many of us lost a friend.”
“Steve was a loving family man, an all-star in business, including as founder of the Somerset Patriots, and a dedicated philanthropist who cared about improving his community,” said Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. “He truly lived a Hall of Fame life that should serve as a model for us all.”
Brian D. Levine, a former Somerset County freeholder who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, said he was “personally crushed by the sad news of the passing of my friend, Steve Kalafer.”