Above (l-r): Israel and Edith Altman Family Endowed Scholarship for Jewish Studies recipient Jenna Stern, Susan W. Altman, Charles Altman, Susan D. Altman and Israel and Edith Altman Family Endowed Scholarship recipient Takoyah Johnson. (Photo by Karson Photography)

The Altman family has had a big impact – and not just on College of Charleston students Takoyah Johnson ’25 and Jenna Stern ’24, who are the first recipients of the Israel and Edith Altman Family Endowed Scholarship.

A part of the fabric of Charleston for generations, the family ran a furniture and appliance store at multiple locations on King Street for more than 77 years. Charles Altman and his brother, Sam, who passed away in 2020, were regulars at the College of Charleston basketball games.  

The first member of the Altman family to come to Charleston was Charles’ grandfather and namesake. Around 1915, he left the small town of Kalushin, just east of Warsaw, which at the time was part of Russia, and made his way to Charleston by way of Argentina. Sponsored by his brother-in-law, who had started a furniture business – A. M. Solomon & Sons – he arrived in Charleston around 1916.

Through hard work at a lumberyard, Charles Altman was able to purchase property at the corner of Radcliffe and Jasper Streets in downtown Charleston. After the family’s arrival in Charleston, his wife, Wittel, ran a corner grocery store on the property he had purchased. The family did well until the patriarch died of a heart attack in 1924, leaving his wife to raise their seven of the eight children — one had already married. The remaining children were ages 11 to 24.  

To provide for their mother and five sisters, the three brothers immediately started working, including Israel, who had to end his education at 13. They sold wares in pushcarts until they had earned enough to open Altman’s Furniture Company in 1928. With a successful business at 28 years of age, Israel went on a blind date in Atlanta, where he met his future wife, Edith Tesler, who had emigrated from Odessa, Ukraine, with her family in 1923. They married in 1939. Israel and Edith went on to have three children, Sam, Arlene and Charles. 

Israel’s brothers passed away in 1961 and 1964. In the early 1970s, Israel and Edith purchased the interest of Israel’s brothers’ families in the furniture business and the real estate, which operated under the name of Charles Realty Co. Inc. from its founding in 1939. Israel continued to run the businesses until he passed away in 1993 at the age of 82. His wife continued to run the business until 2005, when the family decided the furniture store had run its course. Edith died in 2006.   

Sam and Charles, both lawyers, and their sister, Arlene, decided to do something to honor their parents. Because of its proximity and their love of education and community, they decided to establish scholarships in their names at the College of Charleston. 

“Our parents were very appreciative of what they had built over the years,” says Charles. “Although both my parents had very little formal education, it was very important to them, as well as being good to people and doing right for people.” 

 In 2020, the siblings formed two scholarships to help students who might otherwise not have the opportunity: The Israel and Edith Altman Family Endowed Scholarship and The Israel and Edith Altman Family Endowed Scholarship for Jewish Studies. While neither Sam, Charles nor Arlene attended the College of Charleston, the College is part of the community, which has been important to the community and the Altman family. 

The Israel and Edith Altman Family Endowed Scholarship is a four-year scholarship for incoming first-year students from the state of South Carolina who have demonstrated moral character, a GPA of 2.75 or better and graduated in the top 50% of the graduating class. Preference is given to a minority student – something that Johnson appreciates.

“I chose to attend the College of Charleston to prove that race and gender differences do not define someone’s ability to be great and achieve their goals,” says the business administration major. “I did not want to run away from race and gender issues. I wanted to remain close to home and pave a path for myself at the College, and receiving a scholarship allows me to be recognized and have a voice. It is a great opportunity, and I am grateful for the award.” 

When Johnson graduates, she plans to focus on forming her business and building her brand. She also wants to take an active role in her community. 

Stern also found the scholarship tremendously helpful during her first year at CofC.  

“This scholarship has let me participate in very meaningful activities during my first year, and I plan on continuing those throughout the rest of my time at College of Charleston,” says the accounting major, who attributes the supportive Jewish community and getting into the Honors College as to why she attended CofC. 

Stern is an active participant in Hillel. She also joined the student board as the Tikkun Olam chair and planned an urban gardening event to raise awareness about the importance of urban gardens. Moving forward, she plans to participate more in HEAR (Holocaust Education, Awareness and Remembrance) and work with them to create community events. 

Israel and Edith Altman would certainly be happy to know that their scholarship recipients both have a love of education and community, just like they did.