Members of the Irish-American Diamond Dealers Association admit that some people think their association is a “joke.” It’s not, although the Irish-Americans who make up the core of this close-knit grouplet know they’re a rare breed in the diamond industry. They’re even outnumbered within their own group: It has 24 members, but only nine are actually Irish. There are not many Irish-American associations whose vice president is named “Baum” and whose membership criteria include “being a mensch.”
Yet these dealers are proud of their association, which is dedicated to the mensch-y activity of raising money for charitable causes. Most years, the charity of choice is Meals on Wheels, although last October the group held a special party to raise funds for the families of firemen and police officers killed on Sept. 11. As it turned out, the party was not far from a memorial service for a fallen fireman. Word got out that there was a benefit nearby, and firefighters streamed in after the service.
“The firefighters drank for free all night and had a great time,” says the group’s president Jim Sheridan. “The love for them in the room was unbelievable.”
The group began in 1979 after a talk in a bar (a locale that figures prominently in this group’s history). “One of the guys said, ‘Here we are, five Irish guys surrounded by other nationalities,’ ” remembers Sheridan. ” ‘Let’s start a group.’ It was kind of a lark.”
And it stayed a lark until another night in a bar, when the group’s leaders decided that, with all their success, they should do more for the community. That led to the fundraisers, which attract a growing list of industry cohorts and typically raise $20,000 to $30,000 a pop. The group also opened its membership to non-Irish who meet its criteria: “You have to be a good soul,” says past president David Hill.
“It might have begun as an Irish thing, but it has evolved into something more,” says the group’s non-Irish vice president, Michael Baum. “Now it’s a group that wants to give something back.”