Bob Waldorf, CAS, was once a kid in need. Growing up in Los Angeles, his family didn’t have much money, but he was fortunate to be able to attend Camp Max Straus, a nonprofit overnight summer camp for kids founded by Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters, located in Glendale, California, just 15 miles from downtown LA. It was there that he met other campers from various backgrounds, races and religions—and where he saw the deeply personal reward that comes from getting involved with others. 

Years later, he became a Big Brother with the 100-year-old organization and got involved with the camp as a volunteer, worked on committees and in the 1990s, served as president of the board of directors for three years. In 2015, in appreciation for Waldorf’s generous dedication over the years, the camp’s name was changed to Camp Bob Waldorf. Today, it occupies 112 acres and serves 1,200 campers annually with summer and weekend camp programs. 

“We helped save kids and I was one of the kids who got saved,” says Waldorf, who was honored for his life’s charitable work in January with PPAI’s 2021 H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award. “It was a natural evolution of taking from the charity and then giving back to it. It’s been that way with many of the organizations I’ve been a part of. You become a member, you get involved and you give back.”

Bob Waldorf began working in the promotional products industry in 1962 and opened his own company, Idea Man, Inc., in 1971. The company employed 135 people in 13 offices across the western U.S. Right: Bob Waldorf happily spent many childhood summers at the LA-area camp that would later bear his name.

Waldorf, who has spent almost six decades working in the promo industry, still has a hands-on role in the camp as a board member and a regular visitor. “I visit the camp every year to speak to the kids,” he says with a smile. “They ask questions and I tell them about my experiences when I was a boy at the camp. Afterwards, a wonderful thing happens—they want my autograph! I sign their hats, shirts or water bottles. That’s a lot of fun for me.”

Volunteering for those in need offers memorable encounters that Waldorf wants others to experience, too.  

In 1971-1999, when Waldorf was president and CEO of distributor Idea Man, Inc., he began encouraging his salespeople to become Big Brothers and Big Sisters. He says a typical response was, “I don’t know if I have the time.” Waldorf then challenged them by asking, “How much time is in a week? 168 hours. You sleep 50 hours, work maybe 50 hours. That leaves 68 hours to do something else! You can find a couple of hours per week to be a Big Brother or Big Sister,” he told them. Some did take Waldorf up on the suggestion and were glad they did.

Even today, people ask him how they can get involved and make a difference. “Just look around. In today’s troubled world, there are so many opportunities to help,” he says. “Simply observe where the needs are and find an agency or organization that helps relate the success of curing that need. It won’t take you long. The needs are obvious. Just find what ‘rows your boat’ and go and do it.” 

Waldorf started in the promotional products industry after graduating from UCLA and working at a food brokerage business for two years. In 1962, a fraternity brother suggested Waldorf find a job where he could work on commission, rather than a straight salary. Waldorf heeded the advice and met with Jack Nadel, then owner of Los Angeles-based distributor Jack Nadel International. Soon, Waldorf was working for the company and remained there until 1971, when he decided to venture out on his own and open distributor Idea Man, Inc. The company became part of HALO Branded Solutions in 1999.

During those years, Waldorf made time to get involved in the promo industry, first with his regional association, Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC), in 1970. He served on the New Member Committee, Long Range Planning Committee and Show Committee and then was elected to the board of directors and became president in 1976. A few years later he volunteered for PPAI on the Advertising and Public Relations Committee, and Membership Committee and was elected to the PPAI board where he served from 1991-1995. He later served on the PPAI Strategic Planning Committee. He is also a long-time supporter of the Promotional Products Education Foundation.

The Waldorf family from left: (front row) grandchildren Gigi, Belle, Jake, (back row) Dylan and Sienna; daughter Julie, Bob, wife Toby, son Greg and daughter-in-law Emily. Right: Bob Waldorf enjoys visiting the camp every year, speaking with the kids, answering their questions and signing autographs.

Waldorf generously contributes his time to his community. In addition to Camp Bob Waldorf, he’s a 60-plus-year volunteer with Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Los Angeles, which runs a mentoring program, offers college guidance and scholarships, and runs the camp. He has served the organization in many capacities over the years, including as board chair in 1994-1997, and was honored with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, its Legacy Star award in 2008 and as its Legacy Award recipient in 2015. 

Waldorf has also dedicated his time and service to numerous other local boards including Vista Del Mar Men’s Association, where he was vice president, and the City of Hope Medical Center Board of Governors. He served more than 20 years on the board of advisors at the Price Center for the UCLA Anderson School of Management and six years on the board for the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging, where he has hosted events to gain supporters for the organization. 

In 1995, ASI honored Waldorf with its Bess Cohn Humanitarian Award and in 2007 with its Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Award. He was inducted into the PPAI Hall of Fame in 2008 and designated as a PPAI Fellow in 2016.  

Now at 82, Waldorf commits time to continuing his philanthropic work. “I do it because I want to be involved and give back,” he says. “Being involved is very important to me and being named a humanitarian is an honor. This award is the capstone on my career of giving back. I very much appreciate PPAI for this recognition.” 

To those wondering how to emulate Waldorf’s example of giving, he says simply, “Be involved, get involved, make a difference! We all can make a difference. It helps somebody else, but it helps you, too. You stand taller for having helped someone in need.”

Waldorf adds, “Every day when I wake up, I have 24 hours to fill. How I fill it is different all the time. I like being involved in life and making things happen. I don’t want to watch things happen, I want to make things happen. I’m very grateful for all the things that have happened in my life. If I can help someone else, that makes my day!”  


Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.