Joe Gold, happily surrounded by friends and fellow body-builders.

He was a Sailor, a veteran, an entrepreneur, and a legend in the world of bodybuilding. And now, a generous benefactor of the Society.

Joe Gold, the founder of the world-famous Gold’s Gym and World Gym, is widely known as the father of bodybuilding. His connection with the military goes all the way back to World War II. “Joe was grievously injured in the war,” says Mike Uretz, a long-time friend and business partner. The U.S. Navy ship Joe was serving on was the target of a torpedo attack. Luckily, it was a near miss, but the blast sent Joe flying off of a companionway, tossing him down several flights of metal stairs.

“His injuries were serious,” Mike says. “His back was badly hurt, and he spent over nine months in the hospital.” When he finally got out of the hospital, Joe began bodybuilding and weightlifting to rehabilitate himself and keep his back strong. And that’s how he ultimately got involved in the business of opening and managing gyms.

Joe started Gold’s Gym in 1965 in Venice, CA., and it soon became a landmark for bodybuilders. “Joe had a soft spot for anyone who was in the Service,” Mike says. “If he could give them a job at the gym, he would. If they couldn’t pay, he’d let them come in and train anyway.”

More than a business owner, Joe even constructed the exercise machines that were used in his gyms, including the weights and barbells, from his home in Venice, CA. “He’d get two or three guys and move stuff around on the street,” Mike says, “then he’d get the acetylene torch out and start building.”

But, inevitably, Joe’s restlessness returned. “He’d get bored,” Mike says, “and sign up to sail with the merchant marines for a trip to Malaysia or someplace.” Restless again, he decided to sell the first Gold’s Gym, but as part of the sale, he agreed never to use his name and never to open another gym.

Big Steve Merjanian, Joe Gold, and Zabo in the late 1960’s.

That’s when Mike entered the picture. A lawyer, Mike represented Joe, and challenged the restrictions of that agreement. Then, together as business partners, they opened World Gym. They built it into a national chain with 300 locations.

Mike and Joe were friends and business partners for 30 years.After Joe passed away, Mike became the Trustee of his estate. Knowing that Joe cared deeply about veterans, Mike looked for a charity to donate stock from Joe’s estate. After some research, he found the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. “I read about the Society, and it seemed like a very legit organization.” And so the gift, a very substantial one, was made to the Society, in honor of Joe Gold.

“Because Joe was a Navy man in World War II, he would hope that this gift would help Sailors and Marines who were struggling to get back on their feet,” Mike says. “Joe was just a great guy. He took care of everyone who was close to him.” And now, from this point on, Joe’s concern for Sea Service members and their families will be part of his legacy forever.

By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso

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