Sonoma businessman and former president of the Sonoma Valley school board Niels Chew died after a bout with cancer on Feb. 25. He was 82.

Described as a generous man both in spirit and in heart, Chew was a fixture in the Sonoma community.

Chew was born April 12, 1930, along with his twin sister Nancy, to Arthur and Esther Chew in New York City. He grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y., before moving to New Hampshire to attend school.

He began college at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., but dropped out after a year to join the Norwegian Merchant Marines in 1949. He spent a year in the marines working on freighters in the Atlantic, traveling up and down the coasts of the U.S. and South America.

After leaving the merchant marines, Chew moved to Portland, Ore., to attend Reed College. But college didn't hold him for long.

"He was just so adventurous, and he needed to keep exploring," said his daughter Jennifer Ord. Chew left Reed after a year of study to return to New York. He briefly spent time in a sanatorium with a tuberculosis scare, but then went to work for his father's food export business.

Chew met his wife, Susan Wetherby, while working for his father's company. They were married in 1955 in Orange, Conn., and lived in New York until 1963.

"My mom was the most important thing in his life," Ord said.

Chew's business caused the couple to move to California, and they settled briefly in San Mateo before Chew purchased Miner Tool Co. in 1968. The company would eventually become Dowling Magnetics.

The Chews moved their budding family to Sonoma in 1973, where they spent 40 years building Dowling Magnetics and becoming active in the local community. Niels Chew was elected to the school board in 1996 and served one term, including a stint as president of the board.

His philanthropy work was well known throughout Sonoma, assisting school programs, creating jobs and serving on the boards of nonprofit groups.

"He really cared about those who were less fortunate," Ord said. "He recognized that so many people just needed a little help, and he never hesitated to take care of somebody."

Chew retired from Dowling Magnetics in 2004, but stayed active in the management of some of his buildings up until the week of his death.

His grandchildren were a prevalent part of his life, his daughter said.

"He was so involved and genuinely invested in their lives," she said. "He would shoot them little emails to ask how they were."

Chew is survived by his wife, Susan Chew of Santa Rosa; his sister, Nancy Smith of Arizona; his four children, Gordon Chew of Tenakee Springs, Ala., Lisa Rossi of Santa Rosa, Jennifer Ord of Santa Rosa and Andrew Chew of Santa Rosa; and nine grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.