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Edward "Ed" Stolman, a Sonoma County transplant with an eclectic and successful business resume who was later credited with helping launch the lifelong learning program at Sonoma State University and orchestrating financial support for that campus's prominent Green Music Center, died Sunday of cancer. He was 86.

Born Feb. 15, 1926, in Chicago, Ill., to Dorothy and Abraham Stolman, Edward Robert Stolman attended Northwestern University. He graduated in 1946 and a year later married the former Luas Olshine. The couple had two sons before Luas Stolman died in the mid-70s. Ed Stolman married the former Joan Greene Sherman in 1978. She died five years later.

Always an acute businessman, Stolman dabbled in an mix of ventures and almost always made them work, said his son, Richard Stolman of Addison, Texas.

Stolman ran a clothing business, launched an upscale bowling alley and built a swimming club with Olympic-sized pool. But those were side ventures this son said.

Stolman was executive vice president of Hospital Affiliates and later become vice president of the board when the company went public. It eventually was purchased by Cigna.

He was both president and chairman of the board of directors of the Federation of American Hospitals, and served on the board of directors for the Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore and Cromwell Hospital in London, Richard Stolman said.

He was living in Tennessee when he received a call from his brother about an extraordinary ice cream bar.

"My uncle said, &‘Right now, get in your car; you've got to taste this,'" Richard Stolman recalled.

The frozen treat, being sold at a small shop and various country clubs outside of Chicago, was made by a business called Dove Ice Cream and Candies.

Stolman and his brother invested in the ice cream bar, now called the Dove Bar, built production facilities and grew the company exponentially.

"It was growing beyond any of our imaginations," Richard Stolman said. The Stolman family was about to take the company public but accepted a deal from Mars Incorporated, which today owns M&Ms, Snickers, Twix and several pet food companies among others.

At about the same time, Stolman turned his attention to real estate. He led the redevelopment of the main street through Franklin, Tenn., an effort that earned him "Man of the Year" honors in 1984, his son said.

"He literally bought the whole main street and redeveloped it with movie theaters, shopping and arts," Richard Stolman said. He repeated the feat in Nashville, leading the redevelopment of Lower Broadway before being named "Man of the Year" by Advantage Magazine in Nashville.

In 1987, Stolman married Carolyn Scherman and the pair were together until she died in 2004.

Stolman lived in San Francisco before buying property in Glen Ellen. He imported 1,000 Italian olive saplings and launched a successful olive growing and processing business. The Olive Press thrived and Stolman's own label, Lunigiana, has won top prizes in Italy and Spain.

"If you cut his finger, he bled olive oil," said friend and business partner Fred Cline of Sonoma.

"He literally was always thinking about whatever thing he was on. He would give it his all," Cline said.

Friends and colleagues said Stolman effectively adopted Sonoma State University. After taking classes at The Fromme Institute at the University of San Francisco, Stolman not only pressed for a similar program at SSU, he gave $50,000 to fund the first year, said Les Adler, the former dean of extended education at SSU who worked closely on the program's development with Stolman.

The program focuses on those at retirement age who want a breadth of rigorous college-level classes, but without grades or credits.

Stolman, who was chairman of the program's board of directors until his failing health forced him to step down this fall, successfully lobbied friend Bernard Osher in 2003 to back the local program.

The Bernard Osher Foundation funded two full years of classes before awarding a $1 million endowment to what would become the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The foundation then replicated Sonoma State's model at 120 college campuses across the country.

"He was a visionary," Adler said. "He saw not only that this was going to work here, he helped make it possible for us to do it. We didn't have the funding in the beginning to create that, then he brought in friends and then linked us up with the Osher Foundation."

Stolman gave the same pitch on behalf of the Green Music Center and is credited by some with linking the project's largest individual benefactor, Sandy Weill, to the project.

"I have a feeling, in his heart, he adopted Sonoma State," Adler said. "He really fell in love with the campus and the programs here. He brought in his friends, he brought in donors, he helped raise funds for the (Green Music Center)."

He was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the University in 2003.

But friends and colleagues said Stolman wasn't a pitch man; his enthusiasm was simply infectious.

"He never stopped. He was always looking to network people to do good," said Bob Friend, a pal of 25 years. "He was just a natural. It came oozing out of him. He had such a wonderful and engaging way."

In addition to his son, Richard, Ed Stolman is survived by his son Douglas Stolman of Nashville, Tenn.; sister Beverly Zacharias of Highland Park, Ill.; and two granddaughters.

No public services are planned. A private service will be held at a later date.

Donations in Stolman's name can be made to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute or the Green Music Center.

(Staff Writer Kerry Benefield can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.)

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