Jewish Journal

Nathan Shapell, real estate developer and philanthropist, 85

Posted on Mar. 11, 2007 at 8:00 pm

Nathan Shapell, renowned real estate developer and prominent philanthropist known throughout California, the United States, and Israel has passed away. He was 85.

Shapell, Chairman & CEO of Shapell Industries, one of the most successful and highly respected homebuilders in California, died in his sleep on March 11, 2007, while on a vacation cruise.

Nathan Shapell was a man of integrity and principle, a builder of lives who dedicated his life to helping others less fortunate. A survivor of the Holocaust, he was determined to not only rebuild his own life, but to help others rebuild theirs.

As Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Shapell Industries, Nathan Shapell personified the word "entrepreneur." Along with brother, David, and brother-in-law, Max Webb, Nathan Shapell built one of the most successful real estate development companies in California that is recognized today as an industry leader. In recognition of his accomplishments, the Building Industry of California inducted him into the Builder's Hall of Fame in 2001. Shapell's philosophy was based upon the high priority he placed on family, community, and home -- the very things that Hitler and the Nazis stole from him at a very early age.

Born in Poland, Nathan Shapell spent World War II as a prisoner of the infamous Buchenwald and Auschwitz Concentration Camps where most of his family members including his mother, were executed. After Hitler's reign of terror ended, Shapell devoted himself to helping thousands of bewildered and angry Holocaust survivors. His efforts landed him in Munchberg, Germany, in charge of building housing complexes for the displaced war survivors, and representing them before American military panels responsible for ruling on requests to immigrate to America. It was there that he met a young female translator, Lilly Schreiber, who would become his wife and partner in life. In 1952, Nathan and Lilly Shapell, along with their daughter Vera, immigrated to the United States to start a new life. Lilly Shapell, his wife of 48 years, passed away in 1994. Shapell chronicled the early years of his life in his autobiography, Witness to the Truth.

Shapell dedicated a major portion of his life to public service. He was a past President and Executive Board Member of the American Academy of Achievement and served as a Member of President Reagan's Private Sector Survey on Cost Control.

He founded and Co-Chaired Building a Better Los Angeles, a one-time project which raised over $1 million for the homeless. In 1987, he accepted the position of President of D.A.R.E. America, a renowned drug abuse resistance education program.

In 1992, California Governor Pete Wilson appointed him to serve as a member of the California Competitiveness Council and develop recommendations to revitalize California's economy. In 1998, Senate President Pro-Tem Bill Lockyer appointed him to a special blue ribbon commission to help alleviate California's overcrowding of prisons.

Shapell's greatest public contributions may have been made through his 29 years of service on California's "Little Hoover Commission".

As Chairman for an unprecedented 18 years of this one-of-a-kind Commission, he was the longest, continuously serving chairman of a state commission in the 20th century. During his long tenure, he helped save taxpayers literally billions of dollars and improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Californians in areas that included nursing home operations, children's services, property management, transportation, the Medi-Cal program, and public education.

Nathan Shapell's commitment to service on behalf of the public was recognized in 1986 when the University of Santa Clara bestowed upon him an honorary Doctorate of Public Service degree. In 1987, Tel Aviv University awarded Shapell a Doctor Philosophiae Honoris Causa.

Shapell was a major philanthropist here in America, as well as in Israel. He was a Founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and was appointed by President George H. W. Bush and reappointed twice by President Bill Clinton to its governing council.

He was also a major donor to Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust museum and memorial. He recognized the vital importance of education and was a major donor to the University of Santa Clara, USC, as well as Tel Aviv University and Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He supported numerous charities for children and healthcare including the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the D.A.R.E. program, Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, and a variety of education initiatives.

As a result of Shapell's surviving the Holocaust, he was extremely dedicated to the State of Israel. He traveled to the front lines to provide moral support for IDF soldiers during the Sinai War, Six Day War, and Yom Kippur War, and was frequently consulted by the country's leaders. He built parks, schools and facilities for children and university students, as well as for the well-being of Israel s soldiers.

Shapell is survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Vera and Paul Guerin; grand-children, Lisa, Dana, and Michael; and three great-grandchildren, as well as his brother David Shapell and brother-in-law Max Webb.

Services for Nathan Shapell will be held on Tuesday, March 13th at 11:00 am at Hillside Memorial Park & Mortuary located at 6001 West Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles.

In lieu of flowers, the Guerin family requests that donations be made to either Friends of the Israel Defense Forces or to Women's Guild of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Pulmonary Diseases Program.

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