Joseph C. Mandel, while not large in stature, was a giant in philanthropy.
Mandel died March 22 in Palm Beach, Fla., where he lived. He was 102. He touched countless lives, leaving a worldwide mark through his and his brothers’ generosity.
Mandel, his late brother, Jack, and his younger brother Morton used $900 to buy their uncle’s storefront auto parts distributorship and create Premier Automotive Supply Co. in 1940. Premier was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1964.
The firm grew into Premier Industrial Corp. and was worth nearly $3 billion in 1996, when it merged with British company Farnell Electronics to form Premier Farnell, one of the largest industrial and electronic components suppliers in the world. About $1.8 billion went to the Mandel brothers.
The brothers’ philanthropic efforts began early and continued with the 1953 formation of Parkwood Corp. Other charitable entities include the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation and the Mandel Supporting Foundation. Joe Mandel served as chairman of the executive committee of Parkwood and chairman of the Joseph and Florence Mandel Foundation.
Joe Mandel told the Cleveland Jewish News in 2010, “The legacy of Joe Mandel is not money. It’s family and what good did I do with my money … I hope the money we’ve given, in its way, has helped the world and is helping the world.”
The brothers affected hundreds of thousands in Florida, Massachusetts and Israel, but probably nowhere more than in Beachwood, where the following are located: the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Building (a $16 million gift); the Mandel Jewish Community Center (a $13.5 million gift); and the Florence and Joseph Mandel Jewish Day School (a $17 million gift). Another Beachwood landmark, The Temple-Tifereth Israel, received $16 million from the Mandels toward a major renovation.
Other institutions that bear the family name include: the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Science at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland; the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Honors College at Cleveland State University; The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Humanities Center at Cuyahoga Community College in Highland Hills; the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Armor Court at the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Mandel Center of Leadership in the Negev, Israel; the Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem; the Mandel Leadership Institute Israel; the Mandel Center at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.; the Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach, Fla.; Mandel JCC of the Palm Beaches in Florida; and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
“He was my partner since 1940 in business until fairly recently when he became indisposed. He was my partner in philanthropy since probably 1950,” Morton Mandel, chairman and CEO of Parkwood, said of his middle brother March 22.
“He and my brother Jack (who died in 2011) were my two best friends; I would say they were my closest friends. His last few years were not good years and he can rest now. He had a wonderful disposition, he was exceptionally creative, and he was a rock,” said Mandel, speaking from his home in West Palm Beach. “He was somebody on whom you could lean for support, and it was a wonderful trip that I personally had with two brothers of that quality.”
Joseph Mandel was born in 1913 in Poland to Rose and Simon Mandel and came to Cleveland when he was 7.
An avid sculptor, Mandel created works that are on display at several institutions in the Jewish community and at his home in Moreland Hills.
Family recalls greatness
Steve Weinberg, Mandel’s son-in-law, said Mandel’s “legacy is so apparent because of the way they felt about sharing the tremendous wealth they acquired. His family is comfortable, but most of the wealth has been given to numerous philanthropic causes and will continue to support those causes almost indefinitely.”
Mandel “was not a very tall guy, but that was only his physical stature. Personality-wise and in charisma, he was a giant,” Weinberg said.
His daughter, Penni Weinberg, agreed. “He was tall in my eyes.”
Steve Weinberg said, “Joe was a unique person in that he was very smart and had a very tough outer persona. His nickname was Blackheart. But once you got through the veneer, he was really a soft touch.”
And Mandel’s heart stayed in Cleveland.
“Though he had a home in Palm Beach, traveled a lot and was a worldly person, his heart was clearly in Cleveland,” Weinberg said. “He had six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, and he cherished his family first and foremost. He was the life of the party, very gregarious and always had something to say. We’re going to miss him very much.”
Tributes to a major figure
Stephen H. Hoffman, president of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, said, “I was deeply saddened at the thought that an era has closed with him. You really can’t talk about Joe without talking about his brothers, Jack and Mort. They acted as one great community partnership. They did everything together to benefit both the Jewish community and the Greater Cleveland community, they shared in everything equally and they supported one another in their various interests.
“Joe had great insight into people and he had an artistic side,” Hoffman said. “He was a metal sculptor, and one of his statues graces our building, in the rear of the building where the staff comes in every day. It’s next to a garden that the three brothers dedicated in memory of their parents, Rose and Simon Mandel. Joe was a very proud Jew, very proud of his daughters and his Jewish grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and he was also a very dedicated lover of Israel.
“I think Joe will be remembered as one of the great American success stories,” Hoffman added. “He and his brother Jack were both in Europe and came to America and worked very hard during the Depression as they were coming to maturity. They later brought their brother Mort in and became a huge American success story and then gave back to the Jewish community and to America as philanthropists. They came from a family with no money and built a very successful business, giving employment to thousands here in Cleveland and then gave back enormous amounts of money for the good of their fellow citizens.”
Michael Siegal, who serves on the executive committee of the board of the Jewish Federations of North America and is a former board chair of the Jewish Federations of North America and former board chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, said, “The Mandel family is an inspiration to all of us in terms of not only business success but also family success. They have shown how brothers can work together and respect each other. Their lives were lives we would all like to emulate.
“Joe was artistic, he was clever, he was fun, he was a renaissance man,” said Siegal. “He was a very good guy, easy to talk to, had a real good personality. He was a wonderful family guy, dedicated to the community and his family, and the Mandels will be recognized as one of the leading families not only in the Jewish community, but the entire Cleveland community.”
Mandel was a life trustee of the Federation and an honorary life director of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, which publishes the Cleveland Jewish News.
Mandel Jewish Day School
Jerry Isaak-Shapiro, head of school at the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School in Beachwood, so named after an August 2015 gift of just more than $17 million from the Joseph and Florence Mandel Family Foundation, said he never got to know Joseph Mandel on a deep personal level due to his poor health in his final years. However, he heard plenty about one of his school’s two namesakes.
“They speak in the most glowing terms about their grandfather, great-grandfather and father,” Isaak-Shapiro said of Mandel’s family.
Isaak-Shapiro became closely acquainted with the family’s generosity.
“The entire family really lived the value of tzedakah and giving back to the community,” Isaak-Shapiro said.
He said family members told him how happy Joseph Mandel would be if he could see the school in its current state, both because his great-grandchildren currently attend it and because of how it has affected the community.
“His family has said that it would have been a supreme joy of his to see the school flourishing,” Isaak-Shapiro said.
The school will likely honor Mandel by displaying one of his sculptures and other commemoration events may be planned as well, he said.
A Joe Mandel sculpture outside the Mandel JCC received much attention when it was installed in 2011. Mandel JCC Executive Director Michael Hyman recalled plenty of questions about who made it and where it came from, due largely to the eye-catching nature of the artwork.
“We were fortunate that one of those sculptures is right at the main entrance, and it will be a permanent remembrance of his life and his legacy,” Hyman said.
“He was a dedicated and very generous supporter of our Jewish community and the surrounding community. These are people who have had an extraordinary impact on not just the Mandel JCC but every organization that they have supported.
“Everything from the front door to the back of the building was completely renovated and became a state-of-the-art facility,” Hyman said. “I can remember vividly the groundbreaking for the building and the pride. The look of pride on their faces will be something I always remember.”
The Temple-Tifereth Israel
Rabbi Richard Block, senior rabbi at The Temple-Tifereth in Beachwood and Cleveland, called Mandel “a fascinating and charming man” who with his brothers “created a legacy of vision, Jewish commitment an philanthropy that is unsurpassed. That left an impact on our Jewish community and Greater Cleveland, the state of Israel and the Jewish people, and his legacy will be enduring.”
In a March 23 telephone call from Jerusalem, Block said the brothers, each memorable in his own right, “had an extraordinarily close bond with each other both in business and philanthropy. They had a partnership that was quite visionary and they understood that great wealth conferred both tremendous blessings and equally imposing responsibilities and they have fulfilled them in a way that sets an example for all of us.
A community giant
Albert Ratner, co-chairman emeritus of Forest City Realty Trust, said, “He was a part of a remarkable family and he was a tremendously generous individual. He had numerous friends in the community, people he was very close with, and he was one of three remarkable brothers who are one of the best examples of how a family could work together from beginning to end and respect one another, love one another and just do great things together.”
Mandel was preceded in death by his wife of 62 years, Florence.
“To me, he was bigger than life, and I will always remember him that way,” said his daughter, Penni Weinberg. “He never forgot where he came from. He came from Poland when he was 7 with his brother Jack and sister Miriam, very humble beginnings.
“I took him to Ellis Island and I got him a copy of the manifest and a picture of the boat he came over on,” she recalled. “He was crying and he turned to me and said, ‘I did OK, didn’t I?’
“And I said, ‘Yes, you did great.’”
Staff Reporters Jonah L. Rosenblum, Ed Wittenberg and Carlo Wolff and Digital Content Producer Noelle Bye contributed to this story.