When Alvin Siegal spoke, people listened. And despite being soft-spoken, he was known as a visionary from whom many institutions in the community reaped benefits, such as the former Siegal College of Jewish Studies, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Oheb Zedek-Cedar Sinai Synagogue, Israel Bonds, Menorah Park and others.
Siegal, of Pepper Pike, died Sept. 25 at age 95.
“He was just a first-class mensch, and you could always turn to Al for help,” said Stephen H. Hoffman, president of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, who knew Siegal for more than 35 years.
“He was always ready to respond positively. He was a guy of vision, which you can see in the synagogue he literally created,” he said. “He was helpful to us in the development in Jewish community housing with his partner at the time in Leader Mortgage. Al was always there for us.”
Hoffman has many memories of Siegal, but one came immediately to mind.
“I ran through the streets of Moscow with Al,” Hoffman recalled. “We were on a (Federation) mission in 1988 and he and Laura were with us. Al was an avid runner in those days and I was running. I was a lot younger. I’m like 27 years younger than Al, and there we were in tights and whatever, running – two crazy Americans running in the streets of Moscow for exercise early in the morning. The only other people you saw on the streets were drunks. That’s a vivid memory.
“There are other memories of Al running down South Woodland (Road), often with Bob Gries, the two of them, running buddies, and you often see them making their way downtown.”
Over the years, Siegal was on the Federation board of trustees, and his wisdom impressed Hoffman.
“Al was just one of these guys where you can lay out a situation, lay out a problem, lay out a challenge, and he could help you think through where do you go with it,” Hoffman said. “And if it required financial support to get you over the hump, he was one of the first to say, ‘OK, I’ll be there with others,’ and that kind of leadership is precious.”
Siegal, the son of Minnie and Harry Siegal, was born Aug. 20, 1923, in Cleveland. He graduated from John Adams High School in Cleveland and served in the U.S. Army during World War II in the South Pacific. After returning home, he received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Cleveland College of Case Western Reserve University.
He founded Alvin Homes with his partner, Carl Millstein, and they built homes primarily in the western suburbs of Cleveland. He founded Leader Mortgage in downtown Cleveland with three employees, growing it to more than 200 employees with locations in many cities, making it the largest mortgage banking company in Ohio.
Milton Maltz, the co-founder of the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Beachwood, knew Siegal for more than 40 years.
“Alvin Siegal was a dear friend who not only cared about his friends and family, but the community at large as well,” he said. “For many decades, he would hike from his home in Pepper Pike to his office in downtown Cleveland to maintain his strength, and he did so on a daily basis.
Maltz called Siegal an active member of the Jewish museum who will be missed by his fellow board members.
“He was always caring about his family, obviously, but in addition, he really was a supporter of Greater Cleveland,” Maltz said. “To him, it was an important aspect of life to make sure we care about the city as well as each other.”
The Cleveland College of Jewish Studies was renamed Siegal College of Jewish Studies in 2002 for Siegal and his wife, Laura. In 2012, Siegal College and Case Western Reserve University announced they were combining their adult education programs into a new initiative, the Laura and Alvin Siegal lifelong learning program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Brian Amkraut, the executive director of the Lifelong Learning Program, recalls meeting Siegal when he was a faculty representative from Siegal College to the board and then two years later when he was provost of the college and worked in the transition from Siegal College to CWRU.
“In addition to his well-known generosity, he was just a sweet and kind man – always with a smile on his face – and (he) only wanted the best for the community,” Amkraut said. “He loved not only the college, but all of the good work that goes on in Jewish Cleveland. He’ll be sorely missed.
“As a young faculty member, he was just a figure and a name I had heard, but to have someone make a commitment and endow a very special institution for the community was very meaningful.”
The Siegals frequently attended programs and were happy to be part of the lifelong learning community, Amkraut said.
“It was always a special occasion when Laura and Alvin would participate personally,” he said.
Although they never ran together, Amkraut and Siegal talked about it.
“Alvin was a legendary runner,” he said. “He used to run downtown to his office most every workday and he ran numerous marathons.”
Barbara R. Snyder, president of CWRU said in a statement, “An alumnus of Case Western Reserve, Alvin Siegal always recognized the vital importance of education. He and his wife, Laura, appreciated how intellectual exploration enhances our lives and broaden our perspectives. Their generous support of Siegal College, and more recently of Siegal Lifelong Learning at our university, has provided wonderful opportunities for people throughout Northeast Ohio. We will deeply miss Alvin, and forever be grateful for his contributions to our community.”
Siegal also was instrumental in the building of Oheb Zedek-Cedar Sinai in Lyndhurst, which resulted from the merger of three synagogues, including Warrensville Center Synagogue, where he was a longtime board member and former president.
Muriel Weber, a former president of Oheb Zedek, knew Siegal for about
“He was very soft-spoken, he got things done,” she said. “(A) very soft-spoken man, given his role in the community and his leadership in the community. ... He made clear what he wanted and how he wanted things done, but (was a) very, very easy-going man.
“He was a leader, he was a man of vision. ... His leadership and vision helped to drive the move to Lyndhurst as the community shifted and moved. He was a very, very generous man and the chief benefactor with the new building. Our sanctuary is named after him and Laura.”
Siegal was recognized for his involvement with Israel Bonds on numerous occasions.
“Alvin Siegal served with distinction as general chairman of the Israel Bonds Cleveland advisory council,” said Thomas Lockshin, executive director of Israel Bonds for Ohio and Kentucky. “Alvin and Laura were also honored for their efforts on behalf of Israel and Israel Bonds at our annual Prime Minister’s Club International Tribute Event.
“Alvin was a dedicated volunteer and high-level investor that set the example for others to follow. Even in declining health, he was always concerned with the Israel Bonds campaign and supportive of our success. He will be missed for his wisdom, dedication and gentle manner.”
Siegal is survived by his wife, Laura; sons, Michael Siegal and Kirk Schneider; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.