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Louis Appell Jr.: Philanthropist and business leader synonymous with York, revitalization

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Louis Appell Jr., a philanthropist, business leader and community leader synonymous with York and its revitalization, died in late June at age 92.
Louis Appell Jr., a philanthropist, business leader and community leader synonymous with York and its revitalization, died in late June at age 92. - (Photo / )

Richard Brown has not forgotten what the late Louis Appell Jr. once said to him about details.

“Details are important,” Appell told Brown, a long-time York banking executive and today development director for the York Symphony Orchestra, because “if you pay attention to the details, and if everyone knows that you do, the larger issues, generally, will take care of themselves.”

Appell, the philanthropist, business leader and community leader synonymous with York and its revitalization, died in late June at age 92.

But the lessons he taught to York-area business leaders who carry on his legacy are alive and well, they said in interviews conducted since Appell’s death.

Brown knew from watching Appell, a longtime symphony supporter, that the smallest details of a symphony dinner — like the table settings, the music, even the color scheme — were important.

But details were still never as important to Appell as people, Brown said, recalling that the York leader was instrumental in creating in 1990 what is now the Farm & Natural Lands Trust of York County.

One day he called Brown and told the bank official he wanted to name Brown’s brother, Stanley, who helped operate the family fruit farm in Loganville, as its first board president.

“I’m not sure we’ll ever see someone like him again.”

- Richard Brown, York Symphony Orchestra

“Louis Appell called me! Louie Appell!” Brown’s brother said to him later, excited, but also expressing concerns about how he might relate to a well-known, wealthy business leader.

But in fact, Appell was among the most down-to-earth of men, Richard Brown said.

“That story is so indicative of him, that he would reach out to people, and see the potential in them when they were apprehensive they could do something,” Richard Brown said. “I’m not sure we’ll ever see someone like him again.”

Being ready

Long-time York hospital executive Raymond Rosen first got to know Appell when Rosen came to York in the early 1970s. He could see right away that Appell was prepared.

Rosen, now retired vice president of operations and COO of WellSpan York Hospital, remembers Appell, as a board member for the hospital, speaking up when hospital officials were considering moving to suburban York.

“‘We owe it to the city to stay in the city,’ he would say,” Rosen recalled in mid-July. “That was just something that Louie Appell said all of the time.”

“I just couldn’t respect someone more,” the retired executive added. “He was an absolute champion of the downtrodden. His goal was to make the hospital the best it could be, but also to help (patients) save the most money.

“Everything (good) you read about him is true.”

Community value

David Cross, president and chief operating officer of the Silver Spring Township construction firm R.S. Mowery & Sons Inc. and also chairman of the York City Redevelopment Authority, knew Appell for 27 years, and saw right away that “community was much more important to him than running a business.”

As soon as he started working for Appell’s real estate division, Cross recalled, Appell encouraged Cross to be involved in the York community, and he repeated that message to many people, so strong community involvement in the White Rose City continues after his loss.

“We can’t all write million-dollar checks, but if there are 1,000 of us writing $1,000 checks,” it’s the same thing, Cross said, and Appell knew that “you can be equally impactful by having more people give less.”

Here are thoughts on Appell from other York business leaders:

Julie Lando, president, Grit Marketing Group recalled reminiscing with Appell one time about the days when business was done on a handshake.

“We talked about the importance of having a sense of ‘community and giving back,’ in whatever form that may take, and the trickle effect that is created, and how a simple gesture can inspire the desire to do better and leave a lasting impact on others,” Lando said.

Last year, when she changed the name of her company from iMoxie to Grit, and opened a second location, Appell sent her a letter of congratulations: “It was a small gesture like this that continues to inspire you during your journey,” she said.

Eric Menzer, president, York Revolution baseball team: “It’s not what he said to me, it’s how he was a role model in every respect.”

Menzer shared an excerpt of a piece he wrote for the playbill the team is now handing out to fans at games, describing how he knew Appell since 1988, how critical Appell was to the building of the team’s downtown York stadium, and how “he believed in York when others did not.”

Todd Fogdall, president and CEO, Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center: “When he asked you a question, you knew that he was genuinely interested, and he listened intently to your response. This went for business-related questions and conversations as well as personal.”

JJ Sheffer, site manager, York’s CoWork155 shared-office space: “He was generous, not only with his significant financial resources, but also with his time and constructive feedback. He was accessible. His expectations were high. If you were a good steward of his investment, you could count on having him as a trusting supporter and benefactor in your corner. It was motivating and empowering.”

John Bailey, president of York’s Bailey Coach Inc., remembers when he was on the nominating committee for a top business award, and suggested Appell’s name: “The committee was in agreement, and I met with him in his office to advise him of our choice, (but) he very politely stated that there were other people that deserved the honor more than he did and refused to be recognized.

“Personally, he was my No. 1 pick, but he preferred to stand in the shadows and do the yeoman’s work for the York community as he always did.”

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David O'Connor

David O'Connor

Dave O'Connor covers York County, manufacturing, higher education, nonprofits, and workforce development. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at doconnor@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @DaveOC_CPBJ.

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