By Mac Sorensen
Shelby Modell, the matriarch of the Modell’s Sporting Goods Empire, has died at the age of 98. Shelby is the wife of William “Bill” Modell, the longtime Chairman of the family-run company, and was a prolific philanthropist, political activist, and New York icon.
William and Shelby Modell met at Glenmere Mansion while vacationing. Shelby was in distress after falling into Glenmere Lake, when she began to drown. William’s heroic rescue saved her life and began a love story that flourished into a 59-year marriage.
Raised in Brooklyn, New York to Abe and Anna Zaldin, Shelby received her B.A. from Brooklyn College and her M.A. from Columbia University. In 1949, she married her cherished, late husband William D. Modell in 1949.
She has led a distinguished and longstanding career in philanthropy, benefiting the fields of health, mental health, education, and the arts.
She was Matriarch of Modell’s Sporting Goods founded by Morris Modell in 1889 and the wife of the chairman of the board, the nation’s oldest and largest family-owned sporting goods company with 150 stores in the northeast.
Shelby was the national co-founder of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and was the founder of the CCFA, Long Island Chapter. She started the organization after her adored son Michael was diagnosed in his teens, who then tragically passed away in 2011 due to long-term complications from the disease. She has since made the CCFA her life’s work and has changed millions of lives in the process: raising hundreds of millions of dollars for research, in the legacy of her son Michael.
In addition to the CCFA, Shelby was the founding member of the American Digestive Disease Society and a founder of the Jeffrey Modell Foundation for immunological research. Modell was a founder of the Gilda Radner Foundation, “Gilda’s Club,” and served as secretary on its board of trustees. She was also a founder of Hewlett House, a breast cancer resource center.
She has served as president of the Long Island League of the Metropolitan Geriatric Center; chairman of the Five Towns Development Fund for Lincoln Center and was a founding patron of the Metropolitan Opera. She also was a founding member of the Seawane Club.
Shelby was also very active in political circuits. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the negotiating committee of the U.S. Panama Canal Treaty. In 1979, Mayor Abraham Beame appointed her as a commissioner on the New York City Youth Board. In 1987, Governor Mario Cuomo appointed her to the New York State Council of the Arts. Modell served on the prestigious National Health Council of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and was responsible for raising $150 million to build their new Psychiatric Institute. Subsequently, she received a special Presidential Commendation for her efforts in promoting research in mental health.
More notable than her incredible list of achievements, Shelby was a devoted wife, mother, sister, grandmother, great grandmother, and friend to all. Her life’s purpose was in helping people; she was the person that everyone went to for the best advice for their loved ones. Shelby left a lasting and meaningful impact on all who were lucky enough to cross paths with her.
She is survived by her sister, Claire Kaufman, her children, Leslie, Michael (who passed in 2001), Abby, and Mitchell, and grandchildren Shawn, Alex, and Gila, Missy, Andrew, Ashley and David, Brittany and Jeremy, Ashley, Maxwell, Matthew, nieces Judy Boslow, Mindy Boslow, Lisa Boslow, and great-grandchild, Myka.
The family will be holding a private service at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 at Riverside Memorial Chapel in Manhattan. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America Research Fund in memory of Shelby Modell.
This obituary first appeared on amNY.com.