Remembering Esther Capp

Esther Capp, the matriarch of one the St. Paul Jewish community’s most notable philanthropic families, passed away on July 15 at the age of 91.

In the St. Paul Jewish community, seeing the name Capp in or on a building is not a surprise. She and her husband, Martin, were long-time financial supporters of many organizations – including the St. Paul JCC. But Esther’s work went beyond financial contributions.

“Not only was she philanthropic with their family money, but in the things she was involved with in the community as an individual – the things she participated in, and her relationships with other people – you couldn’t find a nicer person or someone more thoughtful in her relationships with others in the community,” said Marvin Pertzik, a long-time friend of the Capps. “When the immigration of Russians started in the 1970s, she was very instrumental in their resettlement in St. Paul and her hands on work with that community. It was a very meaningful thing.”

Minnesota Hillel Executive Director Benjie Kaplan, who had been the development director for the St. Paul JCC, spent several hours going through old photos with them before the JCC honored them in 2013 for 50 years of involvement in that organization.

Esther and Martin Capp in 2014. Photo courtesy Witchell Photography

“The amount of history and connections to the community and what they’ve done for it, it was an impressive four hours to spend with people who are such cornerstones of the community,” Kaplan said. “Marty and Esther were more than just names on a building. Getting to hear why they are so involved was moving.”

The Capps also had a long history at Minnesota Hillel, and they generously helped the organization when the building was overhauled.

“Because the family was in the business of property management, they knew it was important to ensure that funding was in place for organizations as well,” Kaplan said. “When I met with them at Hillel and talked about paint and carpet and windows, they asked about the boiler, roof, and infrastructure. They were the rare birds that supported that work as well.”

JCC board president Bruce Fink said that Esther was always involved with decisions regarding donations.

“The two together were the most wonderful people to work with as an organization,” Fink said. “Marty was a big businessman, but he looked to his wife to help with the decisions.”

Kaplan said that the relationship evolved to friendship over his years of working with her.

“There’s not a time that I went to talk to them that Esther wasn’t warm and welcoming, asking if she could something, no matter her age,” he said. “You wouldn’t know they were major philanthropists. I Consider them more friends than donors. When we would meet, she would ask ‘What’s new?’ and ‘How are you?’ When it comes to major donors, you don’t get that too often.”

Esther Capp was preceded in death by her loving husband of 67 years, Martin, parents Samuel Wolf and Frances Wahrhaftig, and brother, Jerry Wolf. She is survived by her children, Rand, Lisa, Sami, and Amy; grandchildren, Ellyn (Christopher) Mortimer, Nancy Scibora, Susan (Bill) Tervola, Lindsay (Michael) McQuay, Alyson (Jessica), Adam, Sarah, and Dylan Straub, Zachary, Joshua, and Daniel Capp; great-grandchildren, Samuel, Haley, Charlie, Lily, Finley, and Marley; sister, Lillian (Newton) Stein; sister-in-law Sylvia Gertsman; son-in-law, Tom, and many loving nieces and nephews. Esther embraced life’s adventures through her passion for family, charity, and travel. Her love radiated to everything and everyone she encountered. The family wishes to thank all of Esther’s caregivers, Carren, Elsa, Mark, Tom, Rita, and Selina. In lieu of flowers, memorials are preferred to St. Paul JCC, Temple of Aaron, Sholom Home East or the donor’s favorite charity. Shiva is at 7 p.m., July 17 and 18, at Temple of Aaron Synagogue, 616 S. Mississippi River Blvd., St. Paul.