Friends, business leaders mourn loss of Appell

David Weissman, 505-5431/@DispatchDavid
  • Louis Appell Jr., a prominent York County businessman and philanthropist, died Monday at age 92.
  • Friends and colleagues describe Appell as "brilliant," "kind," and "irreplaceable."

Numerous York County business leaders and friends reminisced Tuesday about Louis Appell Jr., whom they described as an integral part of the community's past, present and future that can't be replaced.

Appell, a prominent local businessman and philanthropist, died Monday evening at the age of 92, family members confirmed.

In this file photo, York Revolution President Eric Menzer, left, presents the Downtown First Award for Lifetime Achievement to Louis and Jody Appell at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010. The Revs will honor Appell with a uniform patch for the rest of the 2016 season. Appell helped bring back pro baseball to York.

Appell was the former president and CEO of Susquehanna Pfaltzgraff, a pottery business that started in 1889. Appell was regarded as a major contributor to downtown York, as Downtown Inc named its lifetime achievement award after him and his wife, Jody.

Tom Donley, who served as president of the York County Chamber of Commerce for more than 24 years, said Appell "put York on the right path."

Developing the city: Appell's fingerprints, through financial and intellectual contributions, can be found on most of the city's major developments, Donley said.

Donley and other friends provided a brief list that includes PeoplesBank Park, Martin Library, Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, Royal Square Development (RSDC), Yorktowne Hotel and the Lafayette Club, which was recently gifted by "an anonymous donor" to York College.

Josh Hankey, president and CEO of RSDC, wrote in a statement that Appell's "lifetime of philanthropic investment" enabled projects in York City, including many of his company's development efforts, which would have been long delayed or impossible without him.

Donley said Appell's actions came from a desire to provide a "livable city that all his employees could thrive in."

At his company's peak, Appell led numerous subsidiary companies, including Susquehanna Communications, Susquehanna Real Estate and Susquehanna Media that totaled more than 3,600 employees, according to previous reports.

The company, which was fifth-generation owned, sold most of its assets in 2005 and 2006, including a $1.2 billion sale of Susquehanna Radio's 33 stations and a $540 million sale of Susquehanna Communications to Comcast, because no heirs were willing to take over.

Donley said the people who worked for him and with him will carry on his legacy.

"He was a great financial supporter, but most important was he was a servant leader," he said. "People who worked for him took his lead and got involved in bettering the community."

A private man: Loren Kroh, interim president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance, said Appell's total impact on the community might be difficult to quantify because he had a history of avoiding recognition.

"He did what he did because he believed in it, not because he wanted to advance his name," he said.

Kroh, who also chairs the Stand-Capitol Performing Arts Center's board of directors, said Strand leaders had in the past considered naming a space or project after Appell, but Appell "wanted no part of it."

Longtime Susquehanna Communications CEO Dave Kennedy recalled a speech his former boss gave on another man's uncommon leadership.

"He talked about how it's not uncommon to find leadership, but it's uncommon to find uncommon leadership in showing a commitment to the community's welfare," Kennedy said. "And as he was talking about (this other man), you couldn't help but smile because he was also talking about himself.

"He always tried to shine the spotlight on everyone else, but we all knew the spotlight belonged on him."

Louis Appell Jr. at his home in York.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Appell wasn't the kind of guy to attend news conferences or ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

"Many times, he was the one responsible for whatever the ribbon was being cut for, and no one even knew," he said.

Politically active: DePasquale said the last time he spoke with Appell was several weeks ago when state legislators passed a new school funding formula. Appell had helped work on that formula for many years, DePasquale said, and was very happy.

Campaign records show Appell was a major donor to many York County politicians, including friend Gov. Tom Wolf.

Wolf wrote in a statement Tuesday that the community lost "a true giant" in Appell.

"Louis was a very good human being who cared deeply about his community and its citizens, all of whom he considered his neighbors," Wolf wrote. "York and the region that surrounds it is a much better place than it would have been had we not had the privilege of sharing that place with Louis Appell.”

Appell had donated at least $725,000 to Wolf's campaign when he ran for governor, according to campaign records.

York County Commissioner Chris Reilly, who called Appell "one of the greatest citizens in York history," said he received a lot of wise advice from Appell.

"He was a true gentleman, soft-spoken but forceful," Reilly said.

DePasquale said one piece of advice he received from Appell that's helped shape his own political career has been to figure out what's right and learn how to sell it rather than figuring out what sells and trying to figure out how to make it right.

'A great person:' Donley said that, while it's easy to think of Appell as an icon, it's important to recognize that he was first and foremost a great husband and devoted to his family.

"He was just this competitive, brilliant guy and great business person that allowed him to do so much," Donley said.

Kennedy described his former colleague as "a great person, wonderful human being and friend and a terrific listener."

"He'd somehow always have time for you, which is a rare quality for someone of his stature," he said.

Friend and fellow philanthropist Bob Pullo, retired CEO and board member of Waypoint Bank, said Appell was the "one man everyone needs to know" in York.

"He was a great convener — of resources, people and talent." Pullo said.

DePasquale said no singular person will be capable of replicating Appell's impact of the York community and that it will take the entire business community stepping up to continue growing with him gone.

"They just don't grow Louis Appells on trees," he said.

Appell is survived by his wife, Josephine (Schmidt) Appell; daughter Helen Fox Appell of Portland, Oregon; son Louis J. Appell III, of San Diego, California; stepsons David Davidson and James Davidson; and stepdaughter Susan Davidson Linton. He was preceded in death by a daughter, Barbara Fox Appell.

— Reach David Weissman at or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.