Editorial: Filling Louis Appell's shoes

York Dispatch
  • Louis Appell Jr. gave to countless York organizations.
  • Community leaders lining up to praise Appell should consider who will emulate his works.

Listing Louis Appell Jr.'s accomplishments is futile.

Appell was a benefactor to countless nonprofits in York County and York City, from the York Symphony Orchestra to DreamWrights Center for Community Arts to the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center to the York County Community Foundation.

And those are just the ones that are acknowledged. Time and time again over the years, local nonprofits in dire straits were suddenly put back on the right path by an "anonymous donor." Someone using that moniker recently donated the building that formerly housed the Lafayette Club to York College to use as a hub for its Center for Community Engagement, which has students working on plans for a better York. Whenever that happened, the name Appell would float by on the wind.

Louis Appell Jr. at his home in York.

York benefited greatly by having a native son who was not only willing to give back to his community but wanted to make it a better place.

Tom Donley longtime president of the York County Chamber of Commerce, said Appell's actions came from a desire to provide a "livable city that all his employees could thrive in."

Hundreds attend candlelight vigil for Appell

Appell died last week at the age of 92, having spent a large part of his life building the Pfaltzgraff brand and Susquehanna Communications into businesses that collectively sold for more than $1.7 billion in 2005 and 2006, and giving away huge amounts of money to local groups trying to improve his hometown. His obituary, taking nearly a quarter page of the newspaper, lists just a sampling of the community groups he served and the awards he won for that service, along with the businesses and organizations he led.

At a candlelight vigil in his honor at the end of York's First Friday event on Friday, more than 400 people remembered Appell's impact on the community.

"It's almost too immeasurable to list," said Mack Johnson, vice chair for the York County Heritage Rail Trail, another community project that greatly benefited from Appell's support.

By all accounts, Appell would not have appreciated all the attention. He relished his privacy to the point that this newspaper had only one recent photograph of him on file. He steadfastly refused to speak to the media about anything, especially projects he was giving money to.

Friends, business leaders mourn loss of Appell

As York's movers and shakers line up to publicly thank this very private man for his public service, the question must be asked: Who will step into Appell's shoes?

A few names come to mind:

State Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden, is becoming known statewide for speaking his mind, loudly. But he also quietly has been helping out favored organizations in York County. He gave the Helen Thackston Charter School a loan to ensure it could pay its teachers during the long state budget impasse, and his business, Penn Waste, has worked with the York County Food Bank. We might not always agree with Wagner's political leanings, but he has shown that he has a heart.

Gov. Tom Wolf, of Mount Wolf, is cut from the same cloth as Appell, another Ivy League-educated York County native who turned a family business into something larger. Wolf donates his gubernatorial salary to the State Employee Combined Appeal and the York County United Way, and his name is at the top of the donor list for many other nonprofits as well.

Josh Hankey, president of RSDC (formerly Royal Square Development and Construction), is one of the voices speaking out to thank Appell for his work, including giving a boost to Hankey's company as it got started. With a number of nonprofit organizations in the Royal Square area, including The Parliament Arts Organization, Hankey is on his way to building another real estate venture that benefits the community as well as its owners.

Any number of other community leaders also have the means and wherewithal to make York a better place. We hope one or all of them step forward, quietly, to ensure Appell's work continues.