Longtime Brandeis benefactor dies at the age of 102
By David E. Nathan
Although he never graduated from college himself, Joseph Mandel’s generosity and commitment to Brandeis helped lift the fledgling university to the top echelon of American higher education. The second of three brothers, he died on Tuesday (March 22) in Palm Beach, Florida, at the age of 102.
Beginning with a gift from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation in 1953, five years after the University’s founding, the Mandel family became among the most generous benefactors in Brandeis history.
Their biggest gift funded the $22.5 million Mandel Center for the Humanities, which opened in October 2010. The gleaming, four-story structure reflects the family’s commitment to a liberal arts education grounded in literature, language and philosophy. A picture of the three brothers greets visitors as they walk in the building’s main entrance.
“It is impossible to fully measure the enormous impact that Joseph Mandel and the Mandel family have had on Brandeis. Since making their first gift in 1953, they have been loyal friends,” Interim President Lisa M. Lynch said. “Their support is historic in scope and will benefit Brandeis students and faculty for generations to come.”
Joseph’s older brother, Jack, died in 2011 at the age of 99. Joseph's surviving brother, Morton Mandel, 94, and Morton's wife, Barbara, a longtime Brandeis trustee, continue to be very involved with the life of the University. Morton and Barbara’s daughter Amy graduated from Brandeis in 1973.
“I have always admired the Mandel brothers’ dedication to each other and their commitment to sharing their wealth through the Mandel Foundation,” said Nancy Winship, P’10, P’13, senior vice president of institutional advancement. “Joe will be missed by everyone at Brandeis whose life has been touched by the Mandel family’s generosity.”
The Mandels’ philanthropic efforts at Brandeis have funded the construction of buildings, and supported students, faculty and programs. They established the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, which opened in 2002, and created three faculty chairs: the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professorship in Jewish Education; the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professorship in Jewish Education Research; and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Professorship in Jewish Education Thought. They also support students through the Barbara and Morton Mandel Graduate Fellowships in the Humanities, and the Barbara and Morton Mandel Graduate Fellowships in English and American Literature.
Joseph was born in 1913 in Poland, and moved to the Cleveland area with his family when he was 7 years old. In 1940, he and his brothers pooled $900 to purchase their uncle’s store and founded Premier Automotive Supply. They built the business into a leading industrial company that went public in 1960, was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1964, and compiled an outstanding record for profit and innovation. In 1996, Premier merged with Farnell Electronics to form Premier Farnell, a transaction that netted the brothers $1.8 billion.
“His last few years were challenging, but he had a great life,” Morton Mandel told Cleveland.com. "My two brothers were my best friends. That was a very precious gift we got from our parents."
Morton told the website that his brother was an avid sculptor who displayed many of his works at his home in Moreland Hills, Ohio. Joseph also enjoyed driving his red Ferrari, according to his brother. “It was one of the sorriest moments of his life” when he could no longer drive it, Morton told Cleveland.com.
In 1953, the Mandel brothers created a charitable foundation that today focuses on the management of nonprofit organizations; Jewish education and continuity; leadership; higher education; and urban neighborhood renewal. None of the brothers graduated from college, but educational institutions have major beneficiaries, including Brandeis and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Joseph Mandel was predeceased by his wife of 62 years, Florence. Survivors, in addition to his brother, include two daughters, Michele Beyer and her husband, Larry, and Penni Weinberg and her husband, Stephen; six grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.