Altruism was always a theme in the Appel home.
“It’s a mitzvah,” was a common refrain in the home headed by Billy and Elaine Appel. Daughter Nancy Appel says her parents taught her and her siblings they should always do the right thing because it was right, without any expectation of personal gain.
That’s one of the lessons on Nancy Appel’s mind as she remembers her recently departed father. Billy Appel died Dec. 21 at age 91. The Milwaukee native worked until age 85 as a certified public accountant and was heavily involved in the area’s Jewish community.
Elaine Appel said her husband was proud to be Jewish and felt he was a fortunate person. He believed everyone was responsible for giving back in life in whatever capacity they could.
In Billy Appel’s case, that took shape in many ways. He served as the founding chair of the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center. Appel also was a chair of the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, and he sat on the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s finance committee.
Harry Pelz, the son of Nathan and Esther Pelz and a past chair of HERC, said he shared 40 years of friendship with Billy Appel. He characterized him as the “mayor of Jewish Milwaukee.”
“He seemed to know everybody,” Pelz said. “He was involved in so many of the community organizations, both the JCC, the Federation, synagogue. He was a totally involved individual in the community.”
Betty Chrustowski, who also succeeded Appel as the chair of HERC, chaired an event with him marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps. She described Appel as a friend, a mentor and a “wonderful human being.”
Holocaust education and remembrance were long important to Appel, she said. He was one of the few people who was not a survivor or the child of a survivor who participated in Yom HaShoah commemoration events in Milwaukee before they started building up attendance.
“He helped us put Holocaust education on the Federation map,” Chrustowski said. Nancy and Elaine Appel said they learned after their father and husband’s passing how he lived out his value of altruism away from their home.
Since people learned of his death, Elaine Appel said she has received letters and phone calls from people who wanted to convey Billy Appel’s impact. One credited her husband for their success. Another said he changed their life through mentorship.
“He never, ever told me those things,” Elaine Appel said. “He just did it and never made a big deal out of it – never made a big deal out of it. Now I’m getting all of this beautiful feedback.”
Nancy Appel said she finds the response is the same “across the board.” They’ve heard the same message from relatives and people who knew Billy Appel professionally.
“This guy’s very consistent across all parts of his life,” Nancy Appel said. “That’s what he set out to do. Such a good guy.”