by Annette van de Kamp-Wright, Jewish Press Editor
Sarah and Ted Seldin and their family will be honored as Humanitarian of the year at the Jewish Federation of Omaha’s 2015 Annual meeting, to be held on June 1 at 7 p.m.
Ted and Sarah have been married for 58 years and have been blessed with two daughters and are the proud grandparents of four grandchildren. Stephanie and husband Rodger have two sons, Adam and Alex; Beth and husband Amnon Dotan have a daughter, Liatte and a son, Yonatan.
“Sarah and I, we’re practically newlyweds,” says Ted, who credits his family for what he has accomplished during his career. Those accomplishments are many; yet, when asked, he quickly changes the topic to his wife and daughters of whom he’s incredibly proud.
“All three have done so much for this community,” he says, “and it’s an honor to share this award with the whole family.”
Sarah is known for her ability to see the potential in previously abandoned spaces; in fact, she’s made a career of it. She is the President of restorers Inc., and in that role has revamped many buildings that had been terribly neglected.
“I like to take something filthy and dirty and turn it into something beautiful,” she told the Omaha World-Herald.
Ted can’t praise her enough:
“She was with the girls as they were growing up, constantly, and volunteered for Temple Israel and for the Heart Association and other community activities. She also found time to travel with me, and so we were together when I became chairman of the National Association of Home builders’ urban revitalization committee in the 1960s. For a long time, real estate development focused on the suburbs; but during the 1960s, many cities began to take a closer look at inner cities. We visited a number of cities to determine their approach to urban revitalization, and Sarah ended up starting her own firm when the girls were in Junior High. During the 1980s, downtown Omaha began to start focusing on revitalization.
For over 25 years, she was active in renovating and preserving historical properties in downtown Omaha which we could have lost otherwise. I am very proud of all the work she has done for the city while caring for our family.”
He is equally proud of his daughters. Stephanie met her husband Rodger Howard while on assignment, as she was reporting for television and he was taking photographs. Both Stephanie and Rodger have had impressive careers; Rodger was a news photographer for FOX News in Los Angeles, and Stephanie worked in Television production at NBC. She co-produced the documentary, Refusenik, which tells the story of Omahan Shirley Goldstein and the 40-year struggle to free Soviet Jews.
Beth and husband Amnon currently live on a Kibbutz in Israel, but she is a familiar face in our community; they still keep a home here in Omaha. When the Institute for Holocaust Education first opened its doors in 2000, Beth was there to lead the way; in her role as IHE Director, she created countless programs, exhibits, curricula and opportunities to teach people about the Holocaust. Dotan was previously involved with the Ghetto Fighters’ Museum in the Western Galilee, Israel, and returned there in 2013.
Ted himself was born and raised in Council Bluffs, where he went to public school. After that he attended the University of Iowa, where he obtained a BA in economics. He followed that with a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Iowa Law School in June of 1955.
He joined the military promptly after graduation and spent two years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force where he was a Captain in the Judge Advocate General department. After his active time ended, he remained in the reserves for 16 years, until his honorable discharge in 1968.
Ted and Sarah moved to Omaha in 1959 and became involved in the Jewish Community. Seldin has been a member of the Iowa Bar Association for 60 years, and early on obtained his real estate license for both Iowa and Nebraska. The Seldin Firm currently manages more than 10,000 apartments and over 1,250,000 square feet of mixed-use retail and office space. Some familiar locations the firm has developed include Royalwood Estates, Westwood Communities, Westwood Plaza and Montclair shopping centers as well as Valley View Terrace in Iowa.
From the beginning in 1984, Ted has been involved with the Jewish Federation of Omaha Foundation, serving as President from 1994-1996 and continuing his role as board member to this day.
Ted has served on the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce Housing Committee and its Board of Directors as well as on a variety of other boards, including Temple Israel where he was President and the Omaha Community Foundation, and his influence on the Omaha landscape through both his company’s real estate development and his volunteer work cannot be overstated. We could mention them all, and this paper would double in size.
Seldin’s career has always been focused on much more than the work itself; community engagement is obviously a high priority. A lucky thing, too: in 1975, he was asked to joined the board of directors and co-chair the building and grounds committee with Syd Osten. He agreed, just in time to co-chair the reconstruction committee after Temple was hit by the famous tornado. Needless to say, he and many others were busy overseeing the reconstruction of the synagogue for a long time.
Maybe the most important real estate work Ted Seldin has been involved with is the development and management of low-income senior housing, including Livingston Plaza. Early on, he saw the need for “decent places where seniors can live in dignity and security.”
Bert Lewis wrote in 2010:
“I don’t know where the inspiration originated, but I do know that Ted went to Washington and talked, cajoled, argued and educated the people who had the power to help. “I also know that when he was finished pleading his case, an FHA program was in place, which would provide assistance to seniors, assuring safe, clean and comfortable housing. It promised rent at no more than 30% of income, after deduction for medication. ‘If I have a legacy to leave, this is it,’ Ted says.”
From that, grew places like Livingston Plaza, the first of many and a great example of what such housing should look like. Livingston Plaza is owned by the Jewish Federation of Omaha; Seldin Company continues to manage it. The building is connected to the Jewish Community Center, seniors can walk down the hall and take advantage of programming in the building, access the gym and socialize without having to worry about the weather or where to find transportation.
In spite of all those accomplishments, Ted Seldin has remained humble and likes to point the spotlight away from himself. But, as Bert Lewis wrote in the Jewish press in 2010, Ted Seldin is “much more than a country boy.” In 2012, he was inducted in the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
When the University of Iowa Alumni Association in 2013 presented him with the Distinguised Alumni Award. they called him “an entrepreneur with a social conscience.”
Alan Potash, JFO CEO calls the Seldins “Strong community builders, not just in commercial and residential building but strong supporters of the Jewish community in Omaha and Council Bluffs and many other institutions.”
Potash added: “In conversations with people that know Ted and his family, one hears about the contributions they have made throughout the years.
“Their involvement ranges from supporting the Jewish Federation of Omaha and its agencies, the ADL and the Institute for Holocaust Education, Temple Israel, UNO to the cemetery in Council Bluffs. Ted has been a mentor for me in many different areas. Beth’s family and ours have been close for many years. I even had a chance to work with Stephanie years ago to bring the film Refusenik to Omaha.”
A heartfelt Mazal tov to the Ted Seldin family. May the blessings keep coming. Please join us in congratulating them at the Jewish Federation’s Annual Meeting on June 1, 2015.