Shelby Modell, the matriarch of the Modell sporting goods empire, has died at the age of 98. Shelby is the wife of William “Bill” Modell, longtime chairman of the family business, and was a prolific philanthropist, political activist, and New York icon.
William and Shelby Modell met while on vacation at Glenmere Mansion. Shelby was in distress after falling into Glenmere Lake when she began to drown. William’s heroic rescue saved her life and began a love story that resulted in a 59-year marriage.
Raised in Brooklyn, New York, to Abe and Anna Zaldin, Shelby received her BA from Brooklyn College and her MA from Columbia University. In 1949, she married her esteemed, late husband, William D. Modell in 1949.
She has led a distinguished and long-standing career in philanthropy that has benefited the fields of health, mental health, education and the arts.
She was the matriarch of Modell’s Sporting Goods, founded by Morris Modell in 1889, and the wife of the CEO, the oldest and largest family-owned sporting goods company in the country with 150 stores in the Northeast.
Shelby was the national co-founder of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and the founder of the CCFA, Long Island Chapter. She started the organization after her beloved son Michael was diagnosed in his teens and tragically passed away in 2011 from long-term complications of the disease. Since then, she has made the CCFA her life’s work, transforming millions of lives in the process: raising hundreds of millions of dollars for research, inherited by her son Michael.
In addition to the CCFA, Shelby was a charter member of the American Digestive Disease Society and founder of the Jeffrey Modell Foundation for Immunological Research. Modell was the founder of the Gilda Radner Foundation “Gilda’s Club” and served as secretary on its board of trustees. She was also a founder of Hewlett House, a breast cancer resource center.
She has served as President of the Metropolitan Geriatric Center’s Long Island League; Chairman of the Five Towns Development Fund for Lincoln Center and founding patron of the Metropolitan Opera. She was also a founding member of the Seawane Club.
Shelby was also very active in political circles. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the US-Panama Canal Treaty Negotiating Committee. In 1979, Mayor Abraham Beame appointed her commissioner of the New York City Youth Board. In 1987, Governor Mario Cuomo appointed her to the New York State Council of the Arts. Modell was a member of the prestigious National Health Council of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and was responsible for raising $150 million to build their new psychiatric institute. She subsequently received a Presidential Distinguished Commendation for her efforts in advancing research in the field of mental health.
More notable than her incredible list of accomplishments was Shelby, a devoted wife, mother, sister, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend to all. Her purpose in life was to help people; She was the person everyone went to for the best advice for their loved ones. Shelby left a lasting and meaningful impression on all who were lucky enough to meet her.
She is survived by her sister Claire Kaufman, children Leslie, Michael (who died in 2001), Abby and Mitchell, and grandchildren Shawn, Alex and Gila, Missy, Andrew, Ashley and David, Brittany and Jeremy, Ashley, Maxwell, Matthew, the nieces Judy Boslow, Mindy Boslow, Lisa Boslow and great-granddaughter Myka.
The family will hold a private service at the Riverside Memorial Chapel in Manhattan on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 at 10 a.m. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America Research Fund in memory of Shelby Modell.