Born in 1934 in Worcester, Massachusetts, during the Great Depression, Edmund Ansin was the son of Sidney and Sophie Ansin. Sidney, who was the son of a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine, was the founder of Anwelt Shoe, a manufacturer of shoes. When young Edmund was seven years old Sidney moved the family to Florida, where he went on to invest in real estate and became well-off financially. Sidney and Sophie were founding members of Temple Beth Shalom in Miami Beach. Eventually Edmund was sent back to Massachusetts for prep-school, and went to Harvard for two years, then to the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a BS in economics.
When Edmund’s father passed away in 1971 he became the president of the Sunbeam Television Corp, a holding company for Miami’s Channel 7 TV station, WSVN. The station began to affiliate with Fox Network, and used news broadcasts from the newly launched CNN satellite network. In contrast to the way most independent stations operated then, Ansin decided to focus his station on news coverage. And even the news coverage was unconventional, shying away from the stoic presentations of staid news anchors, Ansin’s news programs were fast-paced, crime-lead stories with breaking news coverage and good-looking anchors. Under Ansin’s direction WSVN news became the market leader, bringing in $96 million in revenues in 2011.
Ansin’s giving is legendary, becoming the only person to have been awarded the United Way’s Alexis de Tocqueville Award for outstanding philanthropy in three different cities. He gave $1 million to build a radio station at Emerson College and a technical communications building. Together with Edmund’s brother Ronald, they donated $2.6 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston and their Youth Service Providers Network.
Iris Apfel was born Iris Barrel in New York City in 1921. Highly influenced by her mother, Sadye, who owned a fashion boutique, Iris became interested in fashion at a young age. After studying art history at NYU, she worked for the well-known fashion magazine, Women’s Wear Daily, as well as for an interior designer.
With her husband Carl, she opened a textile firm called Old World Weavers, running it together until 1992. For forty years, from 1950 to 1992 she engaged in several design restoration projects, including working for the First Ladies of nine different presidents, from Truman to Clinton.
Through the years Apfel built up a large and elaborate collection of clothing, jewelry and accessories of every kind, from the cheapest baubles to the most expensive jewels and fabrics. She was relatively unknown until 2005, when the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York featured an exhibit on Apfel’s personal style called: “Rara Avis: The Irreverent Iris Apfel.” The exhibition was a huge success, and brought Apfel into the glare of the public spotlight.
Her next step up the fame ladder came when iconic filmmaker Albert Maysles made a documentary about her, called Iris. It premiered at the New York Film Festival in October 2014.
In 2016, the Women Together foundation honored Iris for her lifelong support and dedication of artisans all over the world. The award was present to Apfel at the United Nations, in the Delegates General Assembly hall.
Iris Apfel’s modesty and joie de vie are well-known, calling herself the “geriatric starlet” with surprise and an element of disbelief.
When President Obama first took office in early 2008, the country was just entering a financial collapse still being felt even today, eight years later. During Obama’s first speech to the new Congress, he mentioned the generosity of a special man in South Florida: Leonard Abess.
“Hope is found in unlikely places,” said the president. “I think Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him.”
Perhaps that story, more than the many others, sums up what this generous philanthropist is all about.
Abess’ parents were both Jewish immigrants from Romania. Abess grew up in Providence, Rhode Island and moved to Miami to take the job as an independent auditor for the First National Bank of Florida. Joining with Baron de Hirsch Meyer he co-founded City National Bank in 1946.
In 1949, when local hospitals refused to hire Jewish doctors, Abess and other Jewish residents pooled together their funds and built the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach.
He was a trustee of the University of Miami and established the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy with a $5 million donation in 2006.
But his unprecedented decision to share $60 million of his wealth with 399 workers and 72 former employees, is certainly one of the many ways he is remembered.