We all know his name, of course, but who was Neil Hellman - besides "the guy who built the library"?
The answer, in part: Neil Hellman was an entrepreneur and philanthropist with a particular focus on health and education.
Neil Hellman was born June 11, 1908 to Harry and Nettie Hellman, right here in Albany.
His parents owned a series of theaters as he grew up. He frequently worked in their nickelodeons.
He managed a new enterprise roughly once a decade:
- Clothing stores in the 1930s
- Drive-in theatres and real estate in the 1940s
- Motels in the 1950s (including the first to have free color TV in each room!)
- Movie theatres in the 1960s
- Small rental storage facilities in the 1980s
Neil and his wife, Edith, married in 1930 and had two daughters.
Neil began raising thoroughbred racehorses in 1967. Pictured here is "Good Behaving" just after winning the $100,000 Wood Memorial Purse at Aqueduct in 1971.
Neil Hellman began practicing philanthropy early in his life and supported several charities for decades, although he is best known for the large monetary contributions he made in the 1970s and 1980s.
The first of these was to the Albany Medical Center and Medical College: his $2 million gift in 1975 enabled the first computer-linked brain scan laboratory in the region, as well as the Neil Hellman Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory.
His father and sister both died of cancer, and Neil's interest in medical research was based in the hope a cure for cancer might someday be found.
Albany Medical College awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1983.
His second big gift came in 1981, to the College of Saint Rose. It was, at $500,000, the largest single gift ever given to the college at that time. Along with two challenge grants, it expanded the library by 17,600 square feet. Neil Hellman chose Saint Rose partially to show that difference in faith does not have to be a barrier to generosity.
At the groundbreaking for the Neil Hellman Library at The College of Saint Rose.
He also provided funds for a school at Parson's Child and Family Center. He is shown here at its dedication: October 16, 1984, which Mayor Thomas Whalen III declared "Neil Hellman Day" in Albany.
Neil Hellman died at the age of 77, April 24, 1985 in Albany, a few days before the dedication of the catheterization unit at the Albany Medical Center. His wife Edith died August 4, 2006 at her home in Slingerlands.
They left behind them a great legacy of care for medicine and education - and more importantly, care for the people of Albany and the surrounding regions.