Wednesday, July 15th, 2015...5:09 pm

Martin Capp’s enduring legacy

Jump to Comments

Capp, who gave the founding gift to build the St. Paul JCC, died at the age of 99

By ERIN ELLIOTT BRYAN / Community News Editor

When Martin Capp returned from serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he recognized a shortage of new homes and knew it was need that he could fill.

In 1936, Capp had spent time with a cousin in Omaha, Neb., who taught him the fundamentals of the lumber and wrecking business. Armed with that knowledge and $1,000 he had borrowed from a friend, Capp started Capp Homes, which sold pre-cut houses.

New homeowners chose their plan from a catalog, and Capp Homes cut the building materials at their lumberyard and delivered them to the lot; homeowners were responsible for assembling the homes, which could be done with Capp’s union carpenters or on their own.

According to a Capp Homes catalog available online, the company broke down the “money barrier” and made it “possible for everyone to own his own home.”


Capp sold that business in 1966 and founded Capp Industries, which builds and manages commercial warehouses throughout the Twin Cities. According to his daughter, Lisa Capp, president of Capp Industries, Capp’s success in business laid the groundwork for his generous philanthropy.

Martin and Esther Capp were honored by Temple of Aaron in November 2014 with a benefit featuring Mel Brooks. (Photo: Matthew Witchell)

Martin and Esther Capp were honored by Temple of Aaron in November 2014, with a benefit featuring Mel Brooks. (Photo: Matthew Witchell)

“Philanthropy was important to him, it was his business. And it was business that allowed him to be philanthropic,” Lisa Capp told the AJW. “They go hand in hand in our case.”

Capp died June 25 at the age of 99.

“Martin Capp was a true champion of our St. Paul Jewish community,” said Eli Skora, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul. “His and Esther’s generosity to the St. Paul JCC, to Federation and to many other institutions in the Jewish and greater community have made a difference that is felt every day. We’ve lost a leader and a great friend.”

Capp and his wife, Esther, among other contributions, gave the founding gift in 1963 that enabled the St. Paul JCC to erect its current facility on St. Paul Avenue, known as the Martin and Esther Capp Building.

Burt Garr, former executive director of the St. Paul JCC, knew Capp for 45 years and said he was a “great friend and a wonderful mentor.”

“Marty would often say his parents, even though they were ‘dirt poor,’ always gave what little they had to help others. Marty certainly lived those values with his magnificent generosity throughout his lifetime,” Garr said in a statement provided to the AJW. “His generosity to the St. Paul Jewish Community Center has enabled thousands and will continue to enable people from the very young to the elderly and those with disabling conditions lead more meaningful lives, a fact that brought he and Esther much joy.”

“The legacy that Martin Capp has left to our organization is immeasurable,” added Michael Waldman current executive director of the St. Paul JCC. “The impact of his leadership will be felt in our community for years and years to come.”

Capp grew up in Wabasha, but spent most of his adult life in St. Paul. In addition to the St. Paul JCC, Capp provided the lumber that allowed for the building of the Minnesota Children’s Museum. The Capps also made substantial gifts to St. Paul Children’s Hospital and United Hospital, Sholom Home East, Herzl Camp and Hillel at the University of Minnesota, where their support is helping to renovate the building.

Jewish Family Service of St. Paul honored the Capps with its Community Service Award in 1995.

Additionally, the Capps’ support of Temple of Aaron Synagogue dates back to the 1950s, when the Highland Park building was constructed, and continuing through the years with the Capp Lounge, Capital Repair campaign, Clergy Fund and Jubilee celebration. The synagogue hosted its second annual fundraising event, titled “Tribute to Special Community Leaders Marty and Esther Capp,” on Nov. 2, 2014; the event featured legendary comedian Mel Brooks.

“Marty was a pillar of this community, the likes of which will probably never be seen again, in terms of his vision, investing his time and expertise and support in successful and vital organizations in the St. Paul area,” said Rabbi Jeremy Fine, of Temple of Aaron. “His legacy here is grand… Without him and his wife, our synagogue wouldn’t have been able to grow by the leaps and bounds that it has.”

Lisa Capp said her father always taught her to be fair and honest in business, and to forge a good relationship with tenants — and to care about the community and the people around you.

And those were lessons that he continued to pass along to his grandchildren. Though he was a successful businessman and well known in the St. Paul community, to Susan Tervola he was just “Papa” — the man who let her stay up to watch Johnny Carson, and always had Eskimo Pies and vanilla ice cream in the freezer.

“They had a farm in Wisconsin and we used to go there and ride horses,” Tervola said. “He loved horses, loved dude ranches and Westerns. He would really get into it; we all had cowboy boots and cowboy hats. I have a lot of memories of us going up there on Sundays and hanging out having big family parties up there. Those were fun times when we were all together.”

Tervola is grateful that her five-year-old son, Finley, had the opportunity to know Capp — and is benefitting from the community Capp helped to create.

“When [my son] looks back, I think he’ll realize how much he has benefitted from what my grandparents did in the community,” Tervola said. “That’s something that not a lot of kids get to look back on and realize that their great-grandparents really made an impact on their lives and they were able to benefit directly from their generosity to the community. And I think that’s pretty amazing.”

Capp is survived his wife of 67 years, Esther, four children, 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

(American Jewish World, 7.17.15)

Leave a Reply