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Remembering Howie Capell – A Guest Contribution by Mel Kieschnick

I write this on 9-11-19 remembering that sad and infamous day eighteen years ago. Sadness continues to overwhelm me as I recall all those innocent victims. I recall especially also those 60 children who were all students in the Lutheran Schools of New York who on that day lost either a parent or a grandparent. I recall those trapped, those who leapt to their death. And I recall the public servants who did all they could to assist. Painfully I remember those misguided men who perpetrated this unthinkable evil-and did it in the name of God.

I remember with special admiration and gratitude the many who rendered all kinds of supportive services to those so terribly affected by this event. I recall with special gratitude and admiration the incredible work of Lutheran Disaster Relief New York under the extremely capable leadership of John Scibilia.

In the midst of the throng that passes by in my mental image I recall one who was not at the Twin Towers that day but later assisted many of those affected by that disaster-HOWARD CAPELL. Howie was an incredibly gifted and big-hearted New York lawyer. Howie was my personal lawyer and he was the official lawyer for The Lutheran Schools Association-and of many other Lutheran friends, churches and schools.

Of special interest is the fact that he was the persistent, patient, unrelenting and capable attorney for Dr. David Benke. Dr. Benke was the President (Bishop) of The Atlantic District of the LCMS. He joined thousands in a public outpouring of prayers at Yankee Stadium praying for all those affected by 9-11. Some high church officials deemed his prayerful participation contrary to Lutheran doctrine and practice and sought to have President Benke defrocked. Howie was his legal representative and hung in there for years until Benke was finally cleared

Howie did more. He pleaded the case of many public service employees or dependents who lost their lives or whose lives were severely negatively affected by all that went on in, under, and near to the those fallen towers. Of special note was the appropriate benefits which he secured for many police officers and their families. I have written in a previous blog how he became known throughout the city for his tenacious advocacy and how police officers quickly recognized his automobile, cleared traffic for him, found him immediate parking spaces-always free and within close walking distance of his destination-even in the midst of Times Square.

Previous to the 9-11 situation Howie was always there for The Lutheran Schools in New York and elsewhere. He fended off suits brought by upset parents or angry former teachers. He was especially helpful in more than one case through his unbelievable contacts and pleadings with the IRS and other government agencies. On at least three occasions he aided schools which had withheld FICA payments from employees but never sent them in the IRS or Social Security. In each case Howie used his skills and contacts to have fines written off and the balances reduced.

He helped write all the documents to have The Lutheran Schools Association be properly registered with government agencies -and he did it all pro bono.

He wrote my will. When by God’s special grace to me to I made a significant profit on an investment he insisted that I tithe the profits with a gift through a church related charitable remainder trust. Now 25 years later I still get a generous annual interest payment and at my death a trio of my favorite causes will receive their remainder.

And he was fun to be with. He was not a drinker of alcohol but always invited his guests to enjoy a libation. He took me to New York steak houses that were way out of my price range. He brought guests to benefit golf events and purchased more lottery tickets than anyone else. Of special interest to me was when he and Sheila accompanied me on an incredible tour of China (including the whole Eastern section) and Tibet. He met everybody, left the group when he wanted to do his own thing, and made friends with all whom he encountered. And a couple years after that China trip he joined me and a couple others for an unbelievable and unheard of “week-end expedition to Hong Kong for golf”.

He was a strong family man and it was fun to watch and listen to his family interactions. His sons wisely chose not to be his business partners-and loved him dearly. His marvelous wife Sheila and he was always at odds on foreign travel, eating choices, how much time to spend in their Florida home and lots of other stuff – but always loved each other, stood up for and by each other and were 100% mutually faithful.

Howie loved doing work not only for Lutheran churches and schools but also for many other churches and he had the reputation as the right one to go for if any religious organization in New York ever needed legal advice or representation.

His heritage was 100% Jewish. He was not one to be overly committed to observing the Sabbath. But especially in his later days as he (way too early) suffered and eventually died of cancer it was important to him that appropriate religious rituals and expectations be observed.

And so today I remember my friend, my advocate, my model, my brother: HOWARD CAPELL.

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