Philanthropist Lee Seidman of Pepper Pike describes himself as “a retired car salesman.” He began selling cars and working for various dealerships in 1958 and later founded the Motorcars Group, which became one of the largest auto networks in the country, selling more than 300,000 cars. But few dealership owners could ever make so many impactful donations to medical and educational facilities as Lee and his wife, Jane. Together, the couple, who both learned the responsibility of charitable giving and volunteering at a young age, have changed the face of Greater Cleveland with their generosity.
In Northeast Ohio, the Seidmans are most known for their $42 million gift to University Hospitals, creating the UH Seidman Cancer Center. When it opened in 2011, it was only one of 12 freestanding cancer hospitals in the country. But there has been more, much more. Generous donations to UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Clinic-Hillcrest Hospital, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Ursuline College, ORT America, Suburban Temple and Mandel Jewish Community Center, as well as other recipients, preceded and followed the Seidman Cancer Center gift. The couple claim to have lost track of the total amount they have given away.
The Seidmans remain united in their desire to give back and make Cleveland (and their snowbird community in Florida) stronger, healthier and smarter cities. Many couples fight over minor monetary decisions (“Do you really need those $200 boots?”) to major ones (“Can we afford a bigger house right now?”). But, the Seidmans work in tandem and enjoy sharing their wealth.
Car Talk: Jane worked for Lee at his Jaguar-Volvo-BMW dealership in Cleveland, where she had many duties, including lease manager and repossession coordinator. “About a year-and-a-half into my employment, Lee came to me and said we needed to develop a social relationship,” recalls Jane. “I picked up my car keys, purse, swore at him and left. But, he was a car salesman and kept pursuing me. He had to make that sale.” Lee, who’s always the jokester, says, “She was cute, and I knew she would give me wonderful grandchildren.” He and Jane share a blended family of six children and nine grandchildren.
Wedding Bells: Thirty-five years ago, the Seidmans got married at Suburban Temple. Lee is Jewish, Jane is Christian and of Lebanese descent. They celebrate all holidays. “Lee is kind,” Jane says. “He loves my children, and it wasn’t an issue that I had three teenagers when we were married.” When the couple was dating, they attended a Greek wedding for some of Jane’s friends. She was worried Lee would be uncomfortable not knowing anyone. “But, when we walked in, the bride’s father hugged Lee and said he was so glad to see him. He had owned a shoemaker shop near the dealership. Lee danced Greek all night, and all my friends loved him. We walked out of the wedding, and I said, ‘I’ll marry you.’”
Fightin’ and Forgivin’ Words: “Who argues?’ asks Lee. “What do other couples argue about?” They talk about everything and are equals in the marriage, notes Jane. Disagreements only happen when Lee balks at working out, but he usually tells Jane she is right to pester him about his health. “Lee is almost 88,” says Jane, who is nine years younger than her husband. “We are saying no to more events and concentrating on the cancer hospital. I still volunteer and help patients who are friends or those who need extra help.”
Together Time: “We take time at home for ourselves. I like to cook; Lee likes to eat and have company over,” says Jane, adding that they also enjoy their menagerie of huge stuffed toys that share their home.