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Building stalwart Sydney Engel dead at 98

Sydney Engel grew up in a Brooklyn household where times were so hard that he and his brother Arthur took turns wearing their one pair of good shoes.

When he died peacefully at his Hewlett Harbor home on November 27 at the age of 98, Sydney Engel was one of the most respected and successful real estate developers of his generation.

Born in Brooklyn in 1923, the young man was seen instructing fellow Army Air Force recruits on the finer points of early radar. Having lost his mother at a young age, he returned home to care for an ailing father, during which time Sydney started an insulation company bearing his father’s name, Louis.  

Expanding his business through a reputation for hard work, efficiency, and performance, Engel grew his area of expertise from insulation, to include roofing, siding, and oil burner conversions. Lending institutions so heavily depended on Engel to improve properties, they began to refer business to the company, requiring, at one point, 15 salesman to work from Sydney’s Brooklyn basement office/apartment to handle the orders.

As Engel’s business evolved, legendary New York families such as the Rockefellers and Mellons engaged his company based on Sydney’s reputation as a no-nonsense, “stick to the schedule and the budget” general contractor who delivered what he promised.  As a result, he was often made a partner in development projects under his construction supervision.

Together with his first non-family partner, Sol Henkind, Engel would further expand his business over the next 50 years, building nursing homes, office buildings, and thousands of rental units throughout the New York – New Jersey metro area. 

By 1997, at the age of 74, when most successful entrepreneurs would be in retirement, Sydney decided it was time to seek new challenges and expand his business activities even further. In that year, he welcomed Jan Burman as a partner in a new company, Engel Burman, that has become synonymous with luxury assisted living and rental housing.  Before his passing, Sydney Engel was the partner in charge, supervising millions of square feet of new construction, applying the same intense focus, resolute dedication, and passion for getting the job done right that he first displayed as a young man whose sole business asset was an insulation truck carrying his father’s name.

Mr. Engel in a restored truck similar to one he started his business with nearly three quarters of a century ago

With partners Jan Burman, David Burman, Scott Burman, Steven Krieger, Michael Weiss, and Jon Weiss, today, Engel Burman is a fully integrated real estate company with an expansive portfolio including residential, commercial, senior living, healthcare, and properties throughout the eastern seaboard.

Sydney’s marriage of 70 years to the late Sylvia Engel leaves a legacy of three children: Robin Rudolph, Cathy Weiss, and Dr. Lewis Engel; eight grandchildren: Jon, Scott, Brian, Kimberly, Ashley Alexander, Nick and Matt; and seven great-grandchildren: Dylan, Harper, Sawyer, Liv, Brock, Crosby, and Sasha.

Long an admirer of the island of Jamaica, Mr. Engel founded a not-for-profit hospital there, Mo Bay Hope, where, not surprisingly, he oversaw its construction. He was awarded the honor of Commander by the Jamaican government for his charitable efforts that touched the lives of many on the island, and he was a board member of the American Friends of Jamaica.

Here in New York he was a board member of ADL and Hadassah as well as a Board member of Temple Israel in Lawrence, NY, and Franklin General Hospital in Valley Stream (now Long Island Jewish Valley Stream).

Following his great granddaughter’s diagnosis of pediatric cancer, Mr. Engel became a significant donor to Memorial Sloan Kettering, helping raise $2 million for pediatric cancer research over the last three years.

“In his nearly one hundred years of life, Sydney Engel charted a course from poverty to philanthropy, creating along the way an example of what can be accomplished by a man of integrity committed to hard work, high standards, and an insistence on excellence,” concluded his son-in-law, Michael Weiss.      

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