Mourning the Loss of Eugene Applebaum

December 15, 2017 | Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit

We are deeply saddened to share the news of the passing of Eugene Applebaum, loving husband of Marcia, and dear father of Lisa Applebaum and Pamela Applebaum (Gaal Karp).

Eugene was one of the great pillars of the Detroit Jewish community and, together with his wife Marcia, he established a remarkable legacy as a leader and philanthropist in metro Detroit and beyond.

The range and depth of Eugene’s humanitarian work is extraordinary. He has been a longstanding benefactor of the Jewish Federation, which awarded him with its highest honor, the Fred M. Butzel Award, in 2013. In 1999, Eugene and Marcia announced the largest capital gift in the history of our Jewish community through the Jewish Federation’s Millennium Campaign for Detroit’s Jewish Future, expanding and beautifying the 195-acre West Bloomfield Jewish Community Campus, which is named the EUGENE AND MARCIA APPLEBAUM JEWISH COMMUMITY CAMPUS. One of the most special endowments he created is Tamarack Camp’s Applebaum Village, an enduring tribute to the summer camp he attended as a child—and which meant so much to him. Eugene was a lifetime member of the Federation Board of Governors.

Additionally, he was the cofounder of the Applebaum-Hermelin-Tauber Child Development Center in Israel; formed the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Beth Hayeled Building and Jewish Parenting Center at Congregation Shaarey Zedek; and established the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Professorial Chair at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. He was a member of the Taubman Institute Advisory Board and also served as an honorary chair of the Foundations’ Board of Advisors for the Detroit Jewish News Foundation.

Eugene was also extremely active in the field of healthcare, where his vision and generosity made a profound impact on the future of medicine, notably at the Eugene Applebaum Wayne State University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and since that time he contributed greatly toward research on this and related diseases, much at the Mayo Clinic. Today, The Mayo Clinic Eugene And Marcia Applebaum Neuroscience Center is the nation’s premier neuroscience research center.

Other medical institutions he supported include the Hermelin Brain Tumor Center in the Henry Ford Health System, which he and Marcia cofounded; and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. Beaumont Hospital’s Marcia & Eugene Applebaum Surgical Learning Center in Royal Oak is a premier training center for surgeons from around the world, recognized as the first facility of its kind.

The Applebaums also have been active supporters of the arts, and have been major donors to the Michigan Opera Theatre, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Hall and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Despite the enormous impact of his philanthropy, Eugene was a private individual who often chose to remain behind the scenes. Instead, he practiced a quiet form of leadership, providing his advice, support and mentorship to many.

Former Federation CEO Robert Aronson is one of those who considered him to be a great mentor as well as a close personal friend. He credits Eugene for guiding and supporting him throughout much of his career.

“When Gene was a boy, his mother gave his allowance to charity instead of buying him an ice cream cone,” Aronson notes. “And throughout his life he often mentioned that story, recalling how he learned the importance of tzedakah, though he still really wanted the ice cream! This says a lot about his approach to philanthropy and community involvement. He was ambitious and wanted things, but he knew that charity came first. And he always remembered who he was.”

A Lifetime of Passion and Determination

Eugene was born in Detroit on November 16, 1936, to Joseph and Minnie Applebaum, who provided their son with a strong and lasting Jewish foundation. His father was an ardent Zionist, while his mother shared her deep religious beliefs and values. He often recalled being taken to Dexter Avenue to see David Ben Gurion pass on his way through the city, a memorable event in a life of deep commitment to the Jewish state.

While the neighborhood was not financially affluent, Eugene grew up surrounded by a number of spirited, fun-loving Jewish kids, many of whom would later become business associates and leaders of the community, including David Hermelin (z”l) and Sidney Forbes.

Eugene met and married his wife Marcia in 1961, and they remained best friends and partners for over five decades. The Applebaums had two daughters, Lisa and Pamela, and four grandchildren, all of whom were deeply influenced by his extraordinary spirit and Jewish values.

Graduating from the Wayne State University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Eugene soon opened his first pharmacy in Dearborn, Civic Drugs. Through hard work, determination and a visionary growth strategy, he rapidly expanded the business and, in 1974, brought together six drugstores in the metro Detroit area to form Arbor Drugs, Inc. The growing drugstore chain was known for its exceptional quality and outstanding employees, many of whom would eventually take stock in the company as a reflection of their confidence and pride in the business. Arbor was named Drug Store News “Regional Chain of the Year” multiple times, and Eugene himself was acknowledged as a “CEO of the Year” by Financial World Magazine.

After thirty-five years running one of the largest and most successful drugstore chains in the region, he sold the business to the premier national pharmacy retailer, CVS. He then focused his energy running Arbor Investments Group, a real estate and financial investment company for which he served as President. He also was able to devote himself to the work that has motivated him since his days as a boy; helping his fellow Jews and others through philanthropy. Having benefited from the mentorship of individuals like Max Fisher and leaders of his generation, Eugene wanted to devote much of his energy to guiding others.

Eugene Applebaum’s extraordinary generosity—and Jewish spirit—is best reflected in his own words. Speaking on the occasion of the Butzel Award, he said:

“As a Jewish person, we are instructed by the Torah to give tzedakah to the Jewish people, and I feel a great responsibility to do this. I want to share the success I’ve had with the Jewish people.”

The funeral will be Monday, December 18, 2:00 pm at the Ira Kaufman Chapel.

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