Sheldon Goldseker, a Baltimore real estate executive and the founding chairman of a foundation that has given millions of dollars to hundreds of local institutions, was remembered this week as a generous, community-minded leader who pursued the betterment of Baltimore without seeking the limelight. He died Friday at 82.
Goldseker chaired his family’s Morris Goldseker Foundation and was the president and CEO of Multi-Properties Inc., a residential and commercial real estate developer.
“He was authentic and the real deal,” Marc Terrill, the president of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, said Monday of his friend and associate of close to 30 years. “During a time when the world needs people of principle to call out right and wrong and truth from fiction, we will sorely miss Sheldon’s voice of reason and humanity.”
Sheldon Goldseker was in his 30s when he was thrust into the role of foundation chairman after his uncle, Morris Goldseker, died and bequeathed $11 million to start a philanthropic organization aimed at supporting low-income residents in the area. In his will, Morris Goldseker, who had come to the United States from Poland in 1914, specified that proceeds of his estate should “give aid and encouragement to worthy individuals to continue their education, establish themselves in business, overcome such adversities as accident or illness, or to maintain or support themselves or their families.”
Under Sheldon Goldseker’s stewardship, the foundation has donated over $130 million to more than 600 nonprofits and other institutions in the Baltimore area, according to a biography and history provided by the Goldseker Foundation. The Baltimore Banner is among the organizations the foundation supports.
Recent beneficiaries of the foundation include the Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), the Greater Baybrook Alliance, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the city’s public safety office.
Among the chief recipients of Goldseker’s philanthropy over the years has been Morgan State University, where some 2,300 students have received scholarship support from the foundation, according to the foundation. In 2017, the historically Black university in Northeast Baltimore recognized Sheldon Goldseker with an honorary degree. Also honored by Morgan State that year was then-Vice President Joe Biden.
Sheldon Goldseker came into the public eye in the late 1960s, when activists picketed his uncle’s real estate business, levying accusations of price-gouging Black Baltimore homebuyers. Community groups in Edmondson Village and Montebello, along with homebuyers in those neighborhoods, filed a lawsuit in federal court against Morris Goldseker and his firm, where Sheldon Goldseker had also been working for about a decade, according to Baltimore Sun and other newspaper reporting from the time.
After arguing much of the case, plaintiffs said they didn’t have the financial resources to continue, The Sun reported. The case was dismissed, but the reputation stuck with the firm for years after, something Sheldon Goldseker contended with in the press.
“We were never proven guilty of anything,” he told The Sun in 1978 for a retrospective on his uncle. He added: “We won the battle and lost the war.”
Dr. Alvin Hathaway, the former pastor at West Baltimore’s Union Baptist Church, participated in the protests against the Goldseker firm as a young man decades ago. Hathaway said that his thoughts on the family real estate practices have evolved and that the controversy has been “reduced to a footnote of history” thanks to Sheldon Goldseker’s good work.
Sheldon became a “connector” between the influential philanthropic world and the communities on the ground in low-income and Black communities, said Hathaway, now president of his own foundation, the Beloved Community Services Corporation.
There’s a perception for some in Baltimore that philanthropic decision-makers don’t support Black and community-led nonprofits, but Hathaway said that’s never been the case when it came to Goldseker or his foundation.
“With Sheldon, the door was always open,” the former pastor said.
Jack Luetkemeyer, co-chair of the Continental Realty Corporation Advisory Board and president of Rollins–Luetkemeyer Foundation, first got to know Goldseker more than 50 years ago when the two went into real estate business together. He said Goldseker was a humble “man of his word.”
“Sheldon might have been the single most honest guy I’ve ever known in my life,” said Luetkemeyer. “In a tough industry, he was just above the fray.”
Colleagues credit Goldseker with integral work that helped establish two now-influential forces in Baltimore’s nonprofit sector, the Baltimore Community Foundation and the Maryland Philanthropy Network.
Goldseker became one of the first trustees of the Baltimore Community Foundation and served in that role for a record 38 years. Today, the Baltimore Community Foundation reports more than $600 million in grants distributed over the course of its history, with a particular focus on neighborhood, education and school-based programs.
In Goldseker, the Baltimore Community Foundation had “a visionary and a shepherd,” said Shanaysha Sauls, the group’s president and CEO, said in a statement after his death.
Sauls remembered him in an interview as at once soft-spoken, humble, well-researched and passionate about his work. “He does his homework,” Sauls said.
Sauls said Goldseker was hesitant when the community foundation wanted to dedicate a conference room to him, but he’s grateful now that they got it done in time for him to see it.
Goldseker helped to found the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, known today as the Maryland Philanthropy Network, in 1983 and served as the organization’s first president.
Until then, Hathaway said, there weren’t standards or formal training for the grassroots, community-based nonprofits in the city.
“We had neighborhood groups that were trying to do good. But we didn’t understand what it meant to be a gold-standard nonprofit,” Hathaway said. “He introduced that.”
Outside of his work, Goldseker was deeply committed to family. His wife of 52 years, Shelley Goldseker, said in a statement through the foundation that she has been comforted in recent days with messages from business associates, civic leaders and friends about the impacts her husband had in their lives.
“Sheldon led an incredibly impactful life that touched so many people in so many different ways,” she said. “In his quiet and unassuming ways, Sheldon always tried to set a clear example by generously sharing his experience and knowledge so others could join in and carry on the work that was so important to them.”