“Fundamentally kind and understanding, he gave direct and extremely pointed criticism where he thought it would be helpful. Though neglectful of his own health, he himself contributed and secured from others substantial funds for Detroit medical education and hospitals and made an enormous number of loans to enable college students to complete their education…There were many business and professional men who would not take a major financial step without his advice.. ”
– Julian Krolik (1887-1956) Detroit businessman and Jewish community leader on his friend Fred Butzel
THE IRONY AND THE PHILANTHROPY
Fred Butzel was admitted to the Michigan Bar in 1899 and soon after began a law firm with his brother called Butzel and Butzel. The firm was large and successful, but somehow Fred practiced law mainly for philanthropy and not the cash reward. He had no social aspirations; however, there was no one more in demand to attend social events.
Butzel shunned both wealth and status. As a philanthropist, it’s nearly impossible to list all the causes where he assisted or contributed. He was an early advocate for the idea of childcare / foster care; organized the Boy Scouts in Detroit; taught English to new immigrants. He attended more bar mitzvahs, engagement and wedding ceremonies – where officiated [and then often played piano] – than any other individual, anywhere. Dedicated to his family, Fred changed colleges from University of MI to Detroit College of Law in order to read to his father whose eyesight was declining.
Knowledgeable and trusted, he sat of the board of directors for many Detroit entities – foundations, banks, African American hospitals to automotive related businesses. Strong in his faith, he spoke frequently at his home congregation of Temple Beth El, as well as orthodox and conservative synagogues who beckoned to hear his words. As an attorney, he advised regular folks on establishing businesses to help strengthen Detroit and bring dreams to life.
In life and death, Butzel received many acknowledgements including honorary degrees; a building [on the left in photo}, an Israeli [then Palestine] forest, a 2 Detroit Rec Centers, a school, and two Detroit parks bear his name. Each year the Fred M. Butzel Memorial Award is presented to a Detroiter who exceeds in community service.
In 1947, the editorial director of the Detroit Free Press named him Detroit’s Most Valuable Citizen.
Detroit’s biggest supporter was lost on May 20, 1948 at the age of 70 years – Fred Butzel lived a life for the public good. It’s good to remember him.