The Haspel Family: Love, Legacy and Impact

The Haspel Family“We have to work to make it like that.”

On the ongoing impact and legacy of the Haspel family

For Shirley Haspel, knowing someone was doing “just fine” was never enough.

“Something that really epitomized my mom,” says her son, Robert, “is that she would say, ‘How are you,’ and people would say, ‘Oh, I’m fine,’ and then she’d say, ‘How are you really? I want to know how you’re really doing.’”

Mrs. Haspel’s grandchildren would eventually come to file this as one of many “Mrs. Shirley questions.” Their grandmother was determined to know, understand and help others. She did not shy from what was hard or painful in the world. She wanted to walk right up and help, especially when it came to young people. This was a defining feature of her life, a hallmark of her legacy and a persistent force in her family’s ongoing generosity. It is also, at the Greater New Orleans Foundation, something we are proud to be a part of.

Mrs. Haspel was an avid volunteer and a social worker. Her husband, Robert Haspel, was a doctor. He, like Mrs. Haspel, stood out for his compassion and dedication to others, particularly his patients.

“I would constantly run into people and introduce myself, and they would say, ‘Are you any relation to Dr. Haspel?’” says his son, John. People were eager to share stories of the great doctor and man that he was.

Together, Dr. and Mrs. Haspel gave generously to the New Orleans community. When the Haspels first decided to partner with the Greater New Orleans Foundation for their charitable giving in 1989, we were proud to help facilitate their dreams for our region. Now, we work with the Haspels’ three sons, Robert, John and David, to steward their late parents’ funds.

Both Dr. and Mrs. Haspel believed that all children deserve the opportunities to grow up healthy and well with an excellent education. They also believed childhood well-being was inextricably linked to issues of racial equity and justice in our community. GNOF is therefore proud to administer three funds bearing this aspect of their charitable legacy: a donor advised fund, a field-of-interest fund and a supporting organization, all of which are focused on youth development and early childhood education.

Each fund works differently. A donor advised fund allows a donor, and their next generation (here, David, John and Robert), to invest charitable dollars at GNOF, and then advise us over time as to how they would like us to spend those dollars on the nonprofit causes they choose.

A field of interest fund lets the donor choose the field they would like to support (in this case, “Youth Development”) and GNOF carries out the giving based on our deep knowledge of local needs and nonprofits.

A supporting organization is like a private foundationbut GNOF manages all the accounting, legal paperwork and tax filings. For the Haspels, this is the DJR Foundation, named for David, John and Robert Haspel.

Roy Williams is the Program Officer at GNOF who has worked closely with the Haspel family in recent years. He bridges the Haspels passion and clarity of vision with a close, strategic understanding of our local landscape.

“Working with the Haspel family has helped me understand how listening can create a legacy. My conversations with the Haspels have helped me recommend strong nonprofits that align with each brother's interests while supporting children and families and making a lasting impact in the community as Mrs. Haspel desired,” Williams says.

In 2019, Mrs. Haspel and her family took a tour with GNOF to meet some of the people and see some of the places their generosity has touched. They were joined by other members of GNOF’s 1923 Legacy Society, generous individuals who have included GNOF in their estate plans. Together, we embarked on the 1923 Legacy Society Bus Tour, visiting high-impact nonprofits that the Haspels supported through their three GNOF philanthropic funds. We drove to City Park and toured the then brand-new Louisiana Children’s Museum, which the Haspels helped build. Not too far from City Park, we visited Educare. We saw the infants, toddlers and preschoolers who are receiving a strong, nurturing early childhood education within its walls. We heard from representatives of other powerful local nonprofits, too: the Silverback Society, the Youth Empowerment Project and Kingsley House.

For David, John and Robert, it was no surprise their mother chose organizations that work with young people. They recall her reading books aloud on local public television (in a fluffy princess costume, much to their embarrassment at the time) and visiting schools to work with students in-person.

“I think she always had a real fondness for children…and the focus of the funds has really taken hold because of that,” explains John.

Since their parents’ passing, the Haspel sons have continued their family’s commitment. It was natural; giving was embedded into the way that their parents raised them and lived their lives.

For their parents, says David, “It was important for us to realize that we were pretty lucky people and we had a responsibility to try and help other people.”

“They believed in the Jewish value of ‘tikkun olam,’ or healing the world,’” says John. “They knew we were very fortunate and they wanted to give back. Rather than preaching to us, they were setting examples.”

Now, David, John and Robert think back on those examples to guide their impact.

“My mom was more of a dreamer of what could be, of how it should be, and to strive toward that,” says John. “My mom was like, ‘This is how it should be, we have to work to make it like that.’”

At GNOF, it is our privilege and purpose to keep striving on their behalf. We take what dreamers like Mrs. Haspel hope the world can be. Then, we partner with them, their families and the great organizations of our region to make it our reality.

You can turn your philanthropic dreams into a reality with a gift in your estate plan. To learn more, contact Holly Robbins Hermes at 504-620-5264 or holly@gnof.org, or Kenneth A. St. Charles, Ph.D., at 504-598-1291 or kenneth@gnof.org.