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about Sheldon and Elinor Seevak 

Sheldon (Shelley) Seevak in 2007

photo: Ke Zhang '06

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Shelley Seevak in 2007 with winners of the Seevak website competition and, on the far right, Elinor (Ellie) Seevak and Judi Freeman 

photo: Ke Zhang '06

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Shelley Seevak addressing the guests at the Seevak website competition, 2007.  Behind him at right is Julie Ng '03, principal designer and webmaster for the learntoquestion site (2004-).

photo: Ke Zhang '06

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Shelley Seevak with Ke Zhang '06, one of the architects of the learntoquestion.com site.

Shelley (right) and his sister Jacquelyn (left) near their childhood home in Roxbury. 

photo courtesy of the Seevak family

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Shelley during elementary school

photo courtesy of the Seevak family.

Ellie and Shelley shortly after meeting when she was at Simmons and he was in law school .

Shelley (in his Coast Guard uniform) with Ellie,  mid 1950s

photo courtesy of the Seevak family.

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Shelley and Ellie at their wedding in 1955

photo courtesy of the Seevak family

On the occasion of his passing in 2007, a former Boston Latin Facing History student wrote about Shelley Seevak:

Mr. Seevak was optimistic, not only about today's youth but also the world (despite the crazy times we live in) because he knew a secret. Everyone changes the world in small ways that can have enormous ripple effects. Latin students face tall and maybe impossible expectations to be the best and to also change the world, to be a doctor and cure cancer or to become the next Bill Gates and start the next foundation to fight poverty and whatnot. Implicitly these expectations of greatness are there for many of us. Mr. Seevak showed me that greatness has nothing to do with intellectual ability or wealth. One changes the world by being a human being: being open, kind and considerate of others, and most importantly, by caring. He cared for Boston Latin and its Facing History program. He cared for its teacher and the students, past and present. And he cared for me.

 

Sheldon Seevak changed my world. And that has made all the difference.

Were it not for Sheldon (Shelley) Seevak ‘46 (1929-2007) and his practically-a-BLS-alum wife Elinor (Ellie) Seevak (née Alpert) (1933-2021), the Facing History program at Boston Latin School simply would not exist.   Shelley's offer to then Headmaster Michael C. Contompasis to support such a curricular program and create a Seevak Chair in History, provided the ability to build something lasting and valued into the Boston Latin School curriculum that would not otherwise have been possible.

Shelley may have graduated from Boston Latin in 1946 but students who graduated with the classes of 1997 through today would tell you that Shelley—and by extension, Ellie--were members of their classes too. 

What Shelley and Ellie did at Boston Latin was quite extraordinary and yet very much behind the scenes.  They changed lives.  What the Seevak gift did was to afford Boston Latin students the opportunity to study some of the “less-than-attractive” moments of the past 100+ years in history and make direct connections to their own lives, past, present, and (especially) future.   Students spend the year exploring what is truly central to the human condition and to frame issues in a historical and in a moral context.   It is for many a transformative experience.   

 

Wrote one student about the impact of the course:

 

In class last week, we were asked how many of us would be willing to go into a place where a genocide was occurring and to fight the perpetrators.  Only a few people said yes and then this discussion of whether we were just “talking the talk but not walking the walk” arose.  I knew that I would not be able to go. 

 

But if the question were phrased, “Would you be willing to fight to protect human rights?” My answer would have been yes, absolutely.  There are so many things that have to be done: journalists who expose conflicts in the first place.  Politicians who make choices to help another country.  Lawyers who prosecute those responsible.  Public figures who speak out and bring attention to an issue.  Volunteers who go into a country and provide humanitarian aid.  Teachers who teach about the horrors of war and the urgency of protecting human rights. 

 

In many ways, I feel as if no matter what I do, I won’t be doing enough.  But I do know that I will do something, [pause] as much as I can.  This is something that, although I cared before, I never planned to make a significant part of my future.  Now it is part of my plan, and this is almost entirely thanks to this experience. 

 

Supplementing the course were—and are--ample books, artifacts and ephemera, films, guest speakers, sophisticated technology, computers, and field trips.  And the technology was state of the art; Shelley and Ellie accompanied a team designing the learntoquestion site to MacWorld in New York, where they heard the legendary Steve Jobs sing the praises of Mac computers.  Quite a few of the students had never left Boston on a train or been on an airplane; this course enabled them to do both.  There were young people creating remarkable websites, for months and months after school, about individuals who have made a difference in the world and presenting those websites to world-class judges who gave them feedback and recognition.  That was the Seevak website competition.   There are students who spent weeks in the summer working for NGOs engaged in human rights and social justice, thanks to the Seevak fellowships in human rights and social justice.    

 

Shelley was an ever-present teaching/research aide-de-camp, e-mailing the Seevak Chair, Judi Freeman, nearly every evening   He read everything students wrote on online discussion boards and had plenty to say about their observations.   Not only that, but he wanted to know what their future plans were, how they were doing once they graduated, and how he could help.   Shelley and Ellie joined the Facing History students on their annual trip to Washington, D.C.  And after Shelley’s passing, Ellie continued to host Seevak fellows when they traveled to New York and visit classes in Boston.     

 

The son of Ukrainian immigrants Edward and Dora (née Zoken) Seevak, Sheldon Seevak was born in Boston and grew up in Roxbury near Franklin Park. His father drove a taxi and worked as a police officer among other jobs. The middle child among five sisters--Sylvia, Deborah, Anne, Rosalyn, and Jacquelyn—Shelley was the only son.  Ellie noted in an interview with Boston Latin student Beata Coloyan ‘11, that “they loved him.   They loved him.  They doted on him.”   As an adult, his sister Rosalyn Langsam recalled, “he wanted to ascertain that all his sisters were well cared for.” 

Many of the photographs you are seeing here were part of a slide show created as part of a Boston Latin School Association dinner honoring Shelley in 2001.    To view the complete slide show, click here.

Graduating from Boston Latin in 1946, Shelley played football and managed the track team while a BLS student.   According to his high school yearbook, he also belonged to the Debate Club, Chess Club, and Bowling Club.   But football was his passion; Ellie recalled that he would frequently be “climbing out the window to play football.”  Shelley’s high school years coincided with World War II.   Family members recall that he listened to broadcasts of news reports during and after school  

 

For college, he headed to the University of Illinois and became much more focused on his education (and much less on football).   He majored in Economics, graduating in 1950.   According to Ellie, during the time, “all of the veterans were returning [from World War II]” and flooded colleges like the Unversity of Illinois.   Years later, Shelley spoke of bunking with dozens of returning GIs in the school's skating rink, which was converted to housing to handle the onslaught of students. The men's stories of the trauma of war deeply affected him.

Shelley continued his education at Harvard Law School, graduating with his JD in 1953.  He felt strongly that Harvard truly helped him grow intellectually and years later, he would support the creation of funds at the law school--the Sheldon Seevak/Facing History and Ourselves fund and, support for work on galvanizing voter participation after the 2004 presidential election.   His late sister, Jacquelyn Seevak Sanders, noted that Shelley was driven by a "tremendous gratitude for what this country and our educations had given us."

Shelley met Ellie, the love of his life. when he was attending Harvard Law School, introduced by Ellie’s brother, then a Harvard undergraduate.   Ellie recalled that Shelley “had a very sweet face.   And he was very earnest.”  She was completing her undergraduate degree at Simmons College and ultimately pursued a career in social work.  The couple married six days after Ellie graduated college, in 1955, and were married for 52 years.  Together they had three children, Alison, Evan, and Marina, and five grandchildren.

At the start of his career, Shelley did legal work for the US Coast Guard from 1953 to 1957.  He went on to work as a trial attorney for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the US Department of the Treasury (1957-1961).   After working for Coopers & Lybrand and R.H. Macy & Company in New York, he joined Goldman, Sachs & Company in 1968.   At Goldman, he founded and for decades led its real estate division, a powerhouse within the firm.  

After Shelley’s retirement, Shelley and Ellie dedicated themselves to philanthropic work.   In addition to their remarkable support of the program at Boston Latin, they sponsored fellowships and scholarships at Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, the New York University School of Social Work, as well as generously funded education programs at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, supported female candidates for public office via Emily's List, and donated to political campaigns.   

 

When Shelley passed away quite suddenly in 2007, an outpouring of powerful and moving tributes ensued.  Take a look here.  

 

What Ellie and Shelley Seevak, ever the ex-football player, did was to throw the first and essential pass; what past and present Facing History students from Boston Latin--now numbering in the thousands--are doing is running with his ball.   Their support transformed lives because they believed that young people have the power and the capability to do anything. 

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Elinor (Ellie) Seevak in 2007

photo: Ke Zhang '06

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Listening to remarks at the Seevak website competition reception, 2007

photo: Ke Zhang '06

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Addressing the audience at the Seevak website competition reception, 2007

photo: Ke Zhang '06

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Featured  are Judi Freeman (far left),, members of the learntoquestion.com design team John Greene '03 (rear left), Julie Ng '03 (center), Dennis Ng '00 (center), and Shelley and Ellie Seevak (far right), in New York City in June 2002 for MacWorld.

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The original learntoquestion page for the Seevak website competition.

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The Boston Latin School football team, from the school's newspaper, The Argo.

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Shelley's Boston Latin School yearbook page.

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Shelley playing football at University of Illinois.

photo courtesy of the Seevak family

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From the New York Times, June 17, 1985.

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Ellie and Shelley Seevak

photo courtesy of the Seevak family

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Evan, Marina, and Alison Seevak with Ellie and Shelley.

photo courtesy of the Seevak family

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