By: Dale King Contributing Writer
Several hundred people traveled from near and far to Temple Beth El in Boca Raton Jan. 9 to memorialize a man who left an indelible mark in every corner of the city – Richard Siemens, a builder, philanthropist, husband, father, grandfather, sage, supporter of Jewish causes and a citizen known for his integrity and honesty.
Mr. Siemens, whose contributions included the West Boca property off Glades Road that became the campus of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, died Dec. 17 at age 82.
As a chilling rain fell outside the temple on the day of his memorial service, Siemens’ daughter, Rebecca Spooner, wept at the podium as she remembered lying next to her father in the hospital in the days before his passing. “He was the strongest man I ever knew,” she said.
Raised in the tough South Bronx, Richard went to work at age 11. “He was one of the biggest kids in the neighborhood, which gave him some measure of protection,” Senior Rabbi Dan Levin said at the service.
The family moved to Spring Valley, N.Y., “to escape the rough and tumble neighborhood,” said the rabbi. One of Richard’s three sisters, Marion Glim, recalled the home as “an unfinished house with a well, an outhouse and a stove that provided all the heat.” The family lived there during the winter of 1947-48, “one of the coldest in New York history.”
Richard became an electrical contractor in New York, married his wife, Carole, in 1959 and got into construction and real estate when they moved to Boca Raton in 1975.
Known for being blunt, but tender, Richard Siemens headed the group that developed a number of area projects, including the Polo Club in Boca Raton, Gleneagles Country Club and Harbour’s Edge senior community in Delray Beach and the 139-unit Akoya luxury condominium at Boca West Country Club, which is still under construction.
Daughter Rebecca said she loved “working side by side every day” with her father on the Boca West midrise as part of the Siemens team. “His passion was his work.”
She said the completion of the Akoya “will be [her father’s] crowning achievement.”
Just how extensive is Richard’s contribution to the Boca area? “You can’t drive 10 blocks without seeing something Dick was involved in,” said Barry Podolsky from the Jewish Federation, a past president of Temple Beth El.
To Barry, Richard “always spoke softly. Not a lot; he didn’t have to. He was a force, like a Jedi warrior.”
In addition to donating the 100 acres for the Jewish Federation – a parcel called the Carole and Richard Siemens Jewish Campus – Richard was, at the time of his death, working to find a new site for Torah Academy of Boca Raton, an Orthodox Jewish school that grew from 19 students some two decades ago to 400 today at three sites.
He also worked diligently on improving the community’s health and humanity through his involvement with the Drug Abuse Foundation, for which he helped build its Siemens-Evert Campus in Delray Beach, partnering with tennis star Chris Evert.
“Richard shouldered the burden of the need to help others,” said Alton Taylor, CEO of the Drug Abuse Foundation.
The late construction group owner’s family also praised him. Son Alan remembered his dad for his “honesty and integrity.” He said Richard took many trips to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. to help resolve detrimental regulations.
Son Scott told how his father worked to bring about West Boca Medical Center and Delray Medical Center “so Jewish doctors could work.” He said Jewish physicians were generally not allowed to practice at hospitals.
Rabbi Levin told how Mr. Siemens had a “vision for growth. He had foresight. He built tens of thousands of units of housing; he never kept track.”
“His life was not easy; he had 11 major procedures,” the rabbi said. “On one occasion, he was told he should go into rehab. He said: ‘I’m not going there. I built the place.’”
The rabbi added: “He was a builder for us all.”
Mr. Siemens is survived by wife Carole; four children, Alan Siemens, Scott Siemens (Linda), Robert Siemens (Lisa) and Rebecca Spooner (Jim) and grandchildren Justin, Jared, Sarah, Max, Daniel, Samuel, Joseph, Jake and Mike.