Sydney Engel, a Long Island developer who shaped modern senior...

Sydney Engel, a Long Island developer who shaped modern senior living, died on Saturday at age 98. He's shown with great-granddaughter Harper. Credit: Jamie Weiss

Sydney Engel, a developer who shaped modern senior accommodations and launched one of the region's largest real estate development firms, died on Saturday at his home in Hewlett Harbor. He was 98.

Hundreds gathered at Pinelawn Memorial Park Tuesday to honor the patriarch, who lost both of his parents before he was 20 and went on to build nursing homes and assisted living communities at the helm of Engel Burman, his family said.

Engel's diligence helped him flourish in the industry, but he was guided by a generous spirit, said his son-in-law Michael Weiss, a principal at Engel Burman.

"There were over 300 people who stood for an hour and a half to pay their respects, and there was video broadcast to the island of Jamaica," said Weiss, noting that Engel was known in the Caribbean nation, where he had a vacation home and constructed MoBay Hope Medical Centre. "If you ever really needed him, he would always step up."

Engel was born in Brooklyn in 1923. His mother died when he was 12, and his father, a vaudeville acrobatic performer, then began doing home improvement jobs, according to Jon Weiss, a grandson and another principal at Engel Burman.

Engel joined the Army Air Forces during World War II but was given a discharge to care for his ailing father. He and his brother took over their father's business around 1944 and had the foresight to see how ubiquitous insulation and oil furnaces would become, Jon Weiss said.

Contractors and banks wanted to work with Engel because he kept his word and stuck to schedules, the grandson said. This reputation helped him land jobs with prominent families, such as the Mellons and Rockefellers, he said.

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As Engel's projects grew, he and his partner, Sol Henkind, acquired stakes in developments, Jon Weiss said. They focused on affordable apartments and nursing homes, the family said.

In 1997, a colleague introduced Engel and Jan Burman, who were both eyeing the same property, Jon Weiss said. The two decided to collaborate and built assisting living and condominiums — a blueprint for their upscale Bristal Assisted Living brand.

Their partnership grew into Engel Burman, a Jericho-based development, construction and management company whose projects have employed thousands in the metro area, Jon Weiss said. The firm owns more than 27 senior living communities, 5,000 condos and apartments and a 95-acre addiction treatment campus, the company said.

"Mr. Engel was the epitome of a generation who didn't have the word 'no' in their vocabulary. Hard work was his answer to every obstacle and his legacy is found in communities across the region," said Kyle Strober, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, a business group.

Engel met his now-deceased wife, Sylvia, before his business took off. Engel took her out for drinks, and then informed her he couldn't afford a second round, Jon Weiss said.

"He said: I promise you one day I'll be able to afford several drinks," Jon Weiss said. "She respected him."

The couple spent 70 years together, relocating from Brooklyn to Lynbrook around 1950 and then to Hewlett Harbor in the late 1960s, Jon Weiss said. Engel sat on the board of Temple Israel of Lawrence and was involved with the Anti-Defamation League, which fights discrimination, and Hadassah, a Zionist volunteer organization centered around Jewish women, his family said.

When his months-old great-grandchild was diagnosed with cancer, Engel worked with the child's mother, Jamie Weiss, to start Gold Ribbon Riders, which has raised more than $2 million for pediatric cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering, according to Jon Weiss.

Engel is survived by three children, Robin Rudolph, Cathy Weiss and Dr. Lewis Engel; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

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