Walter E. Schoenfeld
Walter Schoenfeld, born to Edna and Max Schoenfeld on November 6, 1930, passed away on August 13th, 2015 at the age of 84, after having fought a courageous battle with cancer. He maintained his positive attitude and sense of humor until the end. His memory will live on through his wife, Esther; three children, Lea Anne, Jeff and Gary; their spouses, Randy Ottinger, Julie Schoenfeld and Michelle Schoenfeld; and eight grandchildren, Lauren, Michael and Ryan Ottinger, Kate and Max Schoenfeld, David, Melissa and Jack Schoenfeld. Born and raised in Seattle, Walter graduated from Garfield High School where he was a recognized Juniors Golf Champion. He attended USC but returned to Seattle where he graduated from the University of Washington in 1952 as a proud Husky.
After serving as a Lieutenant in the Korean War, Walter again returned to Seattle, in 1955, and dutifully came to his father's aid by joining the family neckwear business. Shortly thereafter, he met the love of his life, Esther Behar, who became his bride and cherished wife of 60 years. Together, they raised a wonderful family and built an extraordinary life. Walter found himself in many leadership positions over the years and he became a recognized leader in both the civic and business community locally and nationally.
In 1971, Walter moved his family to London while building a necktie factory in Scotland. It was an exciting year for the family. While there, Walter recognized a burgeoning opportunity in fashion denim. Inspired, he created Brittania Sportswear, and returned to Seattle one year later sparking a denim revolution that continues today. In an article, Forbes dubbed him "The King of Jeans." Twenty years later he joined the Board of Vans, Inc., a flailing footwear manufacturer. He became CEO and then Chairman. For 13 years, in partnership with his son, Gary, he orchestrated the evolution of what became a leading, global lifestyle brand with its origins in skate boarding and snow boarding. This time Forbes named him "Grandpa of Grunge."
A pillar of the Seattle community, at a young age Walter joined Rotary, became a Seafair Commodore, and assumed a leadership role in the effort to build and revitalize the swamp area of Seattle, now the Seattle Center, as it became home to the 1962 World's Fair. Walter became Chairman of the Seattle Kidney Foundation in its nascence, and was responsible for raising the money to dramatically expand the availability of dialysis treatment.
Of perhaps even more significance, in an effort to further develop Seattle as a world-class city, Walter became a founding partner in three of Seattle's four professional sports franchises: the SuperSonics in 1967, the Sounders in 1974, and the Mariners in 1977. He derived great enjoyment as a fan, from what each of these expansion teams meant for the growth of the city, as well as the life-long relationships that he developed with many of the players. There was no greater Mariner fan these past 40 years and his experience with the Mariners was one of the many highlights of his life.
Walter always lived with an unwavering commitment to family, business, betterment of the community and the world. Even as more of a Republican, he was asked to serve on a monthly council with President Carter, attended the signing of the Camp David Peace Accord, Co-hosted Deng Xioping's visit to Seattle in 1979, and was closest of friends for nearly twenty years with Senator Scoop Jackson.
Walter also took great pride serving on numerous Boards, both public and private, including Sunshine Mining Company and Reading Railroad, The Weitzman Institute for Science in Israel, the Barbara Sinatra Children's Center for abused children, and PONCHO.
Much like his father, Walter always had a positive outlook on life. Beyond the tremendous joy of his family, he cherished many special friendships while also finding ways to help those less fortunate. Throughout his life he turned chance meetings into wonderful relationships and unique opportunities. His smarts, integrity, can-do attitude, judgment, creativity and sense of humor made him a special friend, husband, father and grandfather. Walter's almost 85 years was truly a life well lived. He leaves a lasting mark and will be forever loved and missed by those whose lives he touched.
The family wishes to acknowledge Dr Jason Rockhill, Dr Anton Bilchik, UW Medicine and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for the outstanding care. Donations to these organizations or any charity helping those in need, will honor Walter's memory.
Services will be held at Noon on Sunday August 16th at Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle, followed by burial at the Sephardic Brotherhood cemetery.
Published in The Seattle Times from Aug. 15 to Aug. 16, 2015