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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       SIMON STEPHEN SELIG

INTERVIEWER:                  ANN HOFFMAN SCHOENBERG

DATE:                                  MARCH 24, 1997 & JUNE 10, 1998 

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Steve’s maternal grandfather, Ben Massell, came to the United States from Lithuania. He started a real estate company, which, according to the oldest public records found, was in business by 1918. His maternal grandmother, Fannie, died before Steve was born or when he was very young, and the only grandmother he knew was Ben’s second wife, Helen. Today’s Selig Enterprises is a successor of the real estate business that Ben Massell started.

Steve’s paternal grandfather, Simon Selig, came from Germany or Russia and also died around the time Steve was born. He started a chemical business in Atlanta. Simon’s wife, Emma Printz, who was born in Georgia, lived into her eighties. Steve grew up with her but didn’t know her very well.

Both of Steve’s parents were born in Atlanta. His father, Simon, was born in 1913, and his mother, Caroline Massell, was born in 1919 or 1920. Steve’s parents were charitable and were active in both the general community and the Jewish community. Although Steve did not have a solid Jewish upbringing or grow up in a traditional Jewish home, his parents gave him a strong foundation of good values, and he knew that they were Jewish. His parents had expectations of him that he would be a good person and a leader in the community.

Steve was born in 1943 in Columbus, GA, because his father was stationed at Fort Benning at the time. After moving to California, where his father was an instructor for soldiers training to be tank commanders, the family moved back to Atlanta. Steve attended private schools in Atlanta and then attended the University of Georgia (UGA).

After graduating from UGA in 1965, Steve went to work for a bank for a short time and then did some real estate leasing work with the Massell company. When Ben Massell died, Steve’s father sold the Selig chemical business and began running the Massell real estate interests, which included many different companies.

During Jimmy Carter’s campaign for president of the United States, Carter asked Steve to travel with him and help him become president. Because he had young children and was in the family business, Steve had to decline. He did become National Finance Director for the campaign and did fundraising. When Carter was elected, he invited Steve to become a member of the White House staff and work with the business community to gain their support. At age 33, Steve and his family moved to Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC. He and his first wife separated during that time and ultimately divorced.

Upon returning to Atlanta after Carter was not re-elected, Steve and a colleague from his time in Washington started a successful concert promotions company, which he sold in 1998. He also became CEO and COO of the family’s real estate company, which focuses on acquiring and managing commercial and industrial real estate, shopping centers and warehouses, small office buildings, and parking lots.

Steve served as president of the American Jewish Committee, an organization with which his parents had been involved, and as synagogue president of The Temple, before becoming president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. His wife, Linda, also has served in leadership roles at the Federation.

Steve remained in politics but behind the scenes. He served as the chair of the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta in 1988 and considered it a great honor. Among the many ways he served the Atlanta community throughout his life, Steve served as an ambassador for VIPs during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

When the Federation received a large gift from William Breman, which was targeted for a heritage museum, a Selig property that had been an office and warehouse property in midtown Atlanta was transformed into what is now the home of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and the Breman Jewish Heritage Museum. Known as The Selig Center, Steve considers it to be the family legacy that will stand the longest.

Scope of Interview:

Steve discussed his paternal and maternal family history in Atlanta and the early businesses of both of his grandfathers. He reminisced about his childhood, schooling, and friends, both Jewish and non-Jewish, as well as memories of his grandparents and other relatives. Steve spoke about his limited Jewish upbringing, which did not include rituals in the home or celebration of Jewish holidays. However, Steve knew that he was Jewish, and his parents taught him strong values and were charitable within the Jewish community as well as the general community.

Steve discussed his involvement in politics, including his campaign efforts when Jimmy Carter was running for president of the United States and his years working in the White House during Carter’s presidency. He described the start of a successful business upon his return to Atlanta and his entry into the family’s real estate business. Steve shared his experience as chair of the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, elaborated on the growth and success of Selig Enterprises, and described the growth of his leadership in the Jewish community leading up to his presidency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. He discussed the three goals he set and accomplished as Federation president and why they were important,

Steve spoke about his three children’s schooling and upbringing, what they are doing professionally as young adults, and their involvement in the community. He also described his wife Linda’s leadership in the Jewish community. 

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