Remembering Jules F. Knapp

Entrepreneur and philanthropist

Jules-Knapp image

"From your experiences," Jules Knapp once said, "you can discover an ethical way to run a successful business." Knapp had many experiences running, and starting, ethical businesses, while caring for his community. He died on April 8 at the age of 91.

"Jules Knapp was one of the most optimistic, forward-looking persons I have ever been privileged to know," recalled Dr. Steven B. Nasatir, JUF's Executive Vice Chairman. "He possessed a tremendous business intellect, and with his dear wife Gwen became, for decades, a major philanthropic force for good in both the general and Jewish communities."

From the age of 10, Knapp worked. He delivered newspapers and groceries; he stocked shelves; he sold shoes. After attending the University of Illinois, he served in the Army during the Korean War. His post-Army job selling paintbrushes, however, became a turning point.

In 1962, Jules and his brother Fred founded United Coatings Inc., a paint company. It became the largest private-label paint manufacturer in the U.S. After a merger, their company was purchased in 1996 by Sherwin Williams. Next, he purchased steel-door maker Grisham Manufacturing, in 2000, selling it in 2014.

"Each of these jobs taught me something valuable," Knapp said, "the importance of teamwork, communication, honesty, hard work, and luck. The harder you work, the luckier you get."

Jules married Gwen in 1956. They were married for 63 years and had four daughters. Elyse Sollender and Susan Schulman survived him, but sadly, two- Chari and Joy- passed away.

"He endured so much loss, and knew so much tragedy in his life," recalled Susan, "but he remained positive and full of energy. He always saw life as a gift."

In response, the family funded medical research. At the University of Chicago, they founded the Gwen Knapp Center for Lupus and Immunology Research (Joy had succumbed to lupus), The Jules F. Knapp Medical Research Center, and the Gwen and Jules Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery. Then, in 2018, the family committed to help Cleveland Clinic Martin North Hospital renovate its emergency department.

Also, in memory of Joy, the family sponsored the Joy Faith Knapp Music Center at the Merit School of Music in the West Loop, and the Joy Faith Knapp Children's Center of JUF's JCFS Chicago.

One of two buildings on the Esther Knapp Campus, named for Jules' mother, in West Rogers Park, the Joy Faith Knapp Children's Center houses the Knapp School and Yeshiva, a therapeutic school for grades K-12+, counseling services, and administration offices.

The Knapp family also supported the Jewish Federation of San Diego County and synagogues throughout the country, as well as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

To foster his entrepreneurial spirit, in 2004, he founded the Jules F. Knapp Entrepreneurship Center, which offers supportive services for startups and existing small businesses around the Illinois Institute of Technology. In 2006, Jules and Gwen established a scholarship for Enactus, which has provided over 50 scholarships to college students helping them achieve their business aspirations. He created still more such scholarships at Northwestern University.

"My father will be remembered for his endearing smile, zest for life, positive attitude, and infinite amount of energy," said Schulman. "He is famous for wearing his grandchildren out after a day of activities."

Knapp is survived by his wife Gwen, by his daughters Elyse Sollender (Jeffrey z"l; Mark Lohkemper) and Susan Schulman (Bradley), and grandchildren Shane, Griffin (Kylie Ford), Jonah, and DJ.

Interment was private; a celebration of his life will be planned for a future date. Memorials may be made to the University of Chicago, Gwen Knapp Center for Lupus and Immunology Research, or Cleveland Clinic Martin Health Foundation.

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