Spotlight COlorado  

Have You Met?

Master historian and storyteller, and 4th generation native, Andy Levy, developed a love for learning and people early in his life.  With the guidance and encouragement of his lovely parents Irwin and Jean Levy... and his sister Renee, he has made his relationships with people the focus of his life.  "It's all about the value of the relationships I have in my life.  Every step in life has prepared me for the next step.  I had wonderful family role models that helped prepare me and teach me about the power of relationships."

Andy attended Steck Elementary on 4th and Ash Street, Hill Junior High School, and then on to George Washington High School.  His grandfather, Seymour, was the maître de of the original Bauer’s Restaurant downtown and later went on to open his own catering company “Catering by Seymour", and he owned an ice cream and candy store right across the street from East High School.  His father was in the wholesale sales business and died when Andy was 17 and his sister Renee was only 13.

After graduating from the University of Colorado with a degree in Business, Levy entered the Executive Program at Joslin’s Department Store and became a buyer of women’s dresses and bridge apparel.  He worked at Joslin’s for 15 years, and then moved on to Neiman Marcus for 10 years managing women’s apparel and “bridge wear.”  With his concern for the welfare of people, Andy wasn’t sure if luxury retail sales was his life's calling, so he looked for a way to use his skills for the greater good.  He received a Masters in Nonprofits at Regis University, and that opened the door for the true Andy to express where his heart (of gold) really was.

Andy recently joined LiveWell Colorado as Vice President of Development after serving as the director of major gifts at Denver Hospice (compassionate & competent care at end-of-life) where he helped them raise $17 million for a capital campaign to create their beautiful new inpatient care center facility at Lowry. Prior to that, he was a development officer at Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado - sustaining Jewish Life (now JEWISHcolorado).  Andy says: "I believe the purpose of life is to live a life with purpose.  Working in the nonprofit world allows me to maximize my passion for people, relationships and community by raising awareness and dollars to support causes I care about.  I am proud of myself for following my heart and making a career change at 46.  It is one of the most courageous things I have done. "  

In 1997, Andy and Renee’s beloved mom was diagnosed with cancer.  She was given 5 months to live, but because of their commitment to get her the best care, and her drive – and “God’s will” as Andy says, she survived for 5 years.

Andy has been on a mission that is very personal to him.  He says: "Since age 10 I have had weight issues.  I’m like the male Oprah and have gone up and down.”  In 2007, Andy had lap band surgery and lost 135 lbs.  "I have maintained my weight and am still losing!”  Sounds like Andy's position at LiveWell Colorado is a perfect fit since their mission is healthy eating, active living, and reducing obesity.

I don't know too many people who have also made it a mission to take time and write (beautifully and skillfully) about how grateful they are for other "everyday people" who have made a difference in their life.  Starting this year (2015) on Valentine's Day through next year's Valentine's Day, every day, Andy posts on his Facebook page a piece about someone who has made a difference in his life - and in the community in general.  Andy tells me: "When I think about what I am most grateful for, the answer that comes most easily to me are the people I have been blessed to meet, work with, be inspired by and love throughout my lifetime."

With the admiration of many who call him friend (me included), Andy Levy has endured,endeared and evolved and is an iconic, cherished member of the community he genuinely loves.   

Your red eyeglasses have become your signature accessory. What’s the story behind them? My favorite color is red. One day while walking through Cherry Creek, I spotted the glasses in the window of “Classic Creations.” I walked in, handed the glasses to the sales associate and said, “I have to schedule an exam, but I’ll be back for these.” He held them for one month!

I have always been known for my sense of style when it comes to dressing. I have always dressed-up basic suits and clothing with smart accessories (ties, cuff-links etc.) but even these were bold for me. Initially they were going to be my weekend glasses but because I wear progressives they ended up costing $900. They became my seven day a week glasses. 

The glasses are the best “fashion” purchase I have ever made. I bet I get 5 compliments a day on my glasses. Plus, they go with my red convertible. 

 At what age did you know you had a gift for writing? The first piece of writing that earned me “literary acclaim” (and an A) was an autobiography I wrote in 5th grade. It was at that point I realized I had “a bit of a talent” with the expression of words, both written and spoken.

Perhaps one of my greatest teachers was my mom, Jean Levy. She was a Columbia University graduate and very bright. She was an excellent writer and would work with me as an aspiring writer, editing and proofing until I believed I had achieved (in my mind) “perfection.” The best lesson she taught me was to write from my heart, be authentic with my words and always add a bit of humor to the mix.   One day, I hope to write a book.

You often speak about the gratitude you have for people and the relationships you have cultivated over your life. When did you develop a skill set around relationship development?  People are my passion. People often speak of their collections (art, jewelry, stamps, cars etc.). I treasure the meaningful relationships and friendships I have collected over my life! I have always valued people and relationships. Many of my friendships span decades.

The importance of relationships was also a strong family value. I was taught early to treat people with respect and kindness. “The Golden Rule” was always discussed and modeled in my home. I was taught early about the joy of treating others with kindness and compassion.

I have always been a keen observer of life and I have had the honor of learning from the best: my family, teachers, clergy, professional colleagues and friends. I try and surround myself with positive people who care about others and treat others in the best possible way. 

What have been your greatest achievements in life so far? 1) My mother was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in February 1997. When diagnosed, the prognosis was grim. We were told, “three to 10 months, plan for five.” My sister and I couldn’t accept this without some type of action. We managed her healthcare crisis and explored every resource within our reach. She lived another (almost) five years. A terminal cancer illness isn’t easy. It is an emotional roller-coaster, many highs and lows. We were honored to have the privilege to care for her. I am proud I was able to be there for her and last years as beautiful and meaningful as they could be.

Throughout her illness I began to question my “professional purpose” in life. I had always had a passion for fashion and enjoyed my retail career. During her illness I came to realize there were other priorities in life besides luxury retail. As a result of her illness and all that I witnessed I began to sense that I would be more fulfilled if I could redirect my career path in a way that would allow me to utilize my skills and talents in the spirit of the greater good, making the world a better place.

2) In May, 2004 I took a “Leap of Faith” and left Neiman Marcus. I enrolled in the Masters of Nonprofit Management program at Regis University. Over the past 10 years I have developed a meaningful “new” career as a professional fundraiser. I am committed to working for nonprofit organizations with a mission close to my heart.

What is something you’d like to achieve that you haven’t been able to do yet? Because I have struggled with weight issues since I was 10, I have never been good at sports. As a result of my achieving my weight loss goal (137 lbs.) I am now determined to find the “inner” athlete in me which I have always known exists on some level. I am thinking it will be biking and plan to work on it this summer!

Who are some of your Denver heroes and role models? I believe strongly in the value of heroes and role models. I believe it is important to always have role models and always be a role model. I am proud of the fact that I have friendships with people ranging in age from six into their 90’s. I believe you can learn from those who have experience; those who are older and wiser. Young people offer fresh perspective; they keep us current!

My roles models and heroes are proactive types, people who live their lives with positive intent and create opportunity for others.    

Renee Levy, my sister. She is my closest friend, ally and cheerleader. Renee is an exemplary kindergarten teacher. She helps her students to develop a passion for lifelong learning. She goes out of her way to enrich the life of her students. She generous and has a heart of gold. She is an inspiration!

My spiritual leader (since I was 12), Rabbi Steven Foster and his wonderful wife, Joyce Foster. They both are committed to the idea of social justice and equality.

Skip Miller and Zach Pashel, volunteer leadership that made me a “STAR” while at The Denver Hospice.

Zoni and Sam Pluss, one of the most generous couples I know. They are philanthropic; but are quiet and seek no recognition. They have been close friends for 40 years. They treat me like family.

Cindy and Steve Farber, Norm Gray (friends) and Rosemary Hertz (cousin).All were helpful to my family when my mom was being treated for cancer. Their advice and connections to (local and national) experts were invaluable.

Dr. Michael Snyder, my bariatric surgeon.  It took me 7.5 years to lose 137 pounds. He stood by me and kept me motivated through several frustrating weight plateaus.

Lynne Greene, a close friend who has opened many, many doors for me in the community! There are many ways to be generous; Lynne does it all. I most appreciate the way she has shared her network of friends and relatives with me, including her daughters, Erin and Lauren who I have adored since they were 5 and 3.

Arlene and Barry Hirschfeld, Louann and Micky Miller. Both couples are exemplary community leaders who have devoted their lives to community service and philanthropy.

Who do you credit as your career mentors?  Donald Chabot -The President and CEO of Joslins (1963-1990). When I graduated from college I began a career in retail at Joslins. There I had the chance to learn from the best, Mr. Chabot. He developed home-grown talent (only promoted from within) and encouraged entrepreneurial spirit in his staff. I once asked him the secret of his success. He smiled and said “That’s easy, it’s the people. To be a star, surround yourself with stars!” I have taken his advice to heart and have done my best to apply it to all aspects of my life.    

Mike Pasquarella - my boss (V.P. of Philanthropy) at The Denver Hospice (TDH). Today the workplace has become very metric and performance driven, it’s all about the numbers. During my seven years at TDH Mike reminded me you can still be successful and while maintaining high personal values and integrity.  Mike is a values-driven leader. He treats his staff with dignity and respect. Mike develops a culture of trust on his team. He looks for the good in people and works hard to develop and maximize strengths of his team. He reaffirmed all that I learned so many years ago, hard work+values+integrity=SUCCESS.  During the seven years we worked together, we, along with a team of dedicated volunteer leadership, developed a culture of philanthropy at The Denver Hospice and raised a lot of money. Also, Mike is the person who nicknamed me, “YODA.” Mike is now the Assistant Vice Chancellor of Development at CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

How do you think Denver has changed the most through the years?  Denver has grown in size and scope. The traffic in Denver has totally changed!!! Boo!!!

I am a fourth generation, Denver native. I grew up in Denver’s tightly knit Jewish community and went all the way through school with classmates who had grown up in Hilltop and Crestmoor. Many of my friendships go back and cross generations. Recognizing all Denver has to offer, many people from across the country have made the decision to make Denver their new home and there have been a population explosion (traffic in Cherry Creek). Despite its growth, Denver has always had a welcoming, pioneer spirit. Everyone is welcome.

Over the years, I have attended several community lunches and dinners and hear Governor Hickenlooper and Kelly Brough (CEO, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce) talk about Denver’s welcoming spirit. They often speak about the opportunity that exists in Denver related to civic engagement. They believe that pedigree and an Ivy League education isn’t what drives success in Denver. Rather they believe success can be achieved in Colorado if you possess passion, a strong work ethic and the desire to become engaged in the community. As a Denver native with deep, deep roots I treasure the people who move into our city and get involved. People who want to work to make Denver stronger and more vibrant.

Do you think we will ever reach a point in this world where there is no hatred or prejudice against each other because of race, religion or gender, or sexual orientation? And how can we achieve this?  I have grown up valuing a relationship with G-d and a consistent practice of Judaism.  I have always said if I could invent a “modern-day” religion it would be called “Faith of The Golden Rule.” 

I often think about all I have witnessed in my 57 years of life. I was a third grade and a student at Steck Elementary when DPS was desegregated. I vividly remember the day my new classmates were brought into the classroom. During the 1970’s and 1980’s (and since) I witnessed significant advances in the workplace for women and people of color. More recently I have seen changes in GLBT rights and the movement toward equality in marriage. In July, I will attend a same-sex wedding for the first time as Willie Recht and Peter Colussy legally exchange their vows before family and friends. Our society has advanced so far. At the same time we all read and hear stories of discrimination, hated and acts of violence in our country, Europe and the Middle East.

It is my sincere wish that one day we all will live by “The Golden Rule” and realize that though we are different we are all so similar in our truest desires, particularly as it relates to our hopes, dreams and desires for our families, children the people we care about most.          

How are you feeling about your life right now, and what are you looking most forward to in the future? My “Attitude is Gratitude.”  I am GRATEFUL I changed career paths. Living a life with purpose is very important to me and my work plays a critical role. 

I am GRATEFUL for my new focus for Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL). Since I was 10, I have struggled with issues around weight. I describe myself as a “male, Oprah.” My weight yo-yoed throughout my entire teenage and adult life. I love life and hope my new lifestyle will allow me to live longer and enjoy an enriched quality of life as I enter my “Golden Years.”

Most importantly I am GRATEFUL to the many people, past and present who have been part of and impacted my life…family, friends, teachers, clergy and professional colleagues. Our lives our enriched and enhanced as a result of the people we meet and the relationships we form on our life journey.        

How do you measure a person’s success in life? I believe the purpose of life is to live a life with purpose. I believe we must all discover our purpose and live it to the fullest. We are all blessed with G-d given strengths and talent. Throughout our lives we are given the opportunity to grow and learn, find ways to maximize our strengths.

To me success is determined by the way we contribute to society and mankind and this is the result of maximizing potential by through the spirit of living with purpose.

How do you want to be remembered? Because I never had children, “legacy” is something I think about a lot. Will I be remembered? I hope so. I hope that I will be remembered as a kind and compassionate human being who loved and deeply cared for his family, friends and the Denver community. I hope that I will be remembered as someone who lived life with purpose and was authentic with my words and actions.