New Beginnings[Top Panel]:
It was 1919 and Greenville, South Carolina had emerged from World War I with a surge of patriotism and community spirit. Main Street was a center of activity and a building boom brought the Woodside Building, the Chamber of Commerce Building and the Poinsett Hotel to the downtown. The textile mills that circled the city were operating at full speed. It was an exciting time.
In Vienna, Austria, on May 28, 1919, Max Heller was born to Israel and Leah Heller. In the photo, Max's sister Paula is on the left, his mother Leah in the center and Max on the right. Max grew up with a firm family foundation and a strong work ethic which carried him forward with vision and insight.
After graduating from high school, he went to work in the wholesale business and was soon promoted to foreman and then buyer. This determination and strength of character would lead him to become, in later life, one of the driving forces in the revitalization of Greenville, South Carolina.
The Threat of War[Top Panel 1]:
In 1938 Wehrmacht troops entered Austria to enforce the Anschluss of annexation of Austria and Nazi Germany. The stories of persecution, imprisonment and murder became very real for the Jewish community. Jewish stores were plundered, businesses confiscated and Jews in Vienna began to fear for their lives. Israel Heller lost his business and Max lost his job.
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"We couldn't accept the stories that people were being persecuted and killed just because they were Jews." — Max Heller
[Bottom Panel 1]:
A year earlier, Max had gone out dancing and met Mary Mills and her four young friends from Greenville, South Carolina who were on a European tour. Mary gave Max her address in Greenville.
[Bottom Panel 2]:
Events overseas and the threat of American involvement in a second world war were having an effect on everyone in Greenville. Increasing efforts were made to support the allies in Europe and aggressive preparations began for the defense of American soil.
Escape to America[Top Panel 1]:
Tensions mounted in Austria. Swastikas adorned every building, every uniform, and every flag. Grocery stores were plundered; Jewish-owned buildings were burned. Park benches core signs saying "No Jews Allowed". It was time for Max Heller and his family to leave the country.
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Max wrote to his friend Mary Mills asking her if she could arrange for a sponsor in Greenville. She contacted Shepard Saltzman, owner of Piedmont Shirt Factory, who agreed to sponsor Max and his sister Paula.
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Soon Max and Paula were on their way to Paris and then to America on the Ile de France. After a short visit in Newark with his mother's sister, Max headed to Greenville.
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Greenville was continuing to gear up for support of the war in Europe. Orders flooded into local textile mills and soon they were operating eighty hours a week. Relief packages and money were collected by the local Red Cross and sent to the allies in Britain and France. Volunteers were enlisted to make bandages and garments to be sent overseas.
Land of Opportunity[Top Panel]:
When Max's train arrived in Greenville, he was met at the train station by Shepard Saltzman, Mary Mills and several of her companions from the Vienna trip and Rabbi Mazure. Max only had $1.60 in his pocket.
[Bottom Panel 1]:
Mr. Saltzman invited Max to lunch but Max insisted on paying...five cents for a cup of soup. Before the day was out Max was at work at Piedmont Shirt Factory and a new career had begun.
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A greater step toward involvement in World War II for Greenville County residents came when Congress passed the first peacetime draft in American history on September 16, 1940. Not waiting for the draft, hundreds volunteered for the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. The War Department selected Greenville, SC as the site for a new Army airfield to support the buildup for the War. In June 1942 the Greenville Army Base was officially activated as a twin-engine bomber training base for replacement aircrews, being assigned to the III Bomber Command of Third Air Force.
A Love Story[Top and Middle Panel]:
When Max Heller was 18, he met a young girl named Trude Schonthal at a summer resort and fell in live with her. He told her that summer that someday they would be married.
When Austria fell to Nazi Germany, Trude's family tried to get visas to the United States but no more were available. Her father escaped to Belgium and after hiding in the woods for five weeks, Trude and her mother finally crossed into Belgium. Trude and her mother eventually sailed to New York and later were joined by her father. In the summer of 1941 Max went to New York to visit Trude for the first time since they parted in Vienna.
Mr. Saltzman, Max's employer, later brought Max's family over to the United States and Trude's family moved down to Greenville. The two families were united and Max and Trude were married in August of 1942. Mr. Saltzman gave both fathers jobs in his shirt factory.
The Threat of War[Top Two Panels]:
During World War II rationing and air raid drills became a way of life in Greenville. Community drives for relied, the purchase of war bonds and the collection of scrap metal became routine in wartime Greenville. textile mills, local utilities and the municipal airport employed extra security guards to prevent sabotage. The Nineteenth Army Air Force Glider Pilot Training Detachment was headquartered at Furman University and received flight training at the municipal airport.
Max Heller began working in the Piedmont Shirt Factory sweeping floors and carrying shirt boxes. He worked 70 to 80 hours a week and there was no overtime pay. His first paycheck was for $10 with a dime taken out for Social Security.
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One day a co-worker told him to report to the front office because a judge wanted to see him. Max was terrified because he thought they were going to send him back to Austria. The man who greeted him was Judge John Plyler, the new president of Furman University, and he offered to help Max improve his English.
When the foreman of the shipping department left the company, Max asked for the job and got it. Soon he was made internal sales manager, and by the time he was 26 he was General Manager of the company.
The Entrepreneur[Top Panel]:
By 1945 Max had become vice president of Piedmont Shirt Company. The company had offices in the Empire State Building in New york and opened a new plant in Walterboro, SC to make Wing shirts.
Max had promised Shepard Saltzman that he would never leave his employ unless he established his own company. However, in 1945, not content to work in someone else's business forever, he started the Williamston Shirt Company with two partners. The partnership was short-lived and in 1948 he sold his share and opened the Maxon Shirt Company in Greenville with sixteen employees. The business prospered under his energetic leadership and by 1962, the company had 700 employees.
By this time the Hellers had three children — Francie, Susan and Steven. They were active members of Congregation Beth Israel, where Max served as president of the synagogue. At the end of the War, Max and Trudie searched for displaced members of their families in Europe but located only two cousins. All of the others had died at the hands of the Nazis.
Giving Back[Top Panel]:
Greenville emerged from World War II as a prosperous, growing community. The textile industry was flourishing. The Memorial Auditorium was built downtown in 1959 and a new Textile Hall opened on the newly completed US 29 Bypass in 1964.
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The opening of the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport and Greenville Technical College in 1962 added valuable resources to the area.
"I was never interested in being the richest man in the cemetery." — Max Heller
Max decided that he wanted to devote his time to community service, so he sold his business in 1962 but by contract remained with the company for five more years, retiring officially in 1968. One of the community projects of which Max is so proud involves a citizens' group concerned about youthful offenders. Their work resulted in a law being passed in the legislature establishing a youthful offender's camp in Greenville County. Max has always been proud of this accomplishment.
The Mayor's Vision[Top Two Panels]:
Max Heller was elected to the Greenville City Council in 1968, where he focused his attention on improving substandard housing and making housing affordable for all.
In 1971, he was elected mayor of Greenville. From the beginning his vision was to bring people together and to create a city government for everyone. He desegregated all departments and commissions in city government and, working with the Police chief Harold Jennings, made [sure] certain police department practices were color-blind. The people of Greenville embraced Max's vision and the city was integrated in a peaceful fashion.
Greenville's first African American to serve on City Council was elected in 1977. The photo on the left shows the Council from 1977 to 1979. Back row, from left to right, Thomas C. Gower, Rev. Rayfield Medcalf, Harry B. Luthi, Jesse L. Helms; front row, James H. Simkins, Max M. Heller, and Patricia C. Haskell.
The key to Mayor Heller's success was his love for people. Very little happened in City Hall that didn't involve citizen input. He became a driving force for environmental protection, beautification, slum clearance, economic rejuvenation, downtown revitalization and public-private partnerships.
Making Lives Better[Top Panel]:
Max Heller continued to be concerned for youthful and first-time offenders. In an attempt to control youth violence in Greenville, Max formed a Youth Advisory Committee and appointed as chair a young man who was president of his high school student body — Knox White who in 1995 became mayor of Greenville. The committee consulted with the city and police officers to bring the youth perspective to government especially relating to recreation and youth violence.
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When Duke Power Company informed the city that it could no longer operate the municipal bus system, Max worked to create the Greenville Transit Authority. He asked Thomas Barton, president of Greenville Technical college to train bus drivers and local churches volunteered the use of buses to cover the transition.
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"We must cherish our samenesses because we have many more samenesses than we do differences...and our main sameness is they we are all God's children." — Max Heller
In 1975, in a further attempt to bring people together and foster a more cohesive city, Max created the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, open to all denominations. Even though there was some opposition, most religious leaders supported the breakfast.
America's Downtown[Top Two Panels]:
The late 1950s and early 1960s saw the decline of downtown Greenville as large outlaying shopping centers were built. Store closed and were boarded up. streets became deserted. At the first meeting of the new Downtown Greenville Association, Charles Daniel told the members that the city was "unclean and neither attractive nor competitive with comparable progressive cities."
In an effort to renew downtown, Charles Daniel broke ground for his new headquarters on North Main Street in 1964. When completed in 1967, it was the tallest building in South Carolina. At the same time the Greenville News-Piedmont announced plans to build its new headquarters on South Main Street.
[Bottom Panel 1]:
Under Max Heller's leadership, the revitalization of downtown became a priority in the 1970s. With the help of leaders like Buck Mickel, C. Thomas Wyche, and Alester G. Furman, Jr., a Total Development Plan was initiated by the Chamber of Commerce in 1976. The site of the Woman's College was renamed Heritage Green and there a new county library, the Charles E. Daniel Theatre, and the Greenville County Museum of Art were built.
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Max Heller's vision of an attractive, inviting, prosperous downtown would eventually become a reality through continued efforts by Mayors William D. Workman, Jr. and Knox White. Today, Greenville's downtown is a showplace and a national model for downtown redevelopment.
Elegance of North Main[Top Panel]:
Max Heller's vision really began to take shape in late 1978 when the City of Greenville received a federal Urban Development Action Grant for $7.4 million, one of the first in the nation. With these funds the city began to acquire land on North Main Street and through the active involvement of Buck Mickel and C. Thomas Wyche, a new hotel and convention center was planned.
The Hyatt hotel chain agreed to build the 330-room Regency Hotel, and the city agreed to build a convention center, an atrium and five-story office building. The convention center was named for Max Heller. This public-private partnership began a new era in the life of Greenville's downtown, bringing new business and commerce to Main Street.
The success of the Hyatt Regency was the impetus for the construction of two large office buildings across Church Street by U.S. Shelter. Revenue sharing funds paid for sidewalks and landscaping. The Coffee street Mall, now Piazza Bergamo, was constructed, and the old Meyers-Arnold Building was transformed into a center for the sale of arts and crafts.
Economic Diversity[Top Two Panels]:
Economic change came swiftly to Greenville in the 1970s and 1980s as the textile industry faced new challenges — environmental controls, worldwide inflation, and foreign imports. Local mills merged into larger companies and closures began.
Max Heller's second term as mayor ended in 1979 and he decided to run for Congress from the Fourth District. He won the Democratic primary but was defeated in the general election.
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Max was asked by Governor Richard W. Riley to serve as chair of the South Carolina State Development Board and for the next five years he worked with state and local officials to improve the state's economic climate. Max was convinced that diversification was essential and during his term more than 65,000 jobs were created. He created the South Carolina Research Authority and working closely with Governor Riley a number of major industries were recruited to the state, including Michelin North America, Union Camp and Digital Computer. For the first time, annual industrial recruitment reached the $1 billion mark.
In the spring of 1987, a blue ribbon task force was formed by the Greater Greenville Chamber of Commerce and led by Max Heller, to address the question, "What do we want to be in the year 2005?" The result of their deliberations was a document called "Vision 2005: Greenville, the Journey Forward." This vision called for ambitious goals, including a new performing arts center, a year-round governor's school for the arts, a research park, an Upstate coliseum, and a University for Greenville, among others.
Inspired Leadership[Top Two Panels]:
Max Heller has always been a man of the people. His ability to inspire and foster collaboration among community leaders as well as residents is the foundation of his success. Max's visionary leadership and his lifetime of service to the community led to numerous awards and honors.
He received the Man of the Year Award from the National Council of Jewish Women in 1970. He also received the Distinguished Service Award from the Greater Greenville Ministerial Alliance, the Human Relations Award from the Greenville Human Relations Commission and the Whitney Young Humanitarian Award from the Greenville Urban League. The Greenville Chamber of Commerce named its prestigious neighborhood improvement award after Max.
In 1975, Furman University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree and in 1998 he received the Bell Tower Award for his exceptional achievements and service to the school. The University also named its award-winning student services program the Max and Trudie Heller Service Corps.
Man of the People[Top Panel]:
Max Heller...a true visionary and inspired leader. During his lifetime of service he met and worked with many regional, national and international leaders but his true passion always focused on the people and finding ways to bring them together. Max Heller survived the torments of war and religious persecution to become a successful businessman who decided that, rather than retire and enjoy the "fruits of his labors", he would devote himself to serving mankind through every means available to him.
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"I think you must know who you are. You must have faith not only in God but in other people." — Max Heller
"We must care about everybody." — Max Heller, Mayor, Greenville, South Carolina
Greenville's success as a vital and progressive community is a tribute to the leadership of Max Heller, whose unwavering religious faith and commitment to community service provide the foundation and inspiration for his children, grandchildren and all children who will grow to make a difference for our future.