Bill and Maggie Kaplen have been strong supporters of the Seton Hall Law Legal Education Opportunities (LEO) program for almost a decade as part of their strong and shared commitment to helping others.
When Bill, a lawyer by training who turned to building, and Maggie, a nurse, began earning money they made a decision early on to create a foundation – the Kaplen Foundation – so they could help others succeed in life. They started with $50,000, added to that, and invested wisely. Now retired, Bill says he and his wife are "in the happiest time of our lives" contributing money to worthwhile causes and endeavors but most important in each instance helping others with their lives.
They have been the lead contributor to the LEO program since 1999, providing a total of $700,000 for scholarships so LEO students could pursue a legal education. This year, as part of the Seton Hall Law Rising campaign, they have pledged more than $900,000 for additional scholarships.
Founded in 1978 as an alternative admissions program, LEO offers students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to attend Seton Hall Law. The program now consists of the LEO Institute, a full-time, two-week summer program of classes and workshops to prepare students for law school. Participants with a demonstrated financial need who enroll at Seton Hall Law then receive renewable $10,000 grants towards tuition and fees. More than 600 LEO students have graduated from Seton Hall Law. Today, they are found presiding in the courts and serving in prestigious law firms and government agencies.
The program is one that fits well with the Kaplens’ philosophy of helping those seeking to overcome adversity. “Life can be very tough,” says Bill. “I grew up in a family of 14 children. My father, a builder, lost everything during the Great Depression. But everyone is important and deserves a chance.”
Bill personally knows the value of a scholarship and the pathways that can open. He was fortunate to earn a scholarship for his college education, and then worked his way through law school. Although his father had discouraged him from becoming a builder, he decided to give it a try for a year after earning his law degree. “The year worked out well,” so he continued to build the business, constructing schools, apartments, and commercial complexes on speculation. The business served him well and he and his wife were able to create a good life for their four children. But it is the giving away of what they built that the couple says is their greatest satisfaction.
“It’s wonderful, wonderful to be able to help other people so they can make their lives better,” says Bill. “We believe in helping others who otherwise might not have the opportunities that we have been so fortunate in having,” adds Maggie.
Neither Bill nor Maggie graduated from Seton Hall Law. Bill earned his law degree from John Marshall College, which closed during WW II, and Seton Hall Law embraced the alumni as their own. Maggie received her nursing degree from Dominican College in New York. As part of their giving, they fund four full-tuition scholarships for nursing students there. Their other giving includes the lead gift to create the Jewish Home Assisted Living Kaplen Senior Residence in River Vale, NJ, a kosher assisted-living facility, where Maggie serves as President; the lead gift to build a new emergency wing at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center; and the lead gift to modernize the Jewish Community Center on the Palisades (JCC) in Tenafly. They also are strong supporters of programs to assist women and children, as well as the arts.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the JCC, Bill summed up what he and Maggie gain from their giving. “Nothing I have done in my long life has brought me the kind of happiness that giving away my money has. If you have the resources to give but don’t, no matter how young you are, you are denying yourself something wonderful.”