Sheldon Wert could size up a person at a glance, allowing him to take risks other bankers wouldn’t. He gave loans to grateful recipients who couldn’t get them elsewhere, said Kim Culp, his longtime real estate and banking partner.
“He was willing to make loans on character,” Culp said. “So he really was instrumental in starting many businesses.”
Wert, of Wayzata, died Dec. 5 of cancer. He was 82.
As a numbers whiz with a head for business, Wert quietly built a business empire with integrity and a willingness to give counsel and assistance.
One notable project was Shelard Park, known today as Interchange Office Park, a parcel of land in St. Louis Park that Wert developed into a million square feet of office space in 1972.
He was born in 1934 in north Minneapolis. His father, a hatmaker, was a Jewish immigrant who fled religious persecution in Russia. The family lived in subsidized housing.
“Growing up poor definitely had an impact on him,” son Joshua Wert said. “It shaped him and kept him humble.”
Nature fascinated Wert as a child. He loved fishing, Joshua Wert said, and hoped to be a forest ranger.
Instead, Wert attended the University of Minnesota, majoring in accounting. His studies were postponed when he tried to join the Navy, an alternative to being drafted. His bad teeth presented a roadblock.
He got his teeth fixed by promising to gradually repay a sympathetic dentist. While in Asia, Wert sent monthly checks until the debt was paid.
After college, he married and had four children. That marriage ended, but he soon met second wife Jean and their union lasted 43 years. They had two kids, and family members say they strove to create a loving, blended family. “We grew up with a very present father,” Joshua Wert said.
Wert wanted his children to be themselves, not extensions of their parents, said daughter Josi Wert.
After graduating from college and taking an accounting job, Wert moved to American Lumber Co., becoming president in 1965. After a merger with another firm, he formed Shelter Corp. of America, which became a national success.
Wert also ran an international cattle ranching company and enjoyed wearing cowboy boots, Joshua Wert recalled.
Wert started and eventually sold Shelard National Bank and Century Bank. He also began the Shelard Group, which developed real estate and leased and managed property. Shelard Park, near Interstate 394 and Hwy. 169, was a huge development involving close collaboration with city officials. Wert worked to get every piece, including a movie theater and nightclub, approved, developed and sold.
Jerome Simon, his longtime attorney and friend, said he made investments with Wert because he was honest and intelligent.
“I don’t think he did very much off-the-cuff without thought or consideration,” Simon said.
Culp said he saw Wert as a father figure. He said Wert had a diverse group of friends and treated them equally.
“I watched him help so many people,” Culp said. “It was never all about him.”
Wert loved to travel, play golf and tennis, and fish. He took pride in his Jewish faith and belonged to two synagogues and donated to Jewish organizations. He was a doting grandfather, and his 10 grandkids called him “Papa Shel.”
Friends and family said they will miss Wert not just for his succinct advice, but also for his ability to listen: “I’ve lost my number one confidante,” said Joshua Wert.
Wert is survived by his wife, Jean, children Jeff, Josi, Joshua, Jennifer, Jacob and Tara, and 10 grandchildren. Services have been held.