Lynn Carlson Schell left a larger-than-life imprint on the Twin Cities real estate industry.
She helped develop and acquire more than 16,000 multifamily and senior housing units totaling more than $1 billion. She started her own development and property management companies and grew them into one of the largest female-owned businesses in the state. And she pioneered a new standard of living for seniors through a housing model that celebrates physical and spiritual well-being.
Carlson Schell, known by her friends and family as an inspirational leader and trailblazing entrepreneur, died Monday. She was 59.
“Everything she did was driven by her desire to help others,” her children, Julia Schell, Abigail Schell and Andrew Weber, said in a joint statement. “She saw an opportunity to help people fill their lives with meaning and fun regardless of their circumstances.”
Her legacy in the field spans decades. Carlson Schell founded the Minnetonka-based real estate development company Shelter Corp. in 1993. She later founded the Waters, which she spun out from Shelter and grew into a multistate senior living development company with properties that featured hotel-style services and amenities and a spiritual well-being model that she pioneered through a partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing.
Together, the two companies generated enough revenue to earn Carlson Schell a spot among the top five woman-owned businesses in the Twin Cities in 2018.
“She was pioneering with this wellness approach and believed that seniors should age with purpose and dignity,” said Tami Kozikowski, president and chief operating officer of the Waters.
Carlson Schell also sat on the board of William Lyon Homes, one of the nation’s largest homebuilders. In May 2018, she rang the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate the company’s fifth year on the exchange.
Beyond her professional feats, Carlson Schell was known for investing in her community. She was a longtime board member of the Walker Art Center and the Friends of the Hennepin County Library.
While on the Friends’ board, Carlson Schell helped the nonprofit significantly boost its fundraising. After the Friends raised around $250,000 for the library in 2011, Carlson Schell became “laser focused” on improvement, said fellow board member Kathy Graves.
In 2012, the Friends raised more than $550,000. And last year, the nonprofit raised nearly $1.3 million.
At home, Carlson Schell maintained a lush and sprawling garden and had a love for lily of the valley. She often hosted candlelit backyard dinners and lavish Christmas Eve soirees.
To her children, Carlson Schell was a mother who was “present at every recital, sports game and graduation.” She always found a reason to celebrate, they said, and “there was nothing she loved more” than being with her family and friends.
One of her favorite places was the family’s cabin in northern Minnesota. The family spent many weekends there, spending their days playing in the lake and their evenings watching the sun set and admiring its golden glow. Her children say that whenever they see that “golden light,” they will know their mother is still here.
Carlson Schell is survived by her husband, James, her children, and a grandson.
Services were originally scheduled for Saturday but have since been postponed because of the coronavirus.