Herman Chanen, founder of Chanen Construction Company in 1955, passed away at the end of 2022. Builder, entrepreneur, education advocate, and a man with a larger-than-life personality, Herman Chanen personified the American Dream he loved so much.
Born the son of immigrants from Latvia and a first-generation American, Herman loved the promise and opportunity represented by the United States. From the earliest age strived to honor his country, live up to its promises, and assure that the America Dream was attainable by all. Born in Independence, Iowa, as a child he played the bugle each day at his school for the raising of the American Flag and became a Boy Scout, ultimately rising to the level of Eagle Scout. Herman volunteered and served his country in the Navy toward the end of World War II. After his military service, Herman moved to Phoenix, population 90,000. With no time for college education, Herman thought he should start a business. He became a TV pitchman for a grocery store, started an advertising agency, and started a car wash, Chanen Family Car Wash. None of the early businesses were what he hoped they would be. In 1951, he married Phoenix resident Lois Boshes and through a twist of fate went to work for a local apartment builder and learned the construction industry.
By 1955, and with a growing family, he was ready to start his owner building company. He borrowed $1000 from Household Credit and started Chanen Construction Company. The company grew and by 1960 the company, built Terminal 2 at Sky Harbor International Airport, the company’s first large construction project. Being part of the business community during the phenomenal growth years of Phoenix brought Herman national attention. In 1963, Look magazine did a story featuring Herman and his family entitled “Boom in the Desert,” in which Herman predicted that Phoenix would become a city of one million people.
He was appointed to the National Alliance of Business by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967 and worked with that administration to create prototype low-cost housing. Herman served for almost two decades on the board of Valley National Bank of Arizona, Arizona’s then largest bank, now part of JP Morgan Chase. As Chanen Construction grew, Herman led or served on more than 50 philanthropic and community organizations, many of which were crucial to the economic and cultural development of Arizona. He was recognized by many of these institutions with awards, including the Phoenix Advertising Club Man of the Year, Human Relations Award from the National Conference for Community and Justice, Golden Plate Award of the National Academy of Achievement, the Human Relations Award of the Anti-Defamation League, and he was a 32nd Degree Mason of the Scottish Rite.
Herman was appointed by former Governor Bruce Babbitt to the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing body for Arizona’s three public universities, where he served for eight years, including the role of the Board president, modernizing Arizona’s universities’ capital development oversight and fiscal review process. As a Regent, Herman had lasting influence on Arizona, chairing the selection committees that named Dr. Lattie Coor as President of ASU in 1992 and Dr. Michael Crow as President in 2002. In recognition of these efforts, Herman was granted a Doctor of Humane Letters (Honorary) in 1994. Herman’s leadership was crucial with many Arizona non-profit organizations including the Arizona Heart Institute Foundation (building Arizona’s first dedicated heart surgery hospital), Barrow Neurological Foundation, Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix, Childhelp USA, HomeBase Youth Services, the Phoenix Symphony, and the Greater Phoenix United Way (where he chaired one of their most successful fundraising efforts). He was a co-founder of Phoenix Economic Growth Corporation (now the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, Arizona’s leading global economic development organization), and was an early member of Phoenix 40 (now Greater Phoenix Leadership, an organization of Valley leading CEOs working to improve economic vitality and quality of life through aligning business, education, philanthropy and public policy sectors.) Herman’s son, Steve Chanen has been President and CEO of the Chanen since 1996.
More recently, Herman Chanen was the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor by NECO (the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations), joining other distinguished recipients, such as Lee Iacocca, Walter Cronkite, Jacqueline Kennedy-Onasis, Rosa Parks, Bob Hope, Joe DiMaggio, Muhammad Ali, and Barbara Walters. The Ellis Island Medal of Honor ranks among the nation’s most renowned awards. And Herman was honored for his role in education in the community by Midwestern University with the COMET award (Community Outreach: Motivating Excellence for Tomorrow.)
While serving these organizations and being recognized with over 50 local and national awards, Herman enjoyed fishing in Iowa and Minnesota lakes, dining with friends, ASU and Arizona professional sports, fun with family, and devising pranks to be launched on friends and family. Herman continued to grow Chanen Construction Company, which today is 68 years old. The company built a headquarters building for Household Finance in Las Vegas and Herman shared the story of the company’s founding with Household’s CEO, saying “I am only here today to build this building for you because of what your company did for me 50 years ago.” The story of the American Dream in action.