Rollins M. KoppelAugust 10, 1929 ~ October 10, 2017 (age 88)
Rollins Miller Koppel, Rollie to all who knew him, died early Tuesday morning following a minor procedure. He was 88 and lived a life filled with both professional accomplishments, a passionate commitment to his Jewish faith and their people, and loyal adoration of his family and friends, especially his five beloved grandchildren Lucia Ann, Miller, Max, Asher, and Aliza Amalie.
Rollie was a doer of the highest order. He had a boundless passion for the legal profession, becoming one of the most respected trial lawyers in the Rio Grande Valley, and enjoyed a successful, second career as a banker and real estate developer, among other professional pursuits. Above all else, he wanted to leave a positive mark on the Valley and accomplished that feat many times over.
Rollie was born in 1929 in El Paso. His parents, Nathan and Helen, had stopped there on their way from their native Wisconsin to California to find work. Instead, fortuitously, Nathan Koppel heard about an opportunity in Harlingen and decided to move there, raising Rollie and his two sisters, Betty Lou (Bootsie) and Carolyn Jo (JoJo).
Harlingen quickly became home, offering attributes — opportunity, multiculturalism, kinship and community — that Rollie reveled in and bragged about for the entirety of his life.
He was a good student who excelled at Harlingen public schools while spending much of his free time working various odd jobs, including at his father’s Harlingen soda fountain and, by age 14, driving a Pepsi truck that made deliveries across the Valley. He started his college career at the then Texas A&I University before matriculating to the University of Texas, Austin, where he was a Plan II honors student at U.T., an accomplished debater, a student government leader, and the first Jewish member of the prestigious Texas Cowboys student group, responsible for firing the cannon at Longhorns football games.
He later found his life’s calling at the University of Texas Law School, an institution he continues to support. He interrupted his law school career after two years to, against the fervent please of his mother, to enlist in the Army and serve in the Korean War. He ultimately finished as the No. 2 graduate in his law school class and was an editor of the Texas Law Review. Among his many accomplishments at the school, Rollie was particularly proud of having helped galvanize student support to admit Heman Sweatt as the first African American student at UT Law.
Upon graduation, Rollie joined President Lyndon Johnson’s Department of Justice. As a member of the DOJ’s prestigious honors program, he was quickly entrusted as the lead attorney to defend the country in high-level maritime disputes. But several years of northeast urban living were plenty for him. He often admitted to feeling lost in Washington, D.C., figuratively and literally. His wife of fifty years, Amy, often joked that he might have stayed in DC had he not continually gotten lost in the Pentagon parking lot. More than that, he missed hearing Spanish spoken and the other comforts of home.
Rollie returned to Harlingen in the 1950s to join Claude Sternberg and Jack Skaggs in a fledgling legal practice. In time, Sternberg, Skaggs and Koppel would become one of the area’s premier firms. Rollie handled countless case, from criminal trials to business and personal injury disputes. He loved every aspect of the practice, particularly learning about his clients’ stories and problems, which he took on as his own. The most important trait for a lawyer, he always said, is the ability to truly and deeply empathize with your client’s plight. He was the very definition of discrete and would never discuss particulars of most cases at home.
In the 1970s, he got involved in banking, representing a shareholder of the Raymondville Bank of Texas, which he eventually purchased. He slowly built the bank, including overseeing the design and construction of a new bank building in Raymondville, which still stands. He took particular joy in becoming a member of the Raymondville community and helping to assist local businesses in furthering their ambitious. In 1993, he opened a branch in Brownsville and took on a new name: the Bank of Texas. A fluent speaker of Spanish, he delighted in travelling frequently to Mexico to develop banking and legal clients.
Rollie’s career took many other interesting turns. He purchased real estate across the Valley and played role in the building of homes, apartment buildings, schools and a medical clinic that treats cancer patients. He believed with all of his heart that the Valley was best place to live in the world and marveled that some of his children chose to live elsewhere.
While he had relentless professional drive, his top priority always remained Amy and their children, Kathy, Nathan and Annie. He provided his family far more than financial support: unstinting love, bedrock values and constant guidance and cheerleading.
He is survived by Nathan and Jennifer Koppel, their children Max (13), Asher (11) and Aliza (8) and Annie Koppel and Jeff Van Hanken, and their children, Lucia Ann (16) and Miller (14). Rollie was adored by his grandchildren, who called him Poppy.
A graveside service at Restlawn Memorial Park in La Feria will be held at 9 a.m. Friday, October 13, to be followed by a memorial service Friday at 10:30 a.m. at Temple Beth Israel.
In lieu of flowers the family request that those desiring to do so may make a donation to the Temple Beth Israel, c/o Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund, 1702 E. Jackson, Harlingen, TX 78550.