top of page

    -From a childhood shattered by the ravages of World War II, Lisa Maloff found refuge at Lake Tahoe. Now she’s passing on her good fortune to others and earning her nickname ...

    “I felt very fortunate. My husband and I were very well off and I wanted to share it. ... I don’t want to be buried with a check so I am giving away as much as I can."


It is no overstatement to say that Lisa Maloff’s generosity has transformed South Lake Tahoe. Everything from hospital wings, university buildings, youth centers, and athletic fields have been built with her generous support. Maloff has distributed approximately $40 million to nonprofits, community organizations, and individuals throughout South Lake Tahoe in a legendary giving spree that is both selfless and personal. It’s her way of giving everything she has to a community that gave her a home when she needed it most. And it is the reason thousands of people know Maloff by her unofficial name — “The Angel of Tahoe.”

The story of how the now 90-year-old philanthropist decided to empty her pockets for community organizations across South Lake Tahoe starts during one of the world’s darkest decades. “I was raised on a farm in the Ukraine. That is the beginning,” said Maloff, seated on her sofa near a sliding glass door that looks out to the slopes of Heavenly Ski Resort and the greening fairways of the Edgewood Golf Course. Maloff’s parents, Ludwig and Lydia Bauer, were farmers from Poland who had relocated to Ukraine. It was a modest farm, where Lisa’s caregiver Ricky Reich said “her mother used to sweep the dirt floor every week.”

War erupts


That humble yet bucolic beginning would soon be shattered by World War II and the German invasion of Ukraine. And Lisa’s childhood would be marked by the unbelievable cruelties of war. Ukraine was one of the countries most decimated by World War II, first by Stalin’s Soviet empire and then by the Nazi occupation. When the surprise German offensive began in Ukraine on June 22, 1941, the Soviet army launched what historians describe as a “scorched earth” retreat, blowing up buildings, destroying crops, and flooding mines in an attempt to leave nothing of value to the invading force. But the arrival of the Germans brought an even more devastating reality. An estimated 5–7 million people died. More than 700 cities, towns, and villages were destroyed. Ten million were left homeless. The Bauers were caught in the middle of this devastating conflict.

Sent to a labor camp


The Nazis interned millions of people. Some were forced into labor camps. Others simply disappeared. Lisa’s father was taken away and was never seen again. When Nazi soldiers came for her and her mother, Lisa’s future brother-inlaw, Sasha, was able to hide Lisa’s two sisters. “For some reason, the military came into our home and took me and my mother and they put us in a concentration camp,” said Maloff. “We were just two little innocent women. We were no threat to anybody.” Lisa was approximately 12 years old when she was taken to the camp. After two years of internment, Sasha paid off the Nazi guards to gain her release. Miraculously, the guards allowed her to leave. But while Lisa escaped with her life, her mother passed away from malnutrition in the camps. Lisa left the camp as a young teen in war-ravaged Europe, without family except for her two sisters. Only the mercy of strangers allowed her and her sisters to emigrate to the United States and rebuild their lives here. “A group of ladies in the U.S. here decided to sponsor orphans from the war. My sister and I qualified. We were under 18,” said Maloff. Tania, Lisa’s older sister, was over 18, but also emigrated to the U.S. after the war. Maloff came to live in an orphanage in Los Angeles, and when she left the orphanage, she traveled to Lake Tahoe to visit her sister. The year was 1959. She put down roots in South Lake Tahoe and never left. Over the next 60 years, South Lake Tahoe would become not only Lisa’s home, but a place where she and her sisters would reassemble, as best they could, the family they had lost in World War II.

The Maloffs build a business


The early years in South Lake Tahoe were a time of both incredibly hard work and great enjoyment for the Maloffs. Lisa had met and married Robert Maloff in Los Angeles before coming to Tahoe. Robert began a career in construction and hotel management, and Lisa volunteered at the hospital auxiliary during the day and worked as a seamstress at Harrah’s at night for $2.50 per hour. What would soon become an impressive Maloff hotel empire began modestly. They owned a tiny hotel called the Tropicana in South Lake Tahoe, where rooms rented for $5 per night, said Maloff. “When we filled up, we slept on the couch and rented our bedroom for $5,” said Maloff. That one small hotel soon grew into an impressive number of hotel and casino holdings. Over time the Maloffs, along with business partners, would own and run a number of properties, including the Lake Tahoe Inn, the Timber Cove Lodge, and the Sundowner in Reno.

Meeting celebrities

Lisa also had her own career taking care of high-profile entertainers who came to Harrah’s Tahoe to perform. She got to know many of the celebrities that graced the stage at Harrah’s in those days, but admits that Sammy Davis Jr. was always her favorite. Lisa said that every time the legendary singer made his way to the lake, he would greet Lisa with a hug. “Of all the people he met he remembered my name,” said Maloff. Maloff and her sisters ended up all living on the same street in Skyland, and Lisa became known as the “hostess with the mostest”—a purveyor of fine gatherings and social events. “She never served the same meal twice,” said Reich. Lisa played the accordion, wore festive pink ensembles, and crafted costumes for her friends. To this day she insists on eating a beet and coleslaw every day. Her husband, Robert Maloff, passed away in 2011. Her two sisters, Tania and Slava, passed away in 2010 and 2018, respectively.

Finding a friend


During this time, Ricky Reich became her companion and caretaker. Reich had been remodeling condos within a complex where the Maloffs also owned a unit. Sasha Maloff took notice of his work and Reich was hired to remodel the Maloff’s unit. Sasha then introduced him to Lisa. Reich started helping Lisa with numerous projects. He became a friend, and earned her trust. “The crazy thing was I had no clue who the Maloffs were,” said Reich. After Robert’s passing, Reich and Maloff began to pass time together, dining and conversing about life. “We laugh at the same things. We look at life with the same outlook,” Reich said. In the period after the death of her husband and her sisters, Lisa was coping with loss and the sudden responsibility of handling the substantial finances she now controlled. Reich, her right-hand man, helped her move from Skyland to a smaller home that was easier to navigate, cooking for her and driving her to appointments and gatherings. It was during this time that Lisa heard a story about a man who asked his daughter that she bury him with all his money. She decided she never wanted to follow that path.

Making donations


What ensued was a remarkable string of donations to countless local charities and organizations. She donated $10 million in her late husband’s name for a state-of-the-art orthopedic and wellness center at Barton Health. She donated $5.8 million to the Lake Tahoe Community College for a new university center that offers four-year degrees. She donated over $3 million to Whittell High School for an athletic field and track. Another $3 million check was sent to the Boys and Girls Club of South Lake Tahoe for a new facility. The list goes on and on. Virtually every day, Reich receives phone calls asking for Lisa’s support, and she responds to many with her unwavering generosity. “It has transformed the community and I think that will be her overarching legacy,” said Jeff DeFranco, president of Lake Tahoe Community College. Until Maloff’s donation to the college, there was no way for South Lake Tahoe residents to receive a four-year college degree without leaving the community. Lisa not only donated funding to build the University Center, she also contributed $100,000 toward scholarships for students seeking their four-year degree. Each year, 10 Lake Tahoe Community College students will become Maloff scholars as a result of her generosity. “The University Center was not going to happen without Lisa,” said DeFranco.

Her personal touch


DeFranco said that Lisa’s generous donations come with a healthy dose of Maloff wit and humor that leave a personal touch on the causes she supports. “She drinks this combination of merlot and chardonnay wine and she jokes that she invented this wine ‘Charlot.’ So we had a winemaker make this wine for one of our events,” said DeFranco. At Barton Health, Maloff’s generosity will be felt by generations of orthopedic patients. “Lisa Maloff’s generosity sparked a new era in healthcare for Lake Tahoe with the opening of the Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness inside the Robert Maloff Center,” said Dr. Clint Purvance, Barton Health president and CEO. “Using prevention and education to enhance health and wellness within our community, this new model of care takes a whole-person approach designed to treat the individual, not just injury or disease.” The center is home to Barton’s elite orthopedic care team, an integral part of medical care in such an active mountain community.

Individuals in need


But it is not just high-profile community projects Maloff supports. Often checks go out to individual South Lake Tahoe residents who need help. These checks are often handed over with a warm hug from Lisa. The breadth and scope of her donations are unique, said Bill Roby, director of the El Dorado Community Foundation. “It is a rare individual that has that vision and ability to engage at that level,” said Roby. Maloff’s impact is not only in her giving, but in her leadership, said Roby. “The extent at which they raise up the nonprofit, community-based organizations in Tahoe is a life-changing experience,” said Roby. “These organizations are often on the funding treadmill and that treadmill can be really fast. Through Maloff’s giving, they have been taken off that treadmill. It allows them to dream ‘what else can we do?’” One of Lisa’s favorite ways of giving is when she dresses up as Mrs. Claus for the annual Christmas party for Tahoe Youth and Family Services. More than 125 children line up to meet Maloff as she impersonates Mrs. Claus, and each child receives a Christmas gift and an ample amount of Maloff’s attention. In those moments, the girl who was orphaned in war-torn Ukraine, left without parents or a home, finds the immense joy of giving the gift of love to the line of children crowded around her. “It means a lot to me because I was raised on the farm in the Ukraine and I survived a concentration camp in the war,” said Maloff. And despite giving everything to the community she calls home, she is still astounded by what she receives in return. Her living room is filled with letters of gratitude from the community and banners expressing the community’s thanks for her boundless generosity. “People have gone out of their way to show their appreciation,” Maloff said. Recently, the City of South Lake Tahoe, in a tribute to Maloff’s contributions to the community, started the process of renaming Airport Road “Lisa Maloff Way.” The recognition brought back memories of her childhood and is a testament to the remarkable life of The Angel of Tahoe. “Isn’t that a miracle? I was raised on a farm and here I am, they are naming a street after me. I am overwhelmed. Totally overwhelmed,” said Maloff. But for the community members of South Lake Tahoe, the ongoing miracle is that by some wild twist of fate a young Ukranian girl would improbably survive the horrors of World War II, find a home and happiness in Lake Tahoe, and become a legendary benefactor for the entire community.

-The miracle is The Angel of Tahoe.

By David Bunker Special to Tahoe In Depth


“The body of the 33-year-old man who went missing in Lake Tahoe was located by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office underwater remote operated vehicle (ROV). The body was found in 1,062 feet of water. The ROV was able to bring his body up to the surface. Lisa Maloff had recently donated the ROV to Douglas County Sheriff's Office (DCSO) to help recover victims in the extreme depths of Lake Tahoe and they offered their assistance to El Dorado County in the search. DSCO deputies recently completed ROV and SONAR training with Bruce's Legacy, a non-profit search and recovery group out of Wisconsin that was instrumental in other recoveries around the region and nation. South Lake Tahoe Fire and Rescue Marine 17 responded to assist Douglas County Sheriff Marine 7 with recovery. The South Lake Tahoe Fire and Rescue Marine Unit was also donated by Maloff as was the fire-fighting boat of Tahoe Douglas Fire.


City of South Lake Tahoe Proclamation

Recognizing Lisa Maloff for her Numerous Charitable Donations to our Community


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $10,000,000 was given to the Barton Foundation

for construction of the Robert Maloff Center of Excellence; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $5,800,000 was given to the Lake Tahoe

Community College for construction of the Lisa Maloff University Center; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $3,150,000 was given to the George Whittell

High School to improve their Track and Field Facilities; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $3,000,000 was donated to the Boys and Girls

Club of Lake Tahoe which will provide fifty percent construction cost for the new Al Tahoe

facility; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $500,000 was given to the Lake Tahoe Wildlife

Care for the construction of a new bear enclosure which will include multiple play areas,

outdoor yard, isolation cubicles and will accommodate an unlimited number of bears; and


Whereas, donations totaling $390,000 were given to Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection

District for the purchase of a new Marine 24 rescue boat; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $390,000 was given to South Lake Tahoe Fire

Rescue for the purchase of the MS Lisa, Marine 17 rescue boat; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $280,000 was given to the Lake Valley Fire

Protection District to purchase a fire training tower; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $225,000 was given to the Tahoe Youth and

Family Service which allowed their continued mission to promote the healthy development of children, families and individuals through counseling, mentoring and support programs; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $200,000 was given to the South Lake Tahoe

Police Canine Association to support the purchase of a Police K9, K9 training, K9 vehicle, K9 handler training and K9 maintenance for one year; and


Whereas, donations totaling $225,000 were given to the El Dorado Community

Foundation to assist multiple community organizations sustain programs, deliver vital

services, provide financial support and most important, have had a resounding impact on the lives of thousands of South Lake Tahoe residents; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $200,000 was given to Track Renovation 4

Community and Kids to renovate the 1968 Olympic Trials track at the South Lake Tahoe

Middle School; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $125,000 was given to the Douglas County

Sheriff K9 Program; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $100,000 was given to the South Lake Tahoe

Senior Center for much needed building upgrades; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $100,000 was given to Sierra-At-Tahoe Junior

Development Team; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $100,000 was given to the Douglas County

Rotary; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $100,000 was given to Tahoe Arts Project to

support performing arts in schools and has allowed TAP to offer free admission to public

performances; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $75,000 was given to South Lake Tahoe High

School to support the AVID College Readiness System; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $55,000 was given to Live Violence Free to

install over six thousand square feet of flooring to welcome clients and brighten the facility; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $50,000 was given to the Heavenly Ski

Foundation; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $50,000 was given to the South Lake Tahoe

Little League; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $50,000 was given to the South Lake Tahoe

Middle school to benefit the Greenhouse Project; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $25,000 was given to the Family Resource

Center; and


Whereas, a donation in the amount of $10,000 was given to Lake Tahoe Epic Curling

Dedicated Ice Project “Warm/Club Room”.


Now, therefore, the City Council of the City of South Lake Tahoe extends to Lisa

Maloff its most sincere appreciation and gratitude for her generosity and kindness to the

citizens of South Lake Tahoe.

bottom of page