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Philanthropy has played a big role in the Milwaukee area’s development over the years, helping fund cultural attractions, education initiatives, and essential needs and services. Here’s a roundup of some significant donations that have helped shape the region over the past 25 years.
- Quad/Graphics Inc. founders Harry and Elizabeth Quadracci in 1997 issued the lead $10 million gift to fund the Milwaukee Art Museum addition, which was designed by Santiago Calatrava and would be named the Quadracci Pavilion.
- Alverno College supporters John Morgridge, former chief executive officer and chairman of Cisco Systems, and his wife, Tashia, issued a $6 million matching grant in 1997 to build the colllege’s teaching, learning and technology center. Also prolific donors to UW-Madison, the Morgridges gave $50 million in 2006 to help establish the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery and the following year donated $175 million to create an endowment for low-income students attending Wisconsin’s two- or four-year public colleges and universities.
- In May 1998, a significant, undisclosed gift from Don and Kate Wilson established the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield. The couple also supported the renovation of the Wilson Theatre at the Marcus Performing Arts Center’s Vogel Hall in 2014.
- Late Milwaukee developer John Burke Jr. and his wife, Kathryn Murphy "Murph" Burke, donated the brise-soleil, the iconic wings at the Milwaukee Art Museum which bears the couple’s last name and made its debut in 2001.
- The Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation gave $20 million to the Milwaukee Trade and Technical High School, which was renamed the Lynde & Harry Bradley Technology and Trade School (better known as Bradley Tech) in 2002. It was one of several significant gifts from Pettit’s foundation, including $13 million to help build the Calatrava addition at the Milwaukee Art Museum and $9 million to the Pettit National Ice Center.
- Michael Cudahy, the founder of Marquette Medical Systems Inc, was a driving force behind several of the city’s most prominent cultural assets, with one of his biggest contributions being the development of Discovery World’s lakefront location in the mid-2000s, a project he supported with a reported $32 million donation.
- Marquette University alumni Ray and Kay Eckstein – who founded the river transportation business Wisconsin Barge Lines now known as Marquette Transportation Company – gave $51 million in 2007 toward the university’s law school building, named Eckstein Hall. In 2014 the couple donated to the construction of the Dr. E.J. O'Brien Jesuit Residence, and in 2017 they issued a $10 million challenge toward the construction of the university's new residence hall facility, named The Commons.
- In 2008, the Dohmen Family Foundation funded the Milwaukee County Zoo’s new hippo exhibit, a roughly $12 million project. A decade later, the foundation gave a lead gift in support of a $25 million capital campaign to fund the “Adventure Africa” project at the zoo.
- From 2008 to 2018, the Zilber Family Foundation – the grant-making foundation formed in 1961 by real estate developer Joseph Zilber and his wife, Vera – invested more than $50 million to three targeted Milwaukee neighborhoods – Lindsay Heights, Clarke Square and Layton Boulevard West – through its Zilber Neighborhood Initiative.
- Kohl's pledged in 2010 to give more than $7 million to the American Cancer Society and the Milwaukee affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, at the time the largest corporate gift ever made to the Komen Milwaukee affiliate.
- In 2014, philanthropist and former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl pledged a $100 million gift for the development of a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, what would later be known as Fiserv Forum.
- The late Michael Kubly and his wife, Billie Kubly, gave a $5 million endowment in 2015 to Marquette University’s College of Health Sciences to start the Charles E. Kubly Mental Health Research Center. Soon after, the couple donated $2.5 million to the Rogers Memorial Hospital Foundation to support expanding a residential treatment program for young adults with depression and mood disorders. Their son, Charles, a Marquette alumnus, died by suicide in 2008.
- Sheldon and Marianne Lubar gave $10 million in 2015 to develop the Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus. That gift followed another $10 million gift to UWM from the Lubars in 2006 to endow professorships and student scholarships in the business school, known as the Lubar School of Business.
- Hal Leonard Corp. executives and longtime Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee supporters Keith Mardak and Mary Vandenberg in 2015 donated $5 million to start an extended learning day program in partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools at the clubs.
- Milwaukee School of Engineering alumnus Dwight Diercks and his wife, Dian, gave $34 million in 2017 to build a new computational science hall on the school’s downtown Milwaukee campus.
- In 2017, the Kern family and its foundation gave $37.8 million to establish the Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Institute for the Transformation of Medical Education at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
- The Ramirez family – led by Husco chairman Gus Ramirez and his wife, Becky – committed $60 million to St. Augustine Preparatory Academy, the K4-12 non-denominational Christian school on Milwaukee’s south side that they founded in 2017.
- Reiman Publications founder Roy Reiman and Bobbi Reimann provided an undisclosed lead gift for Discovery World’s $18 million expansion project in 2017.
- Philanthropists Donald Baumgartner, the founder of Paper Machinery Corp., and Donna Baumgartner gave $10 million in 2018 to help fund the Milwaukee Ballet’s new facility in the Historic Third Ward, named the Baumgartner Center for Dance. It wasn’t the couple’s only significant contribution to the community; the Baumgartners have also given $8 million to the Milwaukee Art Museum’s endowment for museum directors’ salaries and $1.5 million gifts to Milwaukee Film, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Florentine Opera, among other contributions.
- The Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer (MACC) Fund announced in 2019 it would give $25 million, its largest-ever pledge, to advance medical discoveries at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children’s Wisconsin related to pediatric cancer and blood disorders.
- An anonymous donor gave $10 million in 2019 to construct a new research vessel for UWM’s School of Freshwater Sciences, one of the largest gifts in the school’s history.
- In 2020, an anonymous donor pledged $15 million to match donations to Children’s Wisconsin that are designated to support mental and behavioral health services.
- David and Julia Uihlein, Lynde Uihlein, and The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation gifted a total of $52 million in 2020 toward the renovation of the former Warner Grand Theater, named the Bradley Symphony Center.
- In late 2020, three nonprofit organizations in southeastern Wisconsin were the recipients of philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s national $4.2 billion charity spree: United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, which received $25 million, United Way of Racine County, which received $5 million, and Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin and Metropolitan Chicago, which received $15 million.
- In 2021, philanthropists Darren Jackson, the former chief executive officer of Advance Auto Parts, and Terry Jackson, pledged $31 million to support Marquette University’s College of Nursing students and programs.