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Former Hal Leonard Corp. executives Keith Mardak and Mary Vandenberg say their desire to see Milwaukee youth flourish motivates their extensive philanthropic endeavors.
Mardak and Vandenberg, this year’s recipients of BizTimes Media’s Nonprofit Excellence Lifetime Achievement Award, have supported many nonprofit and educational initiatives in the Milwaukee area for decades.
They are longtime supporters of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, providing funding to establish the organization’s headquarters, the Mardak Center for Administration & Training at 1558 N. 6th St., and the Daniels-Mardak club on the north side.
When a lease dispute threatened to close the club in 2018, Mardak and Vandenberg swooped in at the eleventh hour with a $300,000 donation to subsidize a portion of its operating costs and keep the doors open.
The couple also financed the MarVan Scholars Program, a cooperative between the Boys & Girls Clubs and Milwaukee Public Schools that provides after-school help, support and enrichment to over 17,000 kids at 44 clubs with a certified, accredited teacher at each location.
They also recently committed to providing scholarships to help 30 Boys & Girls Clubs students complete college in partnership with All-In Milwaukee.
“Their generosity is a game changer for our collective efforts and underscores the value of working together to better position Milwaukee’s youth for great futures,” Kathy Thornton-Bias, president and chief executive officer of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, said of the donation.
The couple have also devoted their efforts to providing Milwaukee youth with greater access to the arts and music. This fall, Mardak and Vandenberg donated $5 million to help fund the expansion of Milwaukee Youth Arts Center’s building at 325 W. Walnut St. In recognition of the gift, MYAC’s main facility will be named the Mardak|Vandenberg Building.
They were founding supporters of the MYAC, which is the home of First Stage and the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, and have been principal program partners since its inception.
“We are extremely grateful for this generous donation from Keith and Mary,” said Del Wilson, executive director of MYAC. “The completed construction of the Mardak|Vandenberg Building will feature two new rehearsal halls, six studios and six small group instruction rooms and will preserve the legacy created by the couple in connecting students, families and neighborhoods for generations.”
Mardak, a native of Milwaukee’s south side, retired last year as chairman and chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based sheet music publisher Hal Leonard LLC. Vandenberg, who grew up in Green Bay, was formerly vice president of business affairs for the company.
Mardak said he and Mary wish to see others in the city have the same opportunities they have enjoyed.
“Why do I give? … Because the youth of our city are its future, and I want that future to be bright. Because all of our citizens should have the opportunity to enjoy access to education and art and music and beauty. Because I need to pay it forward,” Mardak said.
In addition to supporting youth programs, Mardak and Vandengberg have supported various health care initiatives. In 2018, they endowed a chair at Children’s Wisconsin with a $1.5 million gift – a donation that stemmed from their personal connection to the hospital. When their granddaughter was four years old, she received care at Children’s for a brain condition that ultimately required surgery.
Mardak also made a $2 million challenge grant in 2018 to Glendale-based nonprofit ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, which provides peer-to-peer support for people with breast cancer. Mardak’s ties to the organization trace back to his decades-long friendship with its founder, the late Melodie Wilson Oldenburg, and her husband, Wayne Oldenburg.
Mardak, an avid handball player throughout his adult life, also set up a scholarship program with the United States Handball Association to give financial help to college students in return for them becoming teachers of handball to youth to introduce them to the sport.
Other beneficiaries of the couple’s philanthropy include the MSO, Milwaukee Ballet, UPAF, the Milwaukee Art Museum, St. Marcus Schools, Running Rebels, and the Phoenix Society for Burn Victims.