Growing up in the 1940s, Stephen Marcus and his sister, Diane, would often screen films for their friends in the basement of the family’s Oshkosh home. They sold popcorn and soda and donated all the proceeds to local charities. From a young age, Marcus was taught the importance of giving back.
“We did this two or three times a week, and, the fact is, we didn’t invent the idea, our parents invented it; it came from them, and perhaps their greatest contribution has been passing that idea on from one generation to the next,” said Marcus, now 87 and chairman of The Marcus Corp., which was founded in 1935 by his father, Ben Marcus, with the purchase of a single movie theater in Ripon.
As the Milwaukee-based entertainment and hospitality company has grown over nearly eight decades and three generations of family leadership, philanthropy has remained a cornerstone of company culture – both through corporate- and employee-led giving. Marcus credits his parents, who believed it was their responsibility to help create stronger communities for their employees and customers and emboldened those around them to be “givers” rather than “takers.”
“It started with (my parents) teaching my sister and myself the important role each of us could play not only in helping others in need, but also encouraging those who are part of our work environment to make a lifetime commitment to do the same,” said Marcus.
Today, The Marcus Corp. employs about 7,500 people across two divisions: Marcus Theatres, with 1,064 screens at 85 locations in 17 states, and Marcus Hotels & Resorts, which owns and/or manages 17 hotels, resorts and other properties in nine states. The publicly traded company is currently led by president and chief executive officer Greg Marcus, who succeeded his father in 2009. Steve’s other son, David Marcus, serves as managing director and CEO of Marcus Investments.
Marcus Corp.’s philanthropic arm, the Marcus Corporation Foundation, has donated more than $10 million to nonprofit organizations over the past decade. Its giving primarily targets organizations in the greater Milwaukee community with specific focus on economic and community vitality, health and human services, and education and conservation. Each year, the foundation hands out the Ben Marcus Humanitarian Award to employees who go “above and beyond” in their volunteer efforts. As part of the recognition, the foundation makes a donation to a charity of the recipient’s choice.
Beyond corporate giving, many members of the Marcus family have been involved in what Steve describes as a “lifetime of service,” through a wide range of contributions to the greater Milwaukee community over the years.
Ben Marcus held leadership roles with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Mount Sinai Medical Center, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, the United Jewish Appeal, and he founded the Variety Club Children’s Charities in Milwaukee.
The Marcus Performing Arts Center in Milwaukee is named in recognition of a naming rights contribution from the Marcus Corporation Foundation more than 25 years ago, which provided funds to renovate and expand the facility, and the family has remained a major supporter for the venue. The Marcus family also was the naming rights sponsor for the Marcus Amphitheater, now known as the American Family Insurance Amphitheater, at the Summerfest grounds. In 2017, the family donated the Warner Grand Theatre in downtown Milwaukee to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, which converted it into the Bradley Symphony Center.
In addition, Steve Marcus was the driving force behind Sculpture Milwaukee, an annual public art display along Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee that began in 2017.
Steve’s late wife Joanie, who died in 2008, was a longtime board member of the Jewish Federation and helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for that organization with multiple campaigns. She was also a longtime docent and member of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Today, there is a wing at the museum named in her honor.
“My late mother-in-law Joanie Marcus set the tone for the women in our family,” said Linda Marcus, who is married to Greg Marcus. “My father-in-law Steve credits her and his parents for creating his love of art, which ultimately led to his creation of Sculpture Milwaukee.”
Linda Marcus is a co-founder of Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel, which partners with numerous local arts and culture organizations that utilize space to further their work and reach. One of those is the Museum of Wisconsin Art, where Linda has sat on the board for the past two years. Her previous board memberships include the Milwaukee Rep and the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.
Janice Marcus, who is married to Steve, is actively involved in socially engaged organizations like the Nehemiah Project, the Women’s Coalition of Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Milwaukee County Historical Society. Melina Marcus, who is married to David, has served on boards such as the Women’s Division, Milwaukee Jewish Federation and the SEED Foundation. She is the co-founder of Rebel Green, which has formed partnerships over the years with organizations, including Feeding America.
“I’m not only very proud of the tradition of giving back that the Marcus Corp. community has created, but also of the role that the whole Marcus family has played in it,” said Steve Marcus.