The Zilber Forum will be the heart of Eckstein Hall, the impressive building that will become the home of Marquette University Law School this summer. I can think of four ways that it is appropriate to consider the Forum as a great part of the legacy of the Milwaukee real estate developer and philanthropist who was a 1941 graduate of the Law School and who died at 92 on Friday.
1) It is the result of an act of generosity. Especially in the last several years, Zilber was enormously generous to the city he called home all his life. That generosity certainly benefited the Law School and Marquette as a whole, but it extended across the city. Zilber launched a program to reinvigorate neighborhoods in the city that have been struggling in recent years, including the near north side community where he was born. He set aside a large amount to help launch a school of public health at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He contributed generously to numerous other causes to meet the needs of Milwaukee—including the funds to build the hospice where he died.
2) It speaks to Zilber’s eagerness to help people. The forum was given the Zilber name in honor of the $30 million gift to the Law School announced in 2007. Keep in mind that $25 million of that gift funds scholarships for students, five times the amount that went toward construction of the building itself. People came first for Zilber—for example, he was regarded as a caring and warm boss who generated great loyalty among employees. That especially was true when it came to people with needs, such as students facing the high cost of a legal education.
3) It will be a place to address problems. The Forum will be more than an atrium and crossroads for people using Eckstein Hall. It will be the setting for a wide range of presentations, panel discussions, and—as the name says—forums on issues important to not only the legal community but Milwaukee as a whole. Zilber loved Milwaukee to the core. He believed Milwaukee was on the road to improving after a period of tough times. And he wanted Milwaukee’s needs to be addressed. The Forum will help do that.
4) It is a symbol of the love Zilber and his late wife, Vera, had for Marquette. Both of them attended the university and they met as students. As far as his law degree, Joe Zilber often joked that he never lost a case—because he never took one. He worked all his life in real estate. But he spoke warmly about how much he felt he gained by getting the law degree and how much Marquette meant to him.
I covered the announcement on August 21, 2007, of Zilber’s gift to the Law School, which included announcing that he was committing large amounts to other needs in Milwaukee as well. The announcement was made on the site where the nearly-finished Eckstein Hall now stands. Zilber was approaching 90 and sat happily in a comfortable chair on stage. He beamed throughout the remarks by Rev. Robert A. Wild, S.J., President of Marquette, and Joseph D. Kearney, Dean of the Law School. It was obvious that Zilber was getting great joy by making this donation.
In his remarks, Zilber said, “Our city is at a critical juncture in its history. I’m trying to do what I can to make sure that we move forward on the path to success. Each of us in our own way and with our own resources, large or small, can make a difference.”
Zilber made a huge difference in Milwaukee on many fronts. He made a huge difference for Marquette and the Law School. And his legacy will only grow if we take his message to heart and use the opportunities that will be offered in places such as the Zilber Forum to make Milwaukee better.
You can read a profile of Joe Zilber from a 2006 issue of Marquette Lawyer magazine by clicking here. The text of remarks by Zilber, Father Wild, and Dean Kearney at the 2007 ceremony announcing his gift can be found by clicking here.