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Businessman, philanthropist Goodman loved Madison and its Jewish community

By Leon Cohen
Special to The Chronicle

September 17th, 2009

Irwin  A. Goodman, obm.

Irwin A. Goodman, obm.

Madison — Steven H. Morrison remembers the day he first met Irwin A. Goodman, the renowned Madison businessman and philanthropist who died on Aug. 30.

It was “within the first month” after Morrison had been appointed executive director of the then Madison Jewish Community Council, now the Jewish Federation of Madison.

In a telephone interview, Morrison recalled that it was a “typical Madison early spring day” in 1984 when he entered the Goodman Jewelry store on State St. that since the 1930s Irwin owned and operated with his younger brother, Robert D. Goodman, now 90.

Robert met Morrison in front and took him to meet Irwin in the back. And the first thing Irwin said to Morrison was, “Don’t you just love Madison? This is a gorgeous day.”

Goodman indeed loved Madison. According to accounts in Madison news media after his death at age 94, this native of St. Paul, Minn., fell in love with Wisconsin’s capital city in the 1930s when as a member of the University of Minnesota track team he came there to compete against UW-Madison.

Ever since they took over the jewelry store, which had originally belonged to one of their uncles, the Goodman brothers demonstrated their love for the community in ways too numerous to list completely, and some of them unknown because they made many anonymous donations.

The Wisconsin State Journal article on Sept. 1 stated that they gave “more than $10 million to philanthropic causes.”


Modest and affectionate

They helped build athletic facilities, including Madison’s first community swimming pool (for which they donated $2.8 million, according to the Wisconsin State Journal); established scholarships at UW-Madison and Edgewood College; established a fund in the United Way of Dane County Foundation; supported HospiceCare; and they served on many boards and commissions.

And they also loved Madison’s Jewish community. Indeed, said Morrison, “There’s barely a Jewish institution or program in our community that Irwin and Robert haven’t supported or on which they haven’t had significant impact.”

The brothers belonged and contributed to, and established endowment funds for, Madison’s Conservative and Reform synagogues, Beth Israel Center and Temple Beth El respectively; and both have sanctuaries named after their parents, Belle and Harry Goodman, said Morrison.

They helped support Madison’s Chabad Lubavitch program, the Hillel Foundation at the University of Wisconsin, and the Madison Jewish Community Day School; and most recently endowed the weekly kosher nutrition program of Madison’s Jewish Social Services, Morrison said.

Their contributions to the Jewish community began long before Morrison came to Madison, according to Anita Parks, 83, who said she knew the Goodman family all her adult life.

Parks is active in Madison chapter of Hadassah-The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, served “several times” as its president and once as a member of the organization’s national board.

And in all the accounts of the Goodman brothers’ philanthropy, “it was never mentioned that they were very generous to Hadassah,” said Parks in a telephone interview. “Whenever I needed anything, they did it.”

Perhaps their biggest single contribution to the Madison Jewish community was the 154 acres they donated for the Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Jewish Community Campus, the recreation and educational facility located in Verona just outside Madison, plus $600,000 for the Goodman Aquatic Center at that site.

However, said Morrison, it was characteristic of both brothers that at first they did not want their names attached to the campus. “I had to have several long discussions with both of them” before they would agree to have the campus named for them, Morrison said.

And Parks confirmed that Irwin was “as modest as possible,” as well as “thoughtful and sweet, with a nice sense of humor.”

         The brothers’ combined senses of modesty may also have been expressed in the way they ran their jewelry store from the 1930s until they sold it to one of their former employees in 1998. Though successful, they never tried to expand or move to a suburban mall from their downtown location.

Morrison said that they told him, “We can’t serve customers if we can’t be there.”

Irwin “had such affection for people and real trust,” said Morrison. “That may be among the reasons they ran a successful business.”

Moreover, the brothers did not marry or have children, and did not spend much money on themselves. “Whatever they earned, they spent on improving the community,” said Morrison.

In fact, Morrison recalled that Irwin said “several times” to him, “You know, we don’t have children. What we have is a community; that is our family.”

A private funeral service was held on Sept. 1, at which Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Temple Beth El delivered the eulogy. He is survived by his brother, who could not be reached for comment.