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Bagels & Bytes for October 24th, 2003
October 24th, 2003
We shared a bagel with Milwaukee mensch Suzy Ettinger who has reached out to both the Jewish and general communities with her time and money.
Growing up in Milwaukee, Suzy Ettinger never imagined she would one day oversee financial disbursements from a major philanthropic foundation. But that has been the case for the past five years, and it gives her great pleasure.
To be able to support worthwhile causes is very gratifying, she said. And I know how lucky I am to be able to do so.
She credits her parents, Nena and James Buchbinder, with instilling in her the importance of supporting the community and helping the less fortunate. I learned as a little girl the Jewish tradition of giving, Ettinger said.
Though she was never formally trained to handle so much responsibility, she said that her parents were wonderful role models. Both sides of my family were involved in the community and everyone taught me that giving both time and money can be very rewarding.
Getting an early start, she recalled making bandages and knitting squares for blankets for U.S. soldiers during World War II with her mother, a registered nurse at Mt. Sinai Hospital.
Also, at my mothers encouragement, my [twin] sister Sally and I were volunteers at the hospital, working in the gift shop and coffee shop, while we were in high school.
And they were active in the Councilettes, the junior group of the National Council of Jewish Women, a group in which their mother was also involved.
It seemed that everywhere we turned, we were involved in some form of charitable work. Even as models in our younger days, we belonged to the Milwaukee Society for Professional Models, which, at that time, raised funds for Southern Colony, a treatment facility for the mentally handicapped. I think helping others just came naturally to us, she noted.
A 1955 graduate of Whitefish Bay High School, Ettinger worked at WISN-Radio under the programming director. Later, she worked for (the late) Ben Barkin at Barkin Herman public relations.
You name it, and I did it there, she recalled. Since we maintained a friendship long after I stopped working, Ben corralled me into becoming a volunteer for his beloved Circus Parade, which Ive continued for some 30 years.
It was probably the professional organizational skills I learned through my work that helped prepare me for what was to come later in life, she said.
Though she has never dwelt on adversity, Ettinger lost her husband, Alan, who died suddenly in 1977 at age 44, leaving her to raise their eight-year-old son Sandy. He also died unexpectedly, in 1998, at age 29.
I made up my mind to be positive rather than negative. No one wants to be around someone who feels sorry for herself. Im blessed with family and friends who are supportive. I really had no choice but to go on with my life, however I admit I do work at it. Ive tried to make the best of a bad situation and I enjoy what Im able to do for others, she said.
I came to the realization after Sandys death that I was the only one left to manage the Ettinger Family Foundation, which had been established by Alans parents, Samuel and Anita Ettinger, many years ago. They were very philanthropic and I still try to support programs that they would like. For example, my mother-in-law had a hearing-impaired brother, so the foundation supports the Milwaukee Hearing Society.
She said she receives many requests for funds from a variety of organizations every year. I take reviewing them very seriously and feel a great sense of responsibility to my family to do a proper job in selecting what to fund.
The foundation supports Jewish and secular activities, including scholarships to the UW-Madison Hebrew and Semitic Studies Department and University School of Milwaukee.
Further, it contributed to Jewish Family Services new building on Jackson St., the library at the Jewish Home and Care Center and the renovation of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, among others. It will also, Ettinger said, provide the gardens at the JHCCs new Sarah Chudnow campus in Mequon.
Ettinger is also a board member of Jewish Family Services, the American Jewish Committee, Jewish Home and Care Center Foundation and University School of Milwaukee.
One of her most meaningful positions, she said, was to serve as co-president of the Mt. Sinai Hospital Auxiliary. It was during my presidency that the hospital merged with Good Samaritan Hospital to become Sinai Samaritan Medical Center. We had to deal with many sensitive issues in combining a Jewish and a Catholic facility. Im very proud of how both auxiliaries were able to work together for the common good.
Most recently, in memory of her son, she donated the centerpiece of the Dale Chihuly Glass Exhibit to the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Alan and I became glass collectors in 1972 and I continued after his death. Although I made a donation for the renovation of the glass gallery at the art museum, I was trying to find an appropriate project in Sandys memory. When I learned the piece was available, I pursued it.
Ive had so many positive responses from people throughout the community whom I dont even know, which I find very endearing that so many people can enjoy it perpetuates his memory.
Her advice to young women: Give a little of your time to the community not only to help the organization in need, but for your own well-being. Giving money is important, but giving your time is even more rewarding.
She enjoyed a plain toasted bagel with salmon spread at Einstein Bros. Bakery in Mequon.
By Mardee Gruen