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Giving to the neediest and ablest
January 14th, 2005
Local philanthropist shares his ABCs
art, Bible and chemistry
In 1948, when Alfred Bader was a graduate student at Harvard University, he was stunned to find out that when his friend Martin Wolff suddenly passed away, he had left him with $1,000.
At the time, that was a great sum of money, as Bader was making only a salary of $100 per month as a teaching fellow at Harvard. But right away, he contacted Queens University in Canada, where he had earned his degree in engineering chemistry.
I gave it to my university for a scholarship in his memory, Bader recalled during an interview last week. Im very fond of my university, he said of Queens, which accepted him as a student after he was released from a Canadian prisoner-of-war camp in 1941.
I was terribly scared when I got out of camp, Bader said. Wolff and his family had taken Bader in when he was released, and also had written a letter to the university to assist Bader in his enrollment.
At the time, I simply didnt know what to do. Queens accepted me, he said.
With that scholarship began one of what Bader calls one of his four jobs, and often, the most difficult giving away money.
His other three jobs are writing and speaking, investing in new chemical companies and collecting art as president of Alfred Bader Fine Arts, a business that allows him to continue with his passion for collecting, which began as a child in Vienna with stamps. Bader says that he has been buying and selling paintings since 1961.
I enjoy this work, Bader said, from his office located in the Astor Hotel, where the walls are covered in photographs of friends, family, and of course, various paintings.
Bader says the gallery deals in non-elitist works, that can range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
For Bader, art is part of the alchemy of his passions, which include art, Bible and chemistry his ABCs, as he called them in his autobiography, Adventures of a Chemist Collector (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1995).
After earning a Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard University, Bader moved to Milwaukee and began a small operation with friend Jack Eisendrath, called the Aldrich Chemical Company, named for Eisendraths fiancée.
The first Aldrich catalog was a single sheet that the pair sent out to research chemists around the country. Bader spent the next 40 years building the company, which is now the largest supplier of research chemicals in the world.
As the company grew, Bader expanded the catalog to a larger volume that became a handbook of chemicals, complete with the addition of a specially chosen painting on the cover of each edition.
Bader and his second wife, Isabel, live in the same home that he purchased in 1957 for $27,500. Bader originally selected the location because it was close to Congregation Emanu-El Bne Jeshurun, where he taught Sunday school for more than 30 years.
We live comfortably, he said of himself and Isabel, but added, We live simply. He says Isabel packs him a brown bag lunch every day.
The less we spend the more we can give away, Bader said.
Of his philanthropy, he said, I like it to go to the neediest, such as the inner city of Milwaukee, and also to the ablest, citing the many fellowships and scholarships that he has set up.
Among his local interests, last year Bader gave funds to Lubavitch of Wisconsin to help pay off its debt. They do a wonderful job of education in Milwaukee, he said.
He plans to leave his money in a philanthropic foundation, which will be administrated by his son, Dan Bader. Dan is the president of the Helen Bader Foundation, which was established by his mother to help causes of special interest to her.
Its very satisfying to know [that] after were gone, the foundation will continue, Alfred Bader said. Hopefully, one of my grandchildren will help to run it, he added.
Internationally, his philanthropic efforts run mainly through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, one of the Milwaukee Jewish Federations two overseas partners. He said that he gives over one million dollars a year to the JDC.
Bader maintains a relationship with Yechiel Bar Chaim, JDC Country Representative for several countries in Eastern Europe and North Africa, who is responsible for JDC programs there. When you have somebody very good, there is less of a need to check very carefully about where the funds are going.
Recently, Bader began donating funds in Bosnia through assistance from Bar Chaim, some of which went to a print shop in Banja Luka that employs handicapped workers.
Other funds go to causes in Israel and the Czech Republic through the JDC.
At age 80, Bader shows no sign of slowing down. Hes now busy working on his second book, titled simply, More Adventures of a Chemist Collector.
Six days you should labor is one of the Ten Commandments, he said, of the fact that he spends five days a week in his office and works from home on Sundays. But, he added, I enjoy working.