Allen Samson gave generously and rallied Milwaukee Jews around Israel and local community causes. A Milwaukee native, attorney and businessman, Samson died on Feb. 1, 2021. He was 81.
Samson will be remembered for his intensity, passion, and analysis as a leader of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and other community organizations.
The former general campaign chair for two years went on to serve as president of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation in the 2000s. “Whatever he got involved with, he gave 100 percent and expected other volunteers and professionals to do the same,” said Rick Meyer, former executive vice president and chief executive officer of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
During his tenure, Samson engaged in long-term planning for the community, which included undertaking a capital campaign to remodel the Max and Anita Karl Jewish Community Campus, developing the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, and helping the Jewish Home and Care Center – now Ovation Communities – expand into Mequon. He assisted Hillel Milwaukee in meeting its space needs.
While at Federation, Samson “was involved in all matters, the finance side and the budgetary side,” said Moshe Katz, current chairman of the board of Federation. “He was an investment savvy man and a visionary in many ways.”
The Samson brothers are deeply connected to the Milwaukee JCC, which was formally named for their parents – the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center – after an extremely generous gift that the family made. “Allen and his brothers Barry and Max shared the vision for what the Jewish community could look like, especially here on the campus,” said Mark Shapiro, JCC president and CEO.
Allen Samson was an ardent Zionist. In 1986, Samson was the first non-Israeli winner of the Kaplan Prize for Economic Development from the State of Israel. He was recognized, on behalf of Federation, for the Milwaukee’s contribution to one of more than 70 urban renewal projects in Israel. “Allen felt so strongly about that kind of support and partnership with Israel,” Meyer said.
Samson also was presented the Star of David Award by the State of Israel Bonds, for which he served as president of the Milwaukee chapter.
Samson was president of the Milwaukee Art Museum and an officer of The Milwaukee Symphony. He was an alumni benefactor of the University of Wisconsin Law School. He and his wife established the Allen and Vicki Samson Minority Scholarship Fund for the University of Wisconsin Law School.
Shortly after graduation from the law school, Samson became Milwaukee deputy district attorney. He then started his own firm with three other attorneys. Afterward, he joined his father and brother Max in the family nursing home business. Together, they grew American Medical Services from a small family-owned company to a public company. His last business venture was serving as the president and chief executive officer of the former Liberty Bank.
Long after retiring to Arizona and Florida, he still checked in with Federation, taking an interest in the latest community projects and offering his financial help, said Caren Goldberg, the recently retired chief development officer and executive director of the Federation’s Jewish Community Foundation. “He wasn’t coming back here that often, but he was always very philanthropic and concerned about what the issues were and how he could help support efforts in our local community. He had a really good heart, a big heart.”
Shapiro recalled having a memorable conversation with Samson while he waited in the parking lot at Nicolet High School for his grandchildren to return from Camp Interlaken. “It was a couple of years ago. He told me, ‘You know, you have it so much harder than I did leading the community. We had rallying ideals that brought the community together, like solidarity for the State of Israel or getting the Jews out of the Soviet Union. Now the issues of the identity of the Jewish people or Israel are challenges as opposed to convening rallying cries.’ He was right. There is more divisive and aggressive language in our world. So, Allen was very insightful. He really saw things in a big picture way.”