For decades, Isabel Bader was a well-known figure and prominent philanthropist in Milwaukee who, along with her husband Alfred, gave away millions of dollars to charities across the city and around the globe, including to many Jewish organizations.
So when Isabel Bader died on Aug. 28, 2022, at age 95, it was natural that public tributes poured in about her generosity while the depths of her kindness and friendship went well beyond her public legacy.
“She was a person that quietly wrote checks. She would write checks and I would find out from other people,” said Daniel Bader, her stepson and president and CEO of Bader Philanthropies. “I’m not quite sure everything that she supported, because I’m still hearing people telling me all the different things that she did.”
Isabel and Alfred Bader supported numerous local, national and international charities. In the fiscal year ending August 31, 2021, Bader Philanthropies approved $25 million, which includes many of the issues Isabel cared deeply about including, Jewish education. Bader Philanthropies alone gave more than $1.8 million as 31 grants to Jewish and urban educational institutions in 2021.
“She was a member of Lake Park synagogue, on Milwaukee’s East Side, and very supportive of the synagogue and very close to the community. She was very impactful there,” Daniel Bader said.
David Bader, the vice president of the Bader Philanthropies board, described his stepmother as a bright, down-to-earth, no-nonsense woman who keenly supported her husband and his various charitable and business endeavors.
“She was very generous and cared about all of us,” he said. “There was no time wasted about ‘what if.’ There wasn’t a lot of emotion spent on the downside of things.”
Isabel Bader was born on Nov. 1, 1926, in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, a small mining town. She was the middle child of Herbert and Stella Overton. She graduated from Victoria University in Toronto and went to England where she became a teacher at a girls’ school in Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex. There she co-founded the Thalia School of Elocution and Drama.
“She was really into the theater. She was a professional theater teacher and she really knew all the famous British actors. That was sort of her forte,” David Bader said.
In 1949, she met Alfred Bader aboard an ocean liner during an intercontinental voyage. However, their courtship was short lived and the two went their separate ways with Alfred eventually marrying Helen Ann Daniels Bader, Daniel and David’s mother. Isabel and Alfred reconnected in the 1970s and married in 1982 and she moved to the United States. After Alfred died in 2018, she focused on her own philanthropic interests.
“She had a different set of interests than my father in a way in that she was very close to the indigenous communities, native Canadians, Native Americans. She had a real fondness to supporting those communities here in Milwaukee but also in Canada as well,” Daniel Bader said.
“She was very comfortable in different environments, different worlds, she grew up in a very small town in northern Canada and she traveled to the biggest cities in the world. She just was very comfortable with all kinds of environments,” he added.
Isabel Bader developed close bonds with people in many different walks of life and in many different parts of the world, Daniel Bader said.
“She had lots of friends, people that she was looking on. She knew all about their lives,” David Bader said.
Beloved wife of the late Alfred Robert Bader. Preceded in death by her parents, Herbert and Estelle Vivian (nee Sirr) Overton. Dear stepmother of David and Daniel Bader. Proud grandmother of Helena, Isaiah, Noa, Faye, Carlos, Alexander and Jessie Bader. Dear sister of Marion Dick and Clifford Overton.
Funeral service held Aug. 30 with interment at Second Home Cemetery, Milwaukee. Rabbi Joel Dinin officiated. Goodman-Bensman Whitefish Bay Funeral Home assisted the family. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations to First Stage, 325 W. Walnut St., Milwaukee, WI 53212 appreciated.