In September of 2007, Joseph J. Zilber, Milwaukee native and founder of Towne Realty, announced he would donate $10 million in support of the UW-Milwaukee Graduate School of Public Health. Zilber, well known in the Milwaukee area for both his successful business endeavors as well as his philanthropy, explained, “There is no greater need in the city of Milwaukee than to improve the health of our citizens, young and old.”
Zilber’s ties to Milwaukee go back to 1898 when his parents emigrated from Russia and opened a grocery store in the area that is now 10th and Meinecke. From his parents, Zilber acquired a strong work ethic that he put to use working two jobs while putting himself through law school at Marquette University. Mr. Zilber graduated in 1941, first in his class. His first job was as a broker with George Bockl’s real estate company. In 1949, he founded his own company, Towne Realty, Inc.
In the 60 years since it was founded, Towne Realty, now part of the family-owned Zilber Ltd., has grown to be a business with over 600 employees. In the 1950’s, Towne Realty built thousands of houses in Milwaukee that catered to Zilber’s fellow WWII veterans. Other accomplishments of the company include ownership and construction of offices, medical buildings, nursing homes, military housing, dormitories and high-tech facilities. In the 1970s, Towne Realty expanded to building condos, rental properties, and resorts in Florida, California, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii. In addition, Zilber’s company received government construction contracts for a rocket launching gantry at Cape Canaveral, a power plant in Alaska, and missile silos in North Dakota.
Zilber met his wife, Vera, when he was a student at Marquette. The couple was married for 61 years, until Vera’s death in 2003. The Zilbers made a pact that they would do all they could to help the citizens of Milwaukee. More recently, Zilber spent most of his time in Hawaii and refused to retire; he teleconferenced with his Milwaukee office every day.
The generous donation to UWM’s Graduate School of Public Health was just one of many within Zilber’s New Potential for Milwaukee Initiative. Other recipients of funds from this initiative included the Marquette Law School and the United Way of Greater Milwaukee. In addition to the New Potential for Milwaukee Initiative, Zilber created and funded the Zilber Neighborhood Initiative which will ultimately provide funding to revitalize ten low-income Milwaukee neighborhoods and connect all citizens to social and economic opportunity. While these initiatives represent the largest donations Zilber had made, they were not the first. Zilber and his wife established the Joseph and Vera Zilber Family Foundation which has made numerous charitable contributions including the Zilber Family Hospice in Wauwatosa and funding for Zilber’s synagogue, Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshrun.
Zilber’s investment in Milwaukee continued. He purchased the abandoned Pabst brewery complex, with the aim of turning it into an historic, sustainable neighborhood. Zilber’s philanthropy proved a vital contribution to the city of Milwaukee. As Governor Jim Doyle stated, “Mr. Zilber’s generous contribution helps bring this important school one giant step closer to reality. The Graduate School of Public Health at UWM is vitally important to the state’s future, and this contribution will help fuel Wisconsin’s economy.”
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Borsuk, A. J. (2007, September 9). Health School Gets $10 Million Boost. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Borsuk, A. J. (2008, May 11). Zilber Gives $50 Million. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Lessmiller, K. (2007, September 16). UWM Gets $10 Million Donation for the Health School. UWM Post.
O’Flaherty, S. (2007, December 15). Joseph Zilber- A Gift to Milwaukee. Today’s TMJ4.
Pabst, G. (2008, September 27). Zilber Names organizations to Spearhead Neighborhood Projects. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.