Throughout her life, Helen Bader sought to help others. She played many roles — student, mother, businesswoman, and social worker — believing that everyone should have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.

Growing up in the railroad town of Aberdeen, South Dakota, Helen learned the value of hard work and self-reliance.

Living through the depths of the Great Depression and the sacrifices of World War II, she also learned the importance of reaching out to those in need.

Helen attended Downer College in Milwaukee, following in the footsteps of her mother and sister. After earning a degree in botany, she stayed in Milwaukee and soon met Alfred Bader, a chemist from Austria. Together, they married, started a family, and created a business, the Aldrich Chemical Company.

The growth of Aldrich relied upon his technical skills and her diplomatic finesse. Managing the customs regulations for overseas shipments, Helen made many overseas contacts, and she began to take German lessons. From the 1950s to the 70s, their hard work helped build one of Wisconsin’s most successful startup enterprises of the era.

The Baders’ eventual divorce led Helen to again become self-reliant. Helen dedicated herself to finishing her Master of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her field work at the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee led her to help many people in need, including single mothers and adults with mental illness. In the process, she gained a deeper appreciation for their everyday struggles.

After graduation, she worked at the Milwaukee Jewish Home, where working with older adults brought home the many issues of aging. At a time when Alzheimer’s disease was almost a complete mystery, she helped open the residents’ minds and hearts through dance and music. Helen felt the residents’ quality of life depended upon the small details, so she was happy to run errands or escort them to the symphony.

During that time, the arts touched Helen herself. She studied the violin and guitar at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and she enjoyed ballroom dancing. She spent quiet time at her second home outside Sheboygan, and she took comfort in her faith, having converted to Judaism while in her 20s. Friends and family remember that time in her life as one of deep personal and professional satisfaction.

Helen soon faced cancer. As the illness began to sap her physical strength, she shared a wish with her family: to continue to aid those in need. She died in 1989.

After her death, patterns of Helen’s quiet style of philanthropy became more apparent. When she had come across an organization that impressed her, she would just pull out her checkbook without a lot of fanfare. Helen felt an obligation to do her part.

In her name, the Helen Bader Foundation supports worthy organizations working in key areas affecting the quality of life in Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and Israel. The Foundation also seeks to inspire the generosity in others, as each of us can make a difference through gifts of time, talent, and resources.

Learn more about Bader Philanthropies.

Helen Bader, 1927-1989
An Independent Spirit, The Quiet Generous Life of Helen Daniels Bader, by Priscilla Pardini.