Helen Daniels Bader, one of Milwaukee’s most beloved and magnanimous benefactors, grew up a child of the Depression behind the soda fountain of her father’s drug store in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She became a devoted wife, loving mother, and successful business woman before embarking on, later in life, a career as a licensed social worker. Specializing in the care of the elderly, she was an early advocate for those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, and ahead of her time when it came to envisioning and promoting effective strategies related to their care.
Bader’s legacy is significant. The $100 million Helen Bader Foundation was established in 1991, two years after her death; over the next 24 years, it awarded $250 million in grants designed to enhance the well-being of the impoverished and disadvantaged. That mission continues today at Bader Philanthropies, Inc. Bader’s life – and specifically her belief in the value of social work – is further immortalized through the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Helen Daniels Bader: A Life Worth Emulating released in January 2022 in conjunction with Bader Philanthropies’ 30th Anniversary is a collection of interviews with family, board members and nonprofit and community leaders who share stories of Helen Daniels Bader’s life and legacy.
An Independent Spirit: The Quiet, Generous Life of Helen Daniels Bader released in January 2021 is a biography of Helen Daniels Bader, one of Milwaukee’s most prominent philanthropists.
Priscilla Pardini, a freelance writer and editor in Milwaukee and former education reporter for the Milwaukee Journal, has written an impeccably researched and engaging biography, replete with numerous interviews, deep historical background and context; and 280 images – mostly from the family collection – to paint a full portrait of the life of Helen Daniels Bader.
Please feel free to contact Merilou Gonzales at Bader Philanthropies, Inc. at (414) 224-6464, with any questions.
Helen Daniels Bader lived a simple life guided by the values of service, creativity, and lifelong learning. Throughout her lifetime, she supported others in small and meaningful ways – buying basic needs such as eyeglasses and shoes to answering the call of someone in need of a calm and gentle soul. Her creativity could be seen in her trailblazing vision for helping older adults age with dignity. Today, thousands of organizations carry on her legacy through their compassionate acts of kindness and service to others.
After a successful business career, Helen Daniels Bader enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Master of Social Work program. She was able to complete three semesters of field instruction – a semester at the public defender’s office, the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee and what was then known as the Mount Sinai Green Tree Health Care Center. The experiences led to countless opportunities for Helen to serve others as a licensed social worker.
Helen Daniels Bader, loved playing outside – throwing a ball against the side of the house, riding her scooter, playing marbles and baseball with the neighborhood boys as a child. But, it was in her adult years, she learned how to play the violin and became an award winning ballroom dancer. One of her lasting legacies was her vision for bringing creative outlets such as music therapy to the Milwaukee Jewish Home to help older adults recall fond memories and maintain their cognitive function.
Helen Daniels Bader was a woman with many interests and abilities – studying botany as a young woman at Milwaukee Downer-College; learning business principles to build a successful family business, Aldrich Chemical; and later, training to be a licensed social worker. Her lived experiences combined with her compassionate spirit helped her connect with and see the best in people always. And, it is an enduring characteristic of our community partners.