Our Donors

We are grateful to those who have made a lasting gift to University School of Milwaukee. We encourage you to read our donor stories to learn why these families chose to make a legacy gift to our school.

List of 8 frequently asked questions.

  • John "J.S." and Carolyn Stephens

    John “J.S.” and Carolyn Stephens’ long-time support of liberal arts education in Milwaukee inspired a gift that ensures their message will continue to impact lives for years to come.

    Retired teacher and administrator John “J.S.” Stephens’ six-decade career at USM began inauspiciously. After graduating from Amherst College and earning his master’s in teaching from Harvard University in 1957, the Vermont native taught for one year at a public high school in Topsfield, Massachusetts. The experience left him underwhelmed, so he began to look for a job at an independent school. In 1958, he was contacted by Warren Seyfert, then-headmaster of Milwaukee Country Day School, which had an opening for a history teacher. Despite having never been to Milwaukee and not knowing a soul there, Stephens accepted. “I thought, ‘Oh what the heck, it’s only one year and they have a baseball team,’” he said. “It was a good decision, as it turned out.” J.S. has held numerous roles over the course of his USM career, including history teacher, economics teacher, director of admissions, head of Upper School, coach of the National Champion Federal Challenge team, as well as many other coaching and advising roles.

    J.S. met his wife, Carolyn, during his first year at MCDS while she was studying English and theatre at Milwaukee Downer College. (USM’s predecessor school, Milwaukee Downer Seminary, was the high school division of MDC before it became an independent institution in 1910.) They married in 1961 and the first of their four children was born in 1963. Although neither J.S. nor Carolyn were from the area, the thought of leaving Milwaukee never persuaded them. “University School is so wonderful; why would we leave?” said Carolyn. “All four of our children were USM students from ages 3 to 18, and we were both very happy with our careers and work.” Carolyn held a variety of careers, including managing the adult education program at Alverno College; executive director of the Milwaukee Ballet; running her own business; and teaching at Concordia University Wisconsin, while she earned her Ph.D. In the 1970s, Carolyn spearheaded the efforts to preserve the Milwaukee Downer College and Seminary buildings by completing the process of having them listed in the National Register of Historic Places, thus saving them from demolition.

    As J.S. and Carolyn approached their retirement years and beyond, they began thinking about how they could give back to their alma maters that shaped their lives and which they valued. “When we started examining our lives, we felt that liberal arts education is what we’ve worked for all our lives, and that developed our deep roots at USM and Milwaukee Downer College,” said Carolyn. Working with USM’s planned giving advisor, J.S. and Carolyn established a charitable remainder uni-trust (CRUT) to support their four children while also benefiting USM and three liberal arts universities, as well as their church. Upon maturation, the Stephens’ gift will establish an endowed fund that will provide a new scholarship for qualifying Upper School students. Two other funds named in honor of J.S. are already in existence at USM, established through the generosity of other community members. One is a full-tuition scholarship and the other supports professional development for faculty.

    “We feel that by supporting these causes, while supporting our children—three of whom teach at independent schools—our influence can continue long after we’re gone,” said J.S. “We will help fund the schools, the schools (and our children) will educate future students, and those students will go forth and bring light to the world. That’s how we will spread our message.”
  • Tom '76 and Jennifer Florsheim

    While it’s been some time since Tom Florsheim ’76 walked the halls of University School of Milwaukee as a student, his connection to the school has strengthened throughout the years—first as an alumnus, and then as a parent, along with his wife, Jennifer. Their three children—Lane ’09, Forrest ’12, and Grace ’15—were all lifers. Through their active participation and generous financial support of the school, the Florsheims have helped to strengthen and expand the USM community.

    Tom served in many volunteer roles for USM, including class agent, reunion volunteer, senior gift co-chair, member of the Board of Trustees from 2004 to 2013, president of the Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2010, and member of the Endowment Board and strategic planning committee. Jennifer has also volunteered tirelessly throughout the years as a parent and member of the Parents’ Association. “The school needs a lot of volunteers,” Jennifer said. “It’s hard to quantify, but volunteering at the school and becoming part of the community is a key component of the experience here.”

    In 2014 Tom and Jennifer, along with two other USM families, established the Milwaukee College Prep Scholarship in the Upper School. This four-year, full tuition scholarship recognizes the achievement of a USM student who has graduated from Milwaukee College Prep. Most recently they supported the Our Common Bond campaign with a planned gift, helping to further grow the school’s endowment in ongoing support of the scholarship program. “The health of University School, and the school’s ability to move forward, is very dependent on financial support from parents, alumni, and other friends,” said Tom.

    Tom, who also received the Alumni Service Award in 2014, is grateful for his USM education and is driven to help other students realize the same benefits. “When I transferred to USM, my whole attitude toward academics changed,” he said. “It was as if the light was suddenly turned on. I developed a love for learning that happens when you are exposed to faculty who are passionate about what they are teaching.”
  • Barbara Abert Tooman MDS'58

    You scarce could think so small a thing could leave a loss so large.”

    This profound quote complements Barbara (Abert) Tooman’s MDS’58 photo in the Milwaukee Downer Seminary yearbook, the 1958 Crest. The caption goes on to add; “Barbie, Bish, [had] much pep in a little package … our musically talented Glee Club prez … excels at piano and in voice … leader of the famed Quartet plus One …” It goes on to note “Bish … is always willing to lend a hand …”

    Starting at a young age Barbara had many passions, including an interest in art and a devotion to animals. But her exceptional love of music was a common thread that weaved throughout her life, and was sparked in part through her Milwaukee Downer Seminary education. “I have many fond memories of my fine arts experiences at Downer,” she said in an interview from 2013. “We sang at the talent show all through high school and had a ball. Many years later, I did the arranging for another group of alumnae; we sang at two Alumnae Follies and at private parties. It all started in high school and I loved every minute of it.”

    Barbara passed away on Jan. 23, 2017, and thanks to her incredible generosity, her love of music and the arts endures at University School. Through her estate, Tooman contributed $2.67 million to the school’s Our Common Bond campaign—the largest campaign gift to date. Tooman’s generosity is posthumously being recognized with the naming of the Abert Tooman Center for the Arts, which includes the Virginia Henes Young Theatre, the Hammes Family Lobby, the Werner Family Art Gallery, the Sardas-Trevorrow Band Room, and the Stratton Family Orchestra Room.

    Barbara took great pride in supporting USM and the arts consistently through the USM Fund annual giving program, and as recently as August 2016 with an initial gift to the Our Common Bond campaign’s capital project for the arts. “Barbara had been frequently and with great loyalty supporting the school for more than 50 years,” said Chief Advancement Officer Patrick Tevlin. “She was— without hesitation—interested in visiting with our advancement team. In fact, she had done so on two occasions during the early stage of the campaign and gave a modest gift for the fine arts program capital project. To now know that she had included USM in her estate planning, and to the extent that she did, is simply awe inspiring!” Tevlin added.

    Barbara had many long-standing family ties to Milwaukee and to University School’s predecessor schools. Her mother, Barbara Abert, graduated from Milwaukee Downer Seminary (MDS) in 1931, and her late sister, Judith Meissner, was a 1956 graduate of MDS. Barbara’s brother, Grant Abert, is a 1963 graduate of Milwaukee Country Day School. After graduating in 1958, Barbara attended Bradford Junior College in Bradford, Massachusetts and Garland Junior College in Boston, where she studied design. She went on to study classical music at the New England Conservatory of Music, and then studied jazz with Tommy Sheridan in Milwaukee.

    An accomplished musician, Tooman played both classical and jazz piano, led several amateur vocal groups over the years, and composed in both classical and contemporary styles, and supported numerous performing arts organizations throughout Wisconsin. And now, thanks to the generosity she shared throughout her life and through her estate plans, her legacy and commitment to the arts will continue at her alma mater in perpetuity through the USM Endowment Fund.

    One of the last statements on Barbara’s yearbook caption summarizes her character and quite possibly her future philanthropic nature the best… “with Bish’s gumption and friendliness, she’s sure to go far!”

    Thank you, Barbara; we will make sure that your generosity goes far with our talented USM art students today and in the future.
  • Dick and Shelly Seesel

    In 1991, when Dick and Shelly Seesel enrolled their son, James ’05, at University School of Milwaukee for junior kindergarten, it was primarily for the individualized attention they wanted for him. “We thought Jim could benefit from the challenging but nurturing environment,” said Dick. Soon after, the Seesels also enrolled their two daughters, Dana ’07, and Lauren ’09, not realizing fully at the time just how impactful those decisions would be — both for their children and for them as well. “Looking back, enrolling our children at USM was our most important opportunity to build a connection with this community … both USM and Milwaukee,” said Shelly. “We had no idea at the time the depth of involvement we would have over the years.”

    While Dick was pursuing his career at Kohl’s (he retired in 2006 after 24 years with the company), Shelly became an active volunteer at USM, serving as a room parent, helping to organize and host book fairs, and chairing the Holiday Shops. “I wasn’t just doing it for my kids,” said Shelly, “I volunteered because it benefitted the whole community. And it made us feel like we were part of the community, too.” Dick also volunteered, participating in phone-a-thons for the School’s annual giving program and assisting with strategic planning for the School. In 2006 he joined the Board of Trustees where, over the course of 11 years, he chaired the facilities committee, served as the executive vice president, and held the role of president from 2013 — 2016 before wrapping up his formal Board role following the 2016-2017 school year.

    While chairing the facilities committee in 2009, the School was in the midst of construction on the Lower School addition as part of Phase II of the Next Generation Capital Campaign. “It was interesting because, during that year, instead of the committee being hands-on with the construction, our charge was to start looking ahead at what the School needs to do next,” Dick recalled. “So part of the fun of now watching the Our Common Bond campaign unfold is that some of these projects we were talking about five, six, even seven years ago, and here we are today making them a reality.”

    Dick was instrumental in laying the groundwork for Our Common Bond during his tenure as board president, and he and Shelly were the first members of the USM community to make a commitment. “In 2015 I sat down with every Trustee and asked them to make their best gifts. As the board president, I felt that I had to be the first one to set an example.”

    Dick and Shelly chose to support the campaign in three ways: a gift to the USM Fund, a gift in support of the capital projects, and a planned gift through their estate plans. “We knew we wanted to support the annual fund and the capital projects, but we added the planned gift into the mix because we feel like it’s a great opportunity for USM,” said Dick. “We know it’s money that the School won’t see immediately, but USM was important in our lives and the lives of our kids, and we feel if people can do something to ensure the long-term health of the School, they should try to do that.”

    Dick and Shelly are thankful for the education their children received at USM. “I know they received a great education because they came back after starting college feeling like they were ahead in many of their courses because of how well prepared they were,” said Shelly. Added Dick, “They were prepared academically, but also emotionally. The Common Trust is something the whole School supports. That’s unique to USM and it’s important.”

    “USM really is a community, more than just a school,” said Shelly. “We’re still connected to the people, the teachers, the parents, and the administration, even though our last child graduated almost 10 years ago. We’re all connected because of the experiences we’ve shared — helping in classrooms, volunteering for events, cheering on our kids at athletic events, joining in on student retreats, and more. Our gift isn’t going toward today, it’s for tomorrow and helping to ensure the legacy of the School.”
  • George Mayer MCDS'62

    George Mayer MCDS’62 has a strong family connection to University School of Milwaukee—his parents, three siblings, and uncle all graduated from USM or its predecessor schools. After graduating from Milwaukee Country Day School (MCDS) in 1962, Mayer (pictured with his wife, Sally) attended Stanford University, where he majored in political science. From there he went to officer candidate school for the U.S. Navy and then served three years on a destroyer in the Pacific. After his naval service he attended Harvard Business School. Upon graduation he joined ICM Realty, a real estate investment trust based in New York City. “Eventually I formed my own company, called Manhattan Realty Group, with a partner and we’ve been in business for ourselves since 1983,” said Mayer. “I moved from New York to Essex, Connecticut, but I still own and oversee operations for a number of apartment properties.”

    Mayer credits his MCDS education with building a strong work ethic and preparing him for higher education. “Everyone at MCDS had to play sports, and we had a lot of homework. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but the high level of homework and the engaged teachers were instrumental in enabling me to take advantage of future opportunities. It was a strong program that instilled some academic and physical fitness discipline. MCDS helped me develop a work ethic and prepared me for a competitive world. That’s a good thing.”

    Although most of his life and career has taken place on the East Coast, Mayer hasn’t forgotten about his MCDS education. He has included USM in his estate plan to ensure that others can benefit from the same quality education he did. “I’m a big believer in the importance of education. I benefited from the fact that others before me enabled the school to be there through their support. If not for their generosity the school would not have been there and consequently I never would’ve attended. I would like to help ensure that the school will be there for future generations.”

    Mayer, who served on his community’s school board for many years, understands the different challenges that schools—both public and private—face. “Schools are reliant on charitable giving and financial support in one way or another. I benefited from the generosity of past generations so I would like to support future generations. My support is in recognition and appreciation of the good education that I received. That’s the main motivation for me.”
  • Naomi Bernhard Levinson MDS'52

    What do you do with a 13-year-old girl who is a "consummate day-dreamer" and a mediocre student, but has obvious talent and interest in music, the arts, and the literary classics? This is the question with which my parents struggled.

    Little did they know that I — their precocious teenager and only daughter — was about to take matters into my own hands, after my two older brothers encouraged me to set my sights on an Ivy League education. I hadn't a clue what such a goal meant, but I soon discovered that in 1947, students who graduated from private preparatory schools had a significant advantage applying to the Ivy League colleges over those coming from local high schools.

    I set my sights on Milwaukee Downer Seminary. In the middle of my eighth-grade year a serendipitous opportunity occurred. Downer was giving a scholarship entrance exam. I immediately announced to my parents that I intended to take the exam. About a week after the exam, Downer called to offer me a partial scholarship. My mother and father were flabbergasted! Knowing they could afford the Downer tuition, they declined the scholarship and in 1948 enrolled me as a freshman at MDS.

    The academic preparation and lessons learned while at MDS remain vivid in my mind and are among the reasons I decided to include USM in my estate plans. I have come to realize that Ms. Lemon's English class gave me an excellent foundation in composition, writing, and understanding of various literary styles and concepts. I remember Ms. Wittmer's delightful Parisian accent and the obligatory two-week French lunch table…no food unless you spoke only French. I still savor the memory of Ms. Matheny's American History Lincoln tour during which a classmate and I had a private chat with Adlai Stevenson in the Governor's Mansion library. And as a real history and political science buff, I enjoyed winning the annual Time® magazine current event quizzes offered at MDS.

    I also cherish lessons learned on the Downer athletic field. I relished what I accomplished in athletics, making the field hockey B team and evolving from a total neophyte tennis player into someone who could compete in local and state tournaments. My years at MDS gave me the tools to continue academic and athletic successes at Sarah Lawrence College, and later to earn a Master's degree and establish an art consulting and fine art appraisal practice.

    I credit my achievements and joy in all of my endeavors not only to an innate ability to set priorities and goals with tenacity and discipline, but to the MDS educational environment which fostered and encouraged these qualities. The challenge of academic and athletic achievements at MDS helped to instill the basic skills and philosophy of living a life that matters.

    A good private school can make a difference in a child's development, depending upon the individual child's personality and abilities. What delights me is to see that USM has synthesized the best traditions of Milwaukee Country Day, Downer, and Milwaukee University School to provide a sound foundation, and is extending its educational opportunities with a diverse student body and its creative academic philosophy and curriculum. I am also pleased that the School continues to offer good athletic facilities and to encourage healthy competition in its varied sports programs. My commitment to independent education and USM remains strong.
  • Franz Backus MCDS'61

    Death has a way of getting your attention.

    When my son Jordan passed away tragically in 2003, it got me thinking about a lot of things—including how valuable education had been in my son's life. He went to a wonderful school where teachers knew him, believed in him, and pushed him to become a better person.

    That got me thinking about the role of education in my own life. The teachers I had during my years at Milwaukee Country Day influenced me in so many ways. Even now, more than 50 years later, I could easily name a dozen teachers and tell you how each made me a better person.

    And I wasn't the only Backus who benefited from MCDS. My uncle, my brother, three sisters, and four cousins also went there. A grandnephew went to USM.

    I realized it was my turn to say thank you for my experience and to help future generations of students. USM reaches young minds. It shapes them to address our incredibly complex world. The School has a very large role to play in our world, and it can't be done without charitable contributions.

    I decided to include gifts to USM in my estate plan. I made the School a beneficiary of an annuity, an insurance policy and my pension. The gifts were simple to arrange, and I feel there's no greater legacy I could leave than the gift of a USM education to future generations. In a very deep sense, I was blessed by my experience there. I hope my gift will help future students receive the same blessings.
  • Jim Kolster MUS'54

    In 2004, members of the Milwaukee University School (MUS) Class of 1954 came together in celebration of our 50th reunion. One of the ways we celebrated was by establishing the MUS Class of 1954 Scholarship Fund. Since the fund’s inception, it has generated annual scholarships for many deserving USM students. In 2014, in celebration of our 60th reunion, I decided to make USM the primary beneficiary of a life insurance policy, designating my gift for the MUS Class of 1954 Scholarship Fund.

    I transferred to MUS from a public school at the start of my sophomore year. It was like entering a whole new world. The expectations for quality academic learning delivered with personal support, and the challenges presented by the MUS teachers and coaches were like nothing I had experienced before.

    My time at MUS influenced me so greatly that I spent my entire career in independent schools—as a classroom teacher, administrator, headmaster of two schools, and a private school consultant. Needless to say, I am a full-fledged believer in independent school education. And my belief in independent schools extends not only to the quality education provided at a school such as USM, but also beyond to its commitment to provide opportunities to families from a variety of different cultural and economic backgrounds.

    I freely admit to a bias of the highest order, but I see support of the MUS Class of 1954 Scholarship Fund at USM to be critical. The life insurance policy dates back to when I became a student at MUS, and one might say that I am making a full circle gesture to a significant turning point in my life. I have such a profound appreciation for the impact that MUS made in my life.
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