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Our Story


Bader Philanthropies, Inc. invests in people and their communities, here in Milwaukee, across Wisconsin, and in places throughout the world. The Foundation continues the legacy of Helen Daniels Bader’s passion for people, while furthering Isabel and Alfred Bader’s shared interests.

Our community partners represent a collage of diverse organizations. Each organization giving hope and demonstrating what is possible when we bring forward our collective talents, skills and focus for a common purpose.

In 2018, the Foundation moved from the Historic Third Ward office into a fully renovated, state of the art global headquarters in Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood. The facility builds on a multi-decade commitment to meaningful connections. It is our hope that we can manifest the Harambee neighborhood’s Swahili translation, “all pull together,” as we learn and work together to transform the world, to make it a better place to live.


Helen Daniels Bader

From a small-town upbringing to working with some of Milwaukee’s most vulnerable individuals, Helen Daniels Bader lived out a passion for aiding and lifting others.

Born in South Dakota, as the daughter of a pharmacy proprietor, Helen Daniels brought a strong work ethic when she headed east to attend Milwaukee’s Downer College. Not long after graduation, she met and married Alfred Bader. Together, they raised two sons while working to build the Aldrich Chemical Company into one of Wisconsin’s most successful entrepreneurial efforts of the 20th Century.

After a divorce, Helen was determined to set out on a new life path. She took up violin lessons at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and she committed herself to completing a Master’s in Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. During her studies, her field work with Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee brought her up close to the crises of families and individuals facing mental illness, poverty, and homelessness.

Helen’s first social work position affected her deeply. Her role at the Milwaukee Jewish Home (now known as Ovation Communities) demonstrated the everyday challenges of older residents living with dementia. Although Alzheimer’s disease was more of a mystery at the time, Helen sought to bring joy into the residents’ lives through dance and music, believing that creativity had the power to strike a chord deep within all of us.

Following her death in 1989, Helen’s dreams for enhancing the lives of individuals were soon realized by the creation of the Helen Bader Foundation. For more than two decades, the Foundation worked to link and support partners that strengthen families across Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Israel, and occasionally in places beyond.

Isabel & Alfred Bader

Canadian-born, Isabel Overton, brought a passion for drama and poetry; Austrian-born, Alfred Bader, had fled the Nazis and appreciated the finer points of Dutch art. Their relationship would intertwine over the span of decades, bringing together two individuals with varied interests, but who shared a belief in the power of arts, faith, and justice.

For Isabel, the daughter of a northern Ontario family, the spoken word was a connection to a wider world. Drama and poetry gave her the confidence to stand before others, so after graduating from Victoria University in Toronto, she went to England, where she taught schoolchildren and shared her love for performance.

For Alfred, art, faith, and chemistry were his guiding lights. As a Jewish teen who fled the spreading Nazi threat in late -1930s Europe, he came to North America, not only to survive, but to also hone his scientific talents and work toward a better life.

Isabel and Alfred’s first encounter was aboard a transatlantic voyage to England in 1949, but they went on to build separate lives. Isabel pursued a teaching career, while Alfred devoted his efforts to starting a family and building a business in the U.S. Three decades later, they would eventually reconnect, with their interests refined by their life experiences.

Just as Isabel’s commitment to drama and poetry lifted her sights, she believes the performing arts should captivate audiences, as well as elevate those on stage. Her personal passion for the performing arts has helped reach young audiences and built new venues to showcase the best the arts have to offer.

Alfred’s early personal experience with intolerance shines a light on those working to overcome injustice across the world. At home, building a business during some of Milwaukee’s most turbulent times emphasized the need for ensuring opportunity for all citizens. For youth, struggling families, and the unemployed, there are various needs across the community, while faith and values play a key role in lasting personal change.

What Makes Us Unique

Bader Philanthropies, embedded in Harambee, a historic Milwaukee neighborhood, supports organizations locally, nationally and primarily in six other countries, including Israel, Canada and the Czech Republic.  We live and work in a neighborhood where parents raise their families; children walk to school and neighbors take care of one another.

Bader Philanthropies has a longstanding commitment to bringing people of diverse perspectives together around issues of social concern. Convenings are organized by the Foundation and our nonprofit partners, who are thought leaders with vast networks. In our first year in Harambee, more than 5,000 people attended 198 events in our state-of-the-art global headquarters.

The Foundation is planting its roots in Harambee by participating in events such as Juneteenth Day and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School Back to School Welcome; working with neighborhood-based nonprofits to organize annual clean-ups and beautification projects; and bringing Harambee residents together for Chats with Bader Philanthropies which inspired the jazz café and holistic wellness center which will open in spring 2020.

Meet the Board and Staff