They say you can't buy happiness.
The life of Irwin Goodman proves you can.
He didn't buy it for himself, of course, except indirectly the happiness he got from the happiness of others, whose lives he and his brother Robert improved through their kindness, decency and exceptional philanthropy.
Irwin's death at age 94 on Aug. 30 was the end of an era for perhaps the greatest set of siblings in our city's history. The financial contributions and personal character of Irwin and Bob Goodman have left Madison a better place forever.
They owned and operated Goodman Jewelers on State Street for over seven decades. Their impact on our daily lives will be felt far longer.
Madison's greatest citizen-athletes -- Irwin and Bob are the only members of the Madison Athletic Hall of Fame to have also received the Humanitarian Awards named for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky -- they have also been our most successful philanthropists.
One or two others may have given more money. But the Goodman philanthropy has been uniquely substantial in several areas; their charitable giving -- more than $10 million, much of it anonymously -- has directly benefited more people than contributions from any other Madison philanthropists. It would be hard to craft a better mix of recreational, religious and community services than the Goodman plan.
At least two million dollars for the Goodman Community Center (in the neighborhood named for another great Madisonian, mayor and newspaper publisher David Atwood). Another $2 million in annual giving to the United Way of Dane County (which has designated Irwin's birthday, July 1, as "Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Day"). They created the Goodman Rotary Senior Fitness Fund with a gift of $250,000 and built the $500,000 "Goodman Diamond" for the UW-Madison Women's Softball program and the $600,000 Goodman Aquatic Center in Verona.
For immediate, unalloyed joy, perhaps their greatest gift has been the Goodman Swimming Pool on Olin Avenue (named after the Father of Madison Parks). And here, their donation was more than their $2.8 million it was political will. To force the city to make a binding decision and commitment, the brothers set a deadline for groundbreaking. The city met the challenge, and since June 2006, thousands of Madisonians have benefitted, with countless more to follow.
The Goodmans gave 154 acres in Verona, valued at about $1.5 million, now home to the Goodman Jewish Community Campus; created endowment funds at Temple Beth El, Beth Israel Center and the Madison Jewish Community Council; built an education building at Beth El, and funded the Jewish Social Services Lechayim lunch program.
And those were just the most recent, most public gifts. The Goodmans' legacy is far deeper than the public will ever fully know.
They say you can't buy love. The life of Irwin Goodman proves you don't need to. Lead a life of integrity and service, modesty and commitment, and the love will come naturally.
Forty years or so ago, long before he was a philanthropist, Irwin Goodman was already known as a successful businessman and active civic leader. He was a member of the Mayor's Committee on Human Rights when civil rights was still controversial, a member of the city's civic auditorium committee and a member of the UW Foundation. He was a director of Methodist Hospital and its Foundation, the YMCA Foundation, Temple Beth El and the Madison Jewish Welfare Council. He was also active in Downtown Rotary (founded two years before he was born), along with the National Olympics Committee, the Zor Shrine and Masonic Lodge No. 5.
And that was just in 1971.
But all the while, Irwin and Bob were saving their money, living a lifestyle well below their economic station. Other than international travel (cruises were a particularly favored activity), their frugality seemed to approach austerity. They lived for decades as tenants in a midsize apartment building on West Wilson Street, and Irwin kept his 1950 Oldsmobile for more than 35 years.
Turns out Irwin was saving his money so he could give it away the legacy of service he got from his mother, Belle, who was very active in wartime and postwar civic and Jewish community affairs.
It was varsity sports that brought our best philanthropists to town. Irwin, the elder of two first-generation Lithuanian-American brothers born into a family of jewelers in St. Paul in 1915, was a strapping shot-putter and discuss thrower for Minnesota. He first came to Madison for a track meet in 1937, and was smitten with the downtown and campus. The next year, after graduating, he bought a non-performing store on State Street from his father and uncle. Bob, a baseball player born in 1919, joined him in 1939, forming a business partnership that would change the face of Madison. The brothers usually seen, and thought of, together -- retired in 1998.
Irwin was in his early 50s when he became a committed vegan, and forty years later both brothers credited their long and healthy lives to their dietary practices (which live on the "dirt plate" of wild rice, baked potato and beans, offered each week at the Downtown Rotary).
More modest than most, Irwin made an impact with more than his money; he led by example, as well. When the women's athletic program was moved from the recreational program into the Athletic Department proper, it wasn't exactly welcomed; as the first director of women's athletics in 1974, Kit Saunders-Nordeen found she wasn't getting invited to department banquets. So Irwin and Bob on their own started taking her as their guest (and ordering the same vegetarian plate for her). The message got through.
In the Babylonian Talmud, the tale is told of a sage named Honi, who saw an old man planting a carob tree. "How do you know you will live long enough to enjoy the fruits of this tree?" Honi asked him. "I know I won't," the old man replied. "But just as my parents and grandparents planted for me, I am planting this tree for generations to come."
Irwin and Bob Goodman have planted a lot of trees.
The day he died, Irwin Goodman looked down from his apartment to see hundreds of his fellow Madisonians exercising and recreating on a John Nolen Drive without cars. It was a fitting finale for a man unsurpassed in his support of fitness and community.
May his memory be for a blessing.