Donations up to $67 million

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  • The Northwestern Mutual Foundation has announced a $1 million gift to Marquette's Law School for construction of Eckstein Hall.
  • The project's fundraising total is now at $67 million of the necessary $85 million.
  • Tuesday's fire at the construction site is not expected to affect fundraising.

Days before Tuesday's fire at the Eckstein Hall construction site, Marquette's Law School received another significant financial pledge for its new building.

The Northwestern Mutual Foundation, the corporate giving wing of the Milwaukee-based life insurance company, announced last Friday that it will donate $1 million to the Law School for construction of its new facility.

The construction site fire was started by a burning propane tank around 4 p.m. Tuesday. The fire is not expected to affect fundraising in any way, said Joseph Kearney, dean of the Law School.

The donation by Northwestern Mutual puts the project's total funds at nearly $67 million of the total $85 million needed for construction, said Julie Tolan, vice president for University Advancement. The majority of remaining donations will likely range from $50,000 to $1 million, but there are still prospects for eight-figure gifts, she said.

Kearney said Northwestern Mutual's donation demonstrates its recognition of the project's benefits.

"(The donation) reflects the sense of importance that one of Milwaukee's most prestigious institutions places on the future Marquette Law School, for both the school's educational and broader civic roles," Kearney said via e-mail.

In his presidential address to the university last week, University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild said there was $4 million in donations "in sight" for the Law School construction. In an interview, Wild said Northwestern Mutual's $1 million is part of those anticipated donations.

"This is one of the gifts we were counting on," Wild said. "It's a wonderful gift, given the current economic situation."

Northwestern Mutual also announced last week a $2.5 million gift to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and a $1 million donation to Junior Achievement of Wisconsin.

The foundation is the largest financial donor of all Wisconsin-based companies, said Deanna Tillisch, Northwestern Mutual director of corporate affairs. The firm gave $19 million nationally and locally in 2008.

About 45 percent of the company's donations go toward educational initiatives. Tillisch said the firm believes education makes the community stronger.

"Well-educated people become stronger community leaders and can help the city," Tillisch said.

Northwestern Mutual's decision to contribute to Marquette's Law School was based on the company's commitment to education and its relationship with the university, Tillisch said.

The foundation contributes to the university through funding for the Les Aspin Center for Government and scholarships for minority students, Tillisch said. In addition, about 250 Marquette Law graduates are employed at Northwestern Mutual.

"(The donation) to the Law School was a good fit for us," Tillisch said. "It just made sense."

Despite the economic downturn, the firm had no thoughts of putting any of the three gifts on hold, Tillisch said.

"These programs are important," Tillisch said. "We want to address immediate needs, but we don't want to be narrowly focused and not look at the needs of the future."

Still, Northwestern Mutual was well-positioned to "weather the financial storm" when it hit, said Meredyth Naramore, corporate relations specialist with the company. The company began 2008 with a capital base of over $15 billion and one of the highest percentage surpluses in its history, she said.

The firm has the highest ratings of insurance financial strength from the four main rating companies – A.M. Best, Fitch Ratings, Standard & Poor's and Moody's, Naramore said.

She said Northwestern Mutual also has a conservative approach that enables it to invest in the community, even in troubled economic times.