‘What a life that good man lived’

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As Marquette students passed through the Alumni Memorial Union Tuesday morning, one of the university’s major benefactors was being remembered a floor above for his impact on their lives and the greater Milwaukee community.

About 800 people filled the AMU’s Monaghan Ballroom for the funeral of Joseph Zilber, a Marquette alumnus who gained success in real estate and became one of the city’s noted philanthropists.

Zilber, who grew up on the city’s North Side, earned a business degree at Marquette and graduated from the Law School. After achieving success as a real estate developer, Zilber gave $30 million, mostly for scholarships, to the Law School in 2007 and committed $50 million to revitalize Milwaukee neighborhoods in 2008.

University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild, who was among those to give a eulogy, said Marquette would be eternally grateful for Zilber and his impact.

“We are truly honored that Marquette University can be the site of Joe Zilber’s funeral,” Wild said. “Joe was a great man — a great alumnus of this university.”

What energized Zilber, according to Wild, was the thought that he could make a difference in the lives of individuals.

“His energy was helping the young get ahead,” Wild said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Zilber challenged him as mayor to build a greater community.

“He understood it was not just about building homes – it was about building communities,” Barrett said.

Barrett also thanked Zilber on behalf of Milwaukeeans for his investments in the city.

Others who worked closely with Zilber spoke to his efforts in community development, including Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines, Sharon Adams, president of the Walnut Way Conservation Corp., and Ricardo Diaz, executive director of the United Community Center.

Michael Jackson, husband of Zilber’s daughter Marcy, spoke about Zilber as a family member, drawing several laughs from the crowd as he recounted poignant moments.

Jackson recalled a time he was searching for Zilber throughout his house, not finding him reading a business report or on the telephone, but hiding in a closet eating a Twinkie.

“It was something he well knew he ought not be doing,” Jackson joked.

He went on to recall the joy Zilber took in his two grandchildren and three great grandchildren, saying he would play with the children while wearing a floppy hat.

“It was something none of you saw in a boardroom,” he said.

In an emotional eulogy, Mike Mervis, Zilber’s assistant, said Zilber was like a father to him.

“He was the best boss in the world,” said a tearful Mervis.

“What a life that good man lived. How lucky we all were to go along with him. My God, what a trip.”

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