Irwin Goodman
Irwin Goodman

Irwin Goodman, a pillar of the Madison community who along with his brother, Robert, gave more than $10 million to philanthropic causes, died Sunday at his Madison home. He was 94.

Though he amassed his fortune selling jewelry, Goodman was able to give so much because of his frugal lifestyle, colleagues said.

"(Irwin) put most of his means toward the community, rather than his own life," United Way of Dane County President Leslie Howard said. "The community really was his child."

Goodman and his brother, Robert, operated Goodman's Jewelers at 220 State St., from 1937 until their retirement in 1998. Although each brother greeted customers warmly, Robert was pretty much the "outside" salesman and Irwin operated more behind the scenes, traveling the world to select diamonds and seeing to it the business ran smoothly. The brothers, who never married and have no children, were rarely seen apart.

The Goodmans have been among the city's most philanthropic citizens, providing millions of dollars for civic events, UW-Madison athletics, the United Way of Dane County and the Madison Community Foundation. They donated 154 acres worth $1.5 million in Verona to the Madison Jewish Community Council for what now is the Goodman Jewish Community Campus. They also donated $600,000 to build the Goodman Aquatic Center there.

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said the Goodmans' crowning achievement may have been their $2.8 million donation for the city's first municipal pool, which also is named for the brothers. The Goodmans set a deadline for the pool's groundbreaking, which forced the city to agree on a location, Cieslewicz said.

"For six decades Madison debated a pool, but it took the Goodman brothers to make it happen," Cieslewicz said. "The Goodman Pool will live on as a testament to Irwin Goodman's community spirit and his understanding of the community he loved."

Most recently, they donated $2 million to rebuild the Atwood Community Center, which was renamed the Goodman Community Center. It may be impossible to tally their total giving because many gifts have been given anonymously, the Goodman's financial adviser said.

Irwin Goodman remained active in his good works, touring the Goodman Community Center half a dozen times since it opened last year. He loved to see the children enjoying the facility and often said "the best exercise for the heart is bending down to lift a child," executive director Becky Steinhoff said.

"For Madison, it's not unlike Ted Kennedy," Steinhoff said. "It's the ending of an era."

The brothers also provided funds to rebuild UW-Madison's women's softball stadium - the only diamond they ever gave a woman, said Steve Morrison, executive director of the Madison Jewish Community Council.

The Goodmans were active in the Jewish community and created endowments for the Madison Jewish Community Council, Temple Beth El and the Beth Israel Center.

"Irwin Goodman has been truly a pillar of the Jewish community for close to eight decades," Morrison said. "No one has had a greater impact."

The Goodmans also gave $250,000 to start the Goodman Rotary Senior Fitness Fund that pays for recreation classes for people older than 55 and provided scholarships to both UW-Madison and Edgewood College.

They paid for construction of a three-mile jogging path along Lake Monona, initiated the first Red Cross donor pin program and launched Meriter Hospital's "Dial-a-Dietitian" nutrition program - and that's only a partial list.

"We haven't used our business just for business," Irwin Goodman said when he retired. "We've tried to use it to help the community."

Goodman was particularly interested in nutrition and not only funded nutrition programs for local health care institutions but would frequently donate nutrition magazine subscriptions to friends and acquaintances he hoped to influence away from their high-fat diets. The meal the brothers always ate - a vegetarian dish of wild rice, baked potato and beans - is on the menu of every Downtown Madison Rotary luncheon, executive director Pat Jenkins said.

Goodman, then a student at the University of Minnesota, first traveled to Madison in 1937 to participate in a track event. His father and his uncles owned jewelry stores around the Midwest, including one in Madison. Goodman was attracted to the city and became manager of the Madison store.

Although he was incredibly generous with others, Goodman maintained a lifestyle of personal austerity. He purchased a new Oldsmobile in 1950 and was still driving it in 1986.

"I had offers to sell it, but, then, I'd just have to buy another car for a lot more money and I doubt that it would take me across town any better than this one," he said.

Goodman served in the Army from 1943 to 1946 and then returned to Madison to resume his duties at the store.

He is survived by his brother Robert, 90. A private funeral service is being held today.

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