Bader offers $10M for new arts centre

Love for his alma mater, and for his wife, has inspired an alumus to offer a small fortune to help the University build of a performing arts centre.

Alfred Bader, who graduated in 1945 with a BSc in engineering chemistry, is offering the University more than $10 million to develop the centre.

“I am very fond of Queen’s,” Bader told the Journal. “[The new facility] would be a good thing to have—there is no great theatre [at Queen’s], there is no performing arts centre, there is no musical hall and one could marry all these together.”

Bader’s generosity stems from his history with Queen’s. He was born in Vienna, Austria in 1924. He arrived in Canada in 1940 after escaping Nazi persecution. However, he was considered an “enemy alien” and interned at a prisoner of war camp on an island in Lake Champlain, near Montreal.

After passing all of his junior and senior matriculation exams with excellent results, he applied to McGill University. However, he was told he wasn’t going to be accepted.

“McGill’s Jewish quota was full and they told me to reapply next year,” he said. “But you know, when you are 17, a year seems like a long time.”

Bader’s application to Queen’s was accepted, so he enrolled here instead.

He said his experiences at the University changed his attitude towards Canadians.

“My opinion of Canadians when I arrived to the prisoner of war camp was that they were dishonest,” he said, explaining that he watched soldiers cut open his luggage at the camp.

“Queen’s treated me wonderfully well.” After graduating, Bader moved to Montreal for work.

His Montreal employer saw great potential in him, Bader said, and funded the continuation of his education. Bader earned his PhD in chemistry at Harvard and subsequently made his fortune in the chemical industry.

He currently lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Principal Karen Hitchcock told the Journal she thinks Bader’s offer reflects how he feels about the University.

“Ever since his days here, he has cherished the experience and now in so many ways, [he has shown] his caring,” she said.

Bader met his wife Isabel, who will celebrate her 79th birthday next week, on a ship sailing to Liverpool in 1949. He proposed to her nine days after they met.

“I have the world’s greatest wife,” he said. “She is such a wonderful person.”

Bader added he wants the performing arts centre in Kingston to be named after his wife.

“Isabel is very interested in theatre and music, and it simply makes sense,” he said. “How else can you tell a woman you love her?”

The Baders also funded the construction of the Isabel Bader Theatre at the University of Toronto, Mrs. Bader’s alma mater.

The Baders’ latest donation to Queen’s will not be their first.

In 1992, the Baders purchased and donated Herstmonceux Castle, located in East Sussex, England, to the University. It’s now used as an International Study Centre.

The Baders also donated a $10-million Rembrandt painting, Head of an Old Man in a Cap, in 2003, to the University. the painting now hangs in the Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

Judith Brown, executive director (alumni relations and annual giving), told the Journal in an e-mail that Bader established a fund in the early 1990s for the University to receive gifts as he makes them.

Once the University is ready to use those funds—in accordance with Bader’s wishes—they are moved to the appropriate project account, she said.

Hitchcock said the Baders have been very generous to the University.

“He’s giving of himself each and every time,” she said. “His enthusiasm, his creativity and his devotion to education is really the gift he gives us with each of his acts of philanthropy.

“He’s a very special man, as is Isabel, his wife.”

Bader said he will leave decisions about the centre’s design up to the University, but he would like to see it built in his lifetime.

Bader said he hopes the performing arts centre will be built where the current city-owned J.K. Tett Complex—at 370 King St. West—is situated.

“I was told that the bit of land is a beautiful bit of land, and it might become available,” he said.

It’s recently become public that the University has expressed interest in purchasing Kingston properties to expand and relocate several student services and administrative offices. These properties include the J.K. Tett Complex, as well as St. Helen’s Building located at 440 King St. West and Stone Gables, at 462 King St. West. The latter two buildings are owned by Corrections Canada.

Bader visited Kingston this past Homecoming weekend to celebrate his 60th class reunion, and said news of community-student tensions resulting from the unsanctioned Aberdeen Street party hasn’t changed his attitude towards the University.

“[The tensions] certainly don’t change my love for Queen’s,” he said. “I didn’t take part in the events and it isn’t going to affect our decision.”

—With files from

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