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Plain Talk: Once again, Madison owes gratitude to Jerry Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland

Plain Talk: Once again, Madison owes gratitude to Jerry Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland

The state's GEF 1 building (copy)

Philanthropist Jerome Frautschi is donating $10 million to the Wisconsin Historical Society to benefit the proposed $120 million Wisconsin History Museum to be built at the site of the four-story, 271,493-square-foot General Executive Facility, called GEF 1, Downtown.

I don't know if there's much more that can be said about Jerry Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland except, once again, sincere thanks.

This Madison couple continues to use their wealth to benefit the entire community — this week with a $10 million contribution from Jerry to put the public fundraising for a new downtown Wisconsin Historical Museum over the top.

The $10 million gift is in addition to $3.5 million Frautschi previously donated to the new museum's fundraising campaign. The current and inadequate museum in the old Wolff, Kubly and Hirsig building at the corner of Mifflin and Carroll Streets on the Square was originally going to be demolished and replaced with a new building in partnership with private developers.

But, in recent months the Historical Society and state officials, who have long been hoping to replace the so-called GEF-1, an ugly and aging state office building a block off the other side of the Square on East Washington Avenue, saw an opportunity to solve two problems at once — making a modern museum to double the exhibition space for the Society's vast historic collections a reality plus creating an opportunity to construct a modern office facility.

For the project to proceed, the Historical Society Foundation had to raise at least $30 million in private donations to trigger state funds. Enter Jerry Frautschi to once again make sure a worthy public project will happen.

Frautschi and Rowland have long helped civic dreams come true. Their contribution totaling more than $205 million to build the first-class Overture Center stunned the national arts and culture scene. But, that was just the beginning. Rowland was instrumental in creating a multimillion-dollar endowment to support Overture's resident groups. Frautschi bought and donated the building that houses the Madison Children's Museum.

All, of course, have added significant vitality to Madison's downtown and served to attract tens of thousands of visitors to the capital city.

Together they have donated millions more to individual arts organizations. Rowland recently jump-started the building of the Madison Youth Arts Center with a $20 million gift. But, what isn't as well known are the dozens of smaller grants the couple regularly makes to a myriad of nonprofits that work to help those who have fallen through society's cracks.

On a personal note, I served on the Wisconsin Historical Society Foundation for nine years back when the idea for a new and modern museum was introduced by then-director Ellsworth Brown. It was an ambitious undertaking with many hurdles to leap, not the least of which was raising the money and getting the state to buy in.

It's a delight all these years later to write that because of Frautschi, who served with me as a director of The Capital Times' Evjue Foundation for several years as well, is likely to be the key to its success. Plus, I'm proud to note, his ancestors, like mine, are Swiss.

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Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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