Big Things Come in Small Packages

“You scarce could think so small a thing could leave a loss so large.” This profound quote complements Barbara (Abert) Tooman’s MDS’58 photo in the Milwaukee Downer Seminary yearbook, the 1958 Crest. The caption goes on to add; “Barbie, Bish, [had] much pep in a little package… our musically talented Glee Club prez… excels at piano and in voice… leader of the famed Quartet plus One…” And, it goes on to state how “Bish… is always willing to lend a hand…”

Starting at a young age Barbara had many passions, including an interest in art and a devotion to animals. But her exceptional love of music was a common thread that weaved throughout her life, and was sparked in part through her Milwaukee Downer Seminary education. “I have many fond memories of my fine arts experiences at Downer,” she said in an interview from 2013. “We sang at the talent show all through high school and had a ball. Many years later, I did the arranging for another group of alumnae; we sang at two Alumnae Follies and at private parties. It all started in high school and I loved every minute of it.”

Barbara passed away on Jan. 23, 2017, and thanks to her incredible generosity, her love of music and the arts endures at University School. Through her estate, Tooman contributed $2.67 million to the school’s Our Common Bond campaign—the largest campaign gift to date. Tooman’s generosity is posthumously being recognized with the naming of the Abert-Tooman Center for the Arts, which includes the Virginia Henes Young Theatre, the Hammes Family Lobby, the Werner Family Art Gallery, the Sardas-Trevorrow Band Room, and the Stratton Family Orchestra Room.

Barbara took great pride in supporting USM and the arts consistently through the USM Fund annual giving program, and as recently as August 2016 with a modest gift to the Our Common Bond campaign’s capital project for the arts. “Barbara had been frequently and with great loyalty supporting the school for more than 50 years,” said Chief Advancement Officer Patrick Tevlin. “She was—without hesitation—interested in visiting with our advancement team. In fact, she had done so on two occasions during the early stage of the campaign and gave a modest gift for the fine arts program capital project. To now know that she had included USM in her estate planning, and to the extent that she did, is simply awe inspiring!” Tevlin added.

Barbara had many long-standing family ties to Milwaukee and to University School’s predecessor schools. Her mother, Barbara Abert, graduated from Milwaukee Downer Seminary (MDS) in 1931, and her sister, Judith Meissner, was a 1956 graduate of MDS. Barbara’s brother, Grant Abert, is a 1963 graduate of Milwaukee Country Day School.

After graduating in 1958, Barbara attended Bradford Junior College in Bradford, Massachusetts and Garland Junior College in Boston, where she studied design. She went on to study classical music at the New England Conservatory of Music, and then studied jazz with Tommy Sheridan in Milwaukee. An accomplished musician, Tooman played both classical and jazz piano, led several amateur vocal groups over the years, and composed in both classical and contemporary styles, and supported numerous performing arts organizations throughout Wisconsin. And now, thanks to the generosity she shared throughout her life and through her estate plans, her legacy and commitment to the arts will continue at her alma mater in perpetuity through the USM Endowment Fund.

One of the last statements on Barbara’s yearbook caption summarizes her character and quite possibly her future philanthropic nature the best… “with Bish’s gumption and friendliness, she’s sure to go far!”

Thank you, Barbara; we will make sure that your generosity goes far with our talented USM art-students today and in the future.


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