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Helen Daniels Bader, one of Milwaukee’s most beloved and magnanimous benefactors, grew up a child of the Depression behind the soda fountain of her father’s drug store in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She became a devoted wife, loving mother, and successful business woman before embarking later in life on a career as a licensed social worker. Specializing in the care of the elderly, she was an early advocate for those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, and ahead of her time when it came to envisioning and promoting effective strategies related to their care.

Bader’s legacy is significant. The $100 million Helen Bader Foundation was established in 1992; over the next 24 years, it awarded $250 million in grants designed to enhance the well-being of the impoverished and disadvantaged. That mission continues today at Bader Philanthropies, Inc. Bader’s life – and specifically her belief in the value of social work – is further immortalized through the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


The Documentary

Helen Daniels Bader:  A Life Worth Emulating released in January 2022 in conjunction with Bader Philanthropies’ 30th Anniversary is a collection of interviews with family, board members and nonprofit and community leaders who share stories of Helen Daniels Bader’s life and legacy.


The Book

An Independent Spirit:The Quiet, Generous Life of Helen Daniels Bader released in January 2021 is a biography of Helen Daniels Bader, one of Milwaukee’s most prominent philanthropists.

Priscilla Pardini, a freelance writer and editor in Milwaukee and former education reporter for the Milwaukee Journal, has written an impeccably researched and engaging biography, replete with numerous interviews, deep historical background and context; and 280 images – mostly from the family collection – to paint a full portrait of the life of Helen Daniels Bader.

Please feel free to contact Merilou Gonzales at Bader Philanthropies, Inc. at (414) 224-6464, with any questions.


Helen Daniels Bader lived a simple life guided by the values of service, creativity, and lifelong learning. Throughout her lifetime, she supported others in small and meaningful ways –buying basic needs such as eyeglasses and shoes and answering the call of someone needing a calm and gentle soul. Her creativity could be seen in her trailblazing vision for helping older adults age with dignity. Today, thousands of organizations carry on her legacy through their compassionate acts of kindness and service to others.


After a successful business career, Helen Daniels Bader enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Master of Social Work program. She was able to complete three semesters of field instruction – a semester at the public defender’s office, the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee and what was then known as the Mount Sinai Green Tree Health Care Center. The experiences led to countless opportunities for Helen to serve others as a licensed social worker.


Helen Daniels Bader, loved playing outside – throwing a ball against the side of the house, riding her scooter, playing marbles and baseball with the neighborhood boys as a child. But, it was in her adult years, she learned how to play the violin and became an award winning ballroom dancer. One of her lasting legacies was her vision for bringing creative outlets such as music therapy to the Milwaukee Jewish Home to help older adults recall fond memories and maintain their cognitive function.

Lifelong Learning

Helen Daniels Bader was a woman with many interests and abilities – studying botany as a young woman at Milwaukee Downer-College; learning business principles to build a successful family business, Aldrich Chemical; and later, training to be a licensed social worker. Her lived experiences and her compassionate spirit helped her connect with and always see the best in people. And, it is an enduring characteristic of our community partners.

Accomplishments Timeline

Helen Ann, second daughter of Lloyd and Jessie Daniels, was born on May 20, 1927 in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
Helen moved to Milwaukee to attend Milwaukee-Downer College, where she majored in botany and played in the school orchestra for four years.
Helen started working at Aldrich Chemical Company, Inc, the family business. She handled everything from invoicing to heading up importing operations. But, her most important role was representing the heart of the organization.
Helen gave birth to her first son, David Martin, on August 17, 1958 and second son, Daniel Joseph, on January 24, 1961.
Helen earned her MSW from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and it was there she found her passion - working with Alzheimer’s patients.
Did you know?
Helen Daniels Bader has deep Midwest and entrepreneurial roots.
Did You Know?
Helen’s family bought Daniels Drugs located at 324 S. Main St. in downtown Aberdeen, South Dakota in September 1930.
Did You Know?
One of Helen’s favorite places to visit to recharge was her cottage in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Did You Know?
Helen served on Lawrence University’s Board of Trustees from 1986 to 1989, a time when it was rare for women to serve in such a capacity.
Did You Know?
In Helen’s graduate school thesis, Helen explored the connection between stress and behavioral dysfunction in the elderly.
Did You Know?
Helen worked at the Milwaukee Jewish Home (now known as Ovation Jewish Home) after receiving her master’s degree in social work from UWM’s School of Social Welfare.
Did You Know?
Helen learned how to play both the violin and the flamenco guitar as an adult.