Big Things Come in Small Packages

Barbara (Abert) Tooman MDS’58 leaves a large legacy for the arts at USM.

The quote that accompanies Barbara (Abert) Tooman’s MDS’58 photo in the Milwaukee Downer Seminary yearbook, the 1958 Crest, reads “You scarce could think so small a thing could leave a loss so large.” The caption goes on to add, “Barbie, Bish, had much pep in a little package…” While her footprint may have been small, her impact on University School of Milwaukee has been large indeed.

Tooman passed away on Jan. 23, 2017, but 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. Her generosity is being recognized posthumously with the naming of the Abert Tooman Center for the Arts in the Upper School, which includes the Virginia Henes Young Theatre, the Hammes Family Lobby, the Werner Family Art Gallery, the Sardas-Trevorrow Band Room, the Stratton Family Orchestra Room, and other new support areas.

Barbara (Abert) Tooman MDS’58

Starting at a young age, Tooman had an exceptional love of music and the arts 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.”

Tooman took great pride in supporting USM and the arts consistently through the USM Fund annual giving program for many years. She had many deep bonds to Milwaukee, and long-standing family ties to University School’s predecessor schools. Her mother, Barbara Abert, graduated from Milwaukee Downer Seminary (MDS) in 1931, and her late sister, Judith Meissner, was a 1956 graduate of MDS. Tooman’s brother, Grant Abert, is a 1963 graduate of Milwaukee Country Day School.

After graduating in 1958, Tooman 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, 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.

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