January 28, 2010
California couple gives $2 million to Marquette University Law School
MILWAUKEE – A California attorney and his wife will donate $2 million to Marquette University Law School for the construction of its new building, Eckstein Hall, Marquette President Robert A. Wild, S.J., announced Thursday.
Wylie Aitken is a 1965 graduate of the Law School and founding partner of Aitken*Aitken*Cohn law firm in Santa Ana, Calif. Wild said Aitken and his wife, Bette, are longtime benefactors of the Law School, having earlier created the Wylie and Bette Aitken Law School Scholarship Fund.
“We are so grateful that our alumni throughout the United States continue to support Marquette University Law School,” Wild said. “The generosity of the Aitkens reflects their belief that a Marquette legal education had a positive, long-term impact on their lives. And their gift will have a long-lasting impact on the lives of thousands of law students in the future.”
Aitken agreed that the gift was motivated by gratitude. “Having a Marquette University law degree opened doors to a legal career, allowing me to contribute to the lives of my clients beyond my wildest dreams,” he said. “I can’t forget my roots. I’m proud to help make Eckstein Hall a first-class facility.”
Aitken was also excited to share this honor with Bette, his wife of 47 years, stating: “Bette, who worked in downtown Milwaukee while raising our first child, symbolizes all those spouses who partnered with their husband or wife emotionally and financially to make all this happen.”
Aitken, a nationally renowned trial lawyer, received the Law School’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. He was the youngest president in the history of the California State Trial Bar and is continually recognized by LawDragon Magazine as one of the “Top 500 Lawyers in America.” He has been recognized as Trial Lawyer of the Year by the American Board of Trial Advocates and the Hispanic Bar Association, has received Consumer Watchdog’s Rage for Justice – Lifetime Achievement Award, and has been honored by many Orange County organizations. Aitken is also active within the theatre arts community and is a trustee of Chapman University in Orange, Calif.
In addition to managing the family’s real estate investment, Bette Aitken is an active civic leader, chairing the South Coast Repertory’s 2009 Gala Ball and Anaheim Muzeo’s Gala and serving as a board member of the Anaheim Historical Museum, Servite High School, California State University – Fullerton’s Special Games and Paint Your Heart Out Anaheim.
Joseph D. Kearney, dean of the Law School, said the $2 million was the "largest gift to date from a practicing attorney." He said the two-story reading room in Eckstein Hall will be named in honor of the Aitkens. Eckstein Hall is being built on Tory Hill, at the corner of 11th and Clybourn, a highly visible location seen from the lanes of the Marquette Interchange. The 200,000 square foot building will open in August 2010. It includes two courtrooms, classrooms, faculty office suites, a path-breaking “library without borders,” a conference center and a café. Below the building will be a two-level, 170-space parking garage.
Kearney said the Aitken gift is the latest in a number of large donations for the new building, named Eckstein Hall in honor of a $51 million donation from Raymond A. and Katherine A. Eckstein, an alumni couple from Cassville, Wis., in May 2007. The Zilber Forum, an atrium at the heart of the four-story structure, recognizes the generosity of Milwaukee real estate developer Joseph Zilber, an alumnus who in August 2007 contributed $5 million toward construction of the building and $25 million for student scholarships. The Bradley Foundation was the first major donor, with a gift of $1 million in April 2007. Other gifts have included a $1 million donation from Northwestern Mutual Foundation in February 2009 as well as several seven-figure pledges from anonymous donors.
“Our benefactors have included law firms and foundations with strong Milwaukee roots and interests, recent law graduates and retired alumni, attorneys both here in Milwaukee and Wisconsin and those who, like Wylie Aitken and Ray Eckstein, used their education in different parts of the country,” Kearney said. “What they all have in common is a strong belief in the value of a Marquette legal education, steeped in the ethics that are at the core of our identity as part of a Catholic, Jesuit institution, and an equally strong sense that this new facility can serve the entire community. We want the Law School to be the place where students, lawyers, business leaders, judges, academics, policymakers—all engaged citizens, really—come to explore and discuss public policy problems and find, perhaps, some common ground and even some common solutions.”
Kearney said there is less than $14 million left to be raised toward the $85 million cost of the building, which is double the size of the Law School’s existing space.