WisBusiness: American Family backing for new children’s hospital now at $15 million

By Brian E. Clark

MADISON – When the University of Wisconsin approached American Family Insurance officials for support of a new children’s hospital, it didn’t take long for them to embrace the idea.

“It really struck a chord with Harvey Pierce, our former chairman and chief executive, who believed there could be no finer corporate gift than to help sick children and their families,” said Ken Muth, an American Family spokesman.

The 80-year-old Madison-based insurance company, which has 3,800 workers in the state, made an initial donation of $10 million in 2003. In return, it got the hospital’s naming rights for the new hospital, which will be feted in an open house this Sunday.

Since then, those employees and independent agents have raised another $5 million for the American Family Children’s Hospital, which will cost $117 million when the second phase is built. Other donors have chipped in more than $25 million since then.

“This is by far our largest donation and it sends a great message to our customers and employees,” Muth said. “It fits in perfectly with feeling that we have a responsibility to give back to the community in which we have thrived.”

Muth said American Family’s philanthropic philosophy has long been to do things that help children and their communities.

“This project certainly captured those values,” he said. “And it sends a great message to our customers and employees here and the 17 other states where we do business.

“The concept of supporting the new children’s hospital really caught on with American Family employees, their children, nieces, nephews and other relatives,” he said.

Though Muth said he has not toured the new hospital, which is attached to the main UW hospital, he said he has heard glowing reports about its colors, warmth size of rooms and creativity.

“Apparently, there is a considerable ‘Wow’ factor,” he said.

Jim Gilmore, whose son James, spent four months in the old children’s hospital while being treated for leukemia, couldn’t agree more.

“This new facility is really impressive,” said Gilmore, a former Channel 3 executive who went to work for the hospital as a fund-raiser after his son’s illness. The boy is now leukemia free and has been off treatments for five years.

“When the old hospital was built in 1979, it was state-of-the-art,” he said. “But that was back when parents went home at night. Now, the philosophy takes the whole family into account. Personally, I can tell you that’s a great thing.

“When we were patients – and my wife was five-months pregnant at the time – it seemed the room was little larger than a closet and we literally had to move the furniture out of the room at night to stay there.

“As a community, we are so ready for this new hospital,” he said.

Gilmore said support for the hospital has been broad and deep.

“I wouldn’t say it has easy to raise funds,” he said. “But the response has been great.”

Michael Felber, a spokesman for UW Health, said the new hospital has numerous plaques scattered about with many areas named for donors.

“Naming rights for rooms started at $10,000,” he said. “American Family was obviously the biggest donor, but there have been many, many others.”