1907. Russia on the eve of the Communist revolution. It was not an especially safe or hopeful time. From their village outside of Minsk, the Shapiro family began the long journey to America. Like many immigrants, the Shapiros—father, mother and four children, including infant Max—had simple dreams: the opportunity to work hard, eat regularly, worship freely and give back to the country that offered them a home.
The family arrived in Chicago when Max was still a tyke. Armed with an eighth-grade education, Max went to work as a Western Union bicycle messenger, but his passion for learning lasted a lifetime. “Neither of our parents finished high school,” said Max’s daughter Donna Resek. “But we understood by how they lived and by the things they valued that education was important. They never missed a teacher conference.”
“There were always books in our home—history and biography. Dad was self-educated, a voracious reader and an excellent speaker,” added Ron Shapiro (’63 BS L&S), Max’s son. “He felt lucky to be an American and never missed a chance to vote.”
Max Shapiro lived to see his two children graduate from college, Donna from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Ron from the UW-Madison. Ron’s wife and high school sweetheart, Beth (’64 BS Social Work), is a Badger alumna as well. In 1967, the children of Max Shapiro as well as other family members recognized his pursuit of knowledge by endowing the Shapiro Memorial Scholarship in the Law School to help law students with financial need.
To date, awards from the fund have totaled five times the original endowment, providing financial assistance to nearly 50 students. Periodically the fund is allowed to grow so that subsequent awards make a meaningful difference for students facing three years of law school expenses. The Shapiro Memorial Scholarship has been a source of student support for more than 40 years. Thanks to the power of an endowment, this support will continue for generations to come.
“While he was a very successful businessman, we know Dad aspired to be an attorney,” explained Ron. “He had a presence and the command of language that we believe would have made him a successful attorney had he been able to pursue his goals.”
He was an average guy who did more than his share and made the best of his life, but his career would have been very different had he been educated.
“Of course, in his work he knew many lawyers,” continued Donna, “but he also thought very logically. He was an average guy who did more than his share and made the best of his life, but his career would have been very different had he been educated.” Max’s business career began at Chicago’s famous Goldblatt’s Department Store in the automotive and hardware department, where he eventually rose to become a buyer.
For 25 years, Max gained experience and confidence until, in 1948, he and his brother, Norton, opened their first automotive supply store in Racine, Wisconsin. They were good businessmen who understood the American obsession with do-it-yourself car repair. A store in Waukesha was followed by a store in Milwaukee. Midwest Tire and Auto Stores eventually grew to 27 successful locations with Max and Norton Shapiro at the helm.
With great pride, Max moved his family to their own home in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. All five of his grandchildren graduated from college, three from the UW-Madison, one from Purdue and one from UW-Milwaukee. Michael Shapiro, son of Ron and Beth, and Max’s grandson, received his law degree from the UW-Madison.
Today, tomorrow or decades from now, a student will walk up Bascom Hill to a Law School class, a moot court team meeting or a midnight study session. It’s a short journey compared to the miles from Minsk to Milwaukee. Thanks to the love of his family, Max Shapiro’s dream will be fulfilled with each student honored to receive his scholarship.