Judd Weinberg: The Man Behind Our Name

  •  ()
  •  ()
  • Print this Story
  • Email this Story
Judd Weinberg
Judd Weinberg at Weinberg College's Convocation in June
Nancy Deneen

Thirteen years ago, Judd Weinberg and his family gave a remarkable gift to the College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. Their generosity was recognized with the naming of the College in their honor. The undergraduate educational experience has been enhanced in so many ways since then: the hiring of stellar faculty across many fields; an invigorated advising system; the growth of the signature undergraduate programs for which the College is known; independent research opportunities; and partnerships with Chicago cultural and scientific institutions. In March, as his 85th birthday approached, Judd and his eldest son, David, agreed to sit down with Crosscurrents in their Loop office and share some of their stories. It is hoped that now, when a new generation of graduates sees that familiar name on their diplomas—The Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences—they will know some of the history behind this extraordinary family and the sources of their loyalty to the University.

Wildcat Days in Wartime

Judd Weinberg, a graduate of Chicago’s Lakeview High School, entered Northwestern in the fall of 1943, midway through U.S. involvement in the Second World War. The Evanston campus had changed dramatically to accommodate the influx of military personnel, especially Navy men. Quonset huts had sprouted near Dyche Stadium (now Ryan Field) to house those enrolled in training programs. Science laboratories were being used for classified research.

“The Navy had taken over the fraternity houses, and the male students had to rent rooms in nearby private homes,” Judd recalled. “I lived on Orrington Avenue.”

He wished to serve his country but was classified 4-F due to a knee injury, so he stayed on campus and pursued other opportunities for leadership. He was president of the social fraternity Phi Epsilon Pi and was the first Jewish student to be elected president of the Interfraternity Council. He was co-chairman of the annual May Sing, although he remembered with a chuckle that others, noting his lack of singing ability, asked him to merely mouth the words of the school songs. As the war ended, Dean of Students F. George Seulberger asked him to head a group to welcome fraternity men back to campus. There was hazing in fraternities at the time.

“Men coming home from the war were used to defending themselves,” explained the elder Weinberg. “I didn’t think that hazing them was a good idea, so we decided to do away with it.”

Judd was a business major whose career goal, mirroring that of many of the Greatest Generation, was “to make a living.” But some of his fondest memories concern sociology professor William F. Byron, a popular teacher and a noted activist for peace and social justice.

“He was just fabulous; he had been Jane Addams’s secretary at Hull House,” said Judd. “He told me there was a church a few blocks south of Howard Street where they needed someone to run an after-school program for 10-year-old boys who had never been anywhere. Two days a week, I ran an after-school program for them, and on Saturdays I took six or seven of them in my Chevy to the Field Museum, to the Shedd Aquarium, to the Lincoln Park Conservatory. I got even more out of it than they did.”

Judd and his college friends liked to frequent Evanston’s Toddle House diner, which was on the honor system: you paid for your waffles, hash browns or MasterBurgers by leaving money in a container by the door. He also played bridge in the basement of Scott Hall, sometimes all night long because men were free to do so, even in those days.

The lasting lessons he carried forth from Northwestern concerned social skills, he said: how to get along with people, how to be a leader. These skills would serve him well in his business career as an innovator and motivator of people.

Meeting Marjorie

Although Marjorie Gottlieb attended Northwestern (she was a first-year student when he was a senior), Judd didn’t meet her until after he had graduated. Then it was love at first sight. After their first date, he tried to be patient and waited all of nine days to propose to her. They were married in 1950; together they raised three sons in the Chicago suburbs, first in Oak Park and later in Winnetka.

David described his mother with pride: “She was extraordinary—intellectually curious, determined, and organized. She was strong with the kind of strength that’s borne out of religious faith.” She created a women’s auxiliary for Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, which had been founded by her parents in 1960. Showing health sensibilities ahead of her time, she refused to let the hospital gift shop sell cigarettes.

“She never just lent her name to a cause,” said David. “She showed up and did the work. Not afraid to be a pioneer, she was often the first Jewish woman in an organization. She always welcomed it as a challenge.

“She fought lymphoma for 11 years, with my father at her side, and died at the age of 64,” said David. “She lived to see all her children married and the birth of all of her grandchildren.” In addition to her family, her legacy was her devotion to the hospital, to Wisdom Bridge Theatre, to the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, and to Northwestern.

Launching a Career

Both Judd’s and Marjorie’s fathers had started their own companies. Judd’s father, Jack Weinberg, along with his brother, founded Oxxford Clothes, a Chicago manufacturer of finely tailored menswear, in 1916. After college, Judd worked in the business until 1952. Another kind of opportunity awaited him. “At Oxxford, I was the inside person running the shop when I wanted to be in sales. In life you need luck; you need to be in the right place at the right time in history.”

The right place for Judd was D. Gottlieb & Co., founded by Marjorie’s father in 1927. The firm was a leader in the cutting-edge game technology of the day: non-gambling pinball machines. In 1931, Gottlieb’s Baffle Ball became the first big hit of coin-operated games, with a depression-era public eager for inexpensive entertainment.

“My father-in-law was a great entrepreneur,” said Judd. “He introduced electricity to the games, and bumpers, and scoring.” The company’s 1947 development of two-inch bats called “flippers” revolutionized the industry, giving players the ability to shoot the ball back up the playfield and win more points. Gottlieb pinball machines of the post-war era are now considered collectors’ items.

Judd’s contribution, in the 1950s and ’60s, was to globalize the business. He initially went to New York to meet exporters with European connections. He had no luck. Then a businessman from France called him and the tide began to turn. It seems the man had been a hero during the French Resistance and was able to help influence the government to reverse a law which banned pinball games in France. Sales grew especially strong not only in France, but in Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan.

“America was popular after World War II,” said Judd. “So on the top of every pinball machine, we wrote ‘as American as baseball and hot dogs.’” He remembers being awake often, in the pre-dawn hours, to conduct business by phone on European time. With his leadership, the business grew tenfold.

“My father was a wonderful boss,” said David. “Under his watch, the talented staff blossomed.”

Judd attributes his success to “working hard and being fortunate, being surrounded by able people. Nobody does this on their own.”

In 1976, Judd sold the company to Columbia Pictures Entertainment, Inc. He became a consultant to the movie company and a member of its board of directors. He is currently chairman of the executive committee of the financial services firm he founded, Judd Enterprises.

His sons have enjoyed successful careers of their own. After a 20-year legal career, David is chairman and CEO of Judd Enterprises. David also is vice chair of the board of trustees of Northwestern, a director of the Terra Foundation for American Art, and former chairman of the Board of the Ravinia Festival Association.

In addition to being president of the family firm, Richard is a Broadway producer and has served on a number of professional and philanthropic boards, including The American Jewish Committee, the U.S.C. School of Theatre, the Sundance Institute, and Savoy Pictures Entertainment, Inc.

Jack founded, operated, and sold a video post-production company and is now a real estate investor. He serves as chairman of the board of the Gottlieb Memorial Foundation, a director of Loyola University Health Systems, a commissioner of the Glencoe Park District, and formerly served as a director of the Hockey Association of Illinois.

Giving, Then and Now

Weinberg generosity is deeply rooted in family history. David Weinberg related a story about his maternal grandfather, David Gottlieb, whose own father was a tailor. Money was scarce, so everyone pitched in. Gottlieb recalled that his older brother proudly emptied his pockets at the end of a workday, leaving his earnings for his family on the kitchen table. David Gottlieb said that this experience led him to become philanthropic at an early age and to pass on these values to his family.

Judd told of his father Jack’s boyhood. “His own father had died when he was six months old; Jack’s mother Jennie became a peddler who carried her wares in a pack on her back. They lived in one room and Jennie stoked the fire every morning so their clothes would thaw out.” Jack was able to attend the Jewish Training School on Chicago’s West Side, a school founded by earlier descendants of immigrants. With the skills obtained there and in subsequent jobs, Jack and his brother later founded Oxxford Clothes.

David reiterated his sentiments voiced at the time of the Weinberg naming gift. “Like most citizens of this country, we are the descendants of immigrants. We are grateful beyond words for the hard-earned blessings of liberty afforded to us. This gift is one expression of our gratitude for those blessings.”

The Weinberg family has given generously to Northwestern in other ways and continues to do so. Judd is a Life Trustee of the University. Both he and David are members of the College’s Board of Visitors. A gift to the medical school established the Weinberg Medical Informatics Training Center. The family has also supported the School of Communication, the Donald P. Jacobs Chair at the Kellogg School of Management, and the Arnold R. and Edna F. Weber Scholarship Fund. Recently, Judd’s three sons dedicated the Marjorie Weinberg Garden, a beautifully landscaped spot on the south side of Deering Meadow, in their mother’s honor. In addition, they have funded a new endowed chair, the Weinberg Family Distinguished Professorship of Life Sciences.

“It’s an honor to be part of Northwestern,” said David, “an institution that makes such a great difference in the world. We believe very deeply in both the discovery of new knowledge as a way for our civilization to advance, and in the transmission of that knowledge to our brightest young minds, enabling them to go forward and forge a just and sustainable world.”