Dollie Galter, Medical School and Chicago benefactor, dies at 97

Emeline Cokelet

Dollie Galter, a benefactor of Northwestern’s Medical School, died Tuesday of heart failure at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. She was 97.

Her donations to the Medical School in the early 1990s helped to build the Galter Health Sciences Library and the Galter Pavilion. Both gifts were $10 million.

Galter, who grew up in Chicago and San Francisco, knew more about history than anybody in Chicago, said her close friend Jane Canepa. She was born Sarah Miriam Schiff on Jan. 2, 1904. After graduating from Harrison High School in Evansville, she worked as a Western Union operator. In 1925 she married Jack Galter, a big band drummer.

Galter and her husband had only $100 when they were first married, but he eventually earned more money than they ever felt they needed, Canepa said.

Her husband later owned Spartus clock company, worked in real estate and invented razors “for the common man,” Canepa said. In 1943, the Galters formed the Galter Foundation and eventually donated more than $100 million to charities, the arts and several Chicago medical institutions. Jack Galter died in 1993.

Galter often said her husband made the money and she gave it away, Canepa said.

“What she used to say about Jack is that he had the Midas touch,” Canepa said. “Whatever he touched would turn to gold.”

The Galters donated money to several institutions, including Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, the Jewish Council for the Elderly, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Maryville Academy in Des Plaines, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and Children’s Memorial Hospital.

Galter was most proud of the Galter LifeCenter, a health and fitness facility that she financed at Chicago’s Swedish Covenant Hospital, Canepa said. She also was pleased with the Galter Health Sciences Library, where she established “Dollie’s Corner,” which provides medical students with books on subjects beyond medicine.

Her donations also supported WTTW Channel 11 and the Newberry Library.

Galter’s longtime presence in Chicago gave her a wealth of historical knowledge.

“She knew everyone from heads of state to Al Capone,” Canepa said.

Galter told stories of swimming in Lake Michigan at the present-day site of Lake Shore Drive and watching gangsters-versus-politicians baseball games where all the players left their guns in a wheelbarrow at home plate. Her husband used to play at a Mafia-run nightclub that later became the site of the Galter Pavilion, Canepa said.

Galter had a magnetic personality and was always humble about her wealth, said Tina Rothstein, who worked with the Galter Foundation for 16 years.

“She was a very modest lady,” Rothstein said. “If you would see her on the street, you would never know she had millions.”

Galter’s wealth made her tough, but she was pleasant, fair and “had a good laugh,” Canepa said.

She loved swimming, horseback riding, reading, architecture, children, and collecting art and jewelry. Galter lived in a penthouse in downtown Chicago and was independent until her death, Canepa said.

Galter is survived by one daughter, Lois Joseph; four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. A funeral was held Friday in Chicago.