The highest honour that can be bestowed upon Queen’s University grads — the Alumni Achievement Award — will be presented to philanthropist couple, chemist Alfred Bader, HFCIC, and his wife Isabel Bader, at the annual Alumni Association Gala Awards April 5.

Bader, who turns 90 three weeks after the event, and his wife Isabel, 88, are renowned scholars, educators, philanthropists and collectors of fine art, including priceless Old Masters. (The couple oversees the Alfred Bader Fine Arts gallery in Milwaukee, Minn.) Bader has donated generously to Queen’s over the years, most notably bestowing in 1993 the 15th century Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex, United Kingdom. The brick structure — called the Bader International Study Centre — is about 120 hectares of meticulously manicured grounds with a moat that welcomes liberal arts students from around the globe. (The castle also hosts Renaissance-themed weddings and is rumoured to have two ghosts.)

Despite recent ill health, the Bader couple plans to travel from Milwaukee to receive the award in person at Queen’s Ban Righ Hall. “I’m very fond of Queen’s University,” Alfred told ACCN by phone from Milwaukee. “We’re very pleased to be receiving the award,” Isabel added.

The Baders have a remarkable history, both as a couple and individually. Born in Austria, Bader has detailed his remarkable odyssey as a Second World War refugee through to his achievements in chemistry and fine art collection in autobiographies, the most recent is titled Chemistry & Art – Further Adventures of a Chemist Collector. At age 17, as a new Canadian, Bader tried to enroll at the universities of Toronto and McGill but was rejected because both institutions had filled their Jewish quota. Queen’s accepted him, however, and Bader undertook studies in chemistry and engineering. He pursued graduate studies at Harvard University, attaining a master’s in organic chemistry and then a PhD.

In 1951, Bader co-founded the Aldrich Chemical Company, becoming its chief chemist. Later he rose to president and chairman of the chemical giant Sigma-Aldrich Corporation. 

Northern Ontario-born Isabel, who graduated in 1949 from Victoria College, now Victoria University at U of T, taught drama, French and Spanish in England. There is an Isabel Bader Theatre at Vic and the official grand opening of the new Isabel Bader Performing Arts Centre at Queen’s is set for September in Kingston.