Ray Eckstein was born in 1926 in Cassville, Wisconsin and attended Campion Jesuit High School in nearby Prairie du Chien. In 1943, at the age of seventeen, he left Cassville for Marquette University in Milwaukee, where he attended school on a basketball scholarship. Ray began college with the intention of going to medical school, but it turned out that law school suited him better.
Kathryn (Kay) Hendrick Eckstein was born and raised in Chicago,IL. She attended St. Scholastica Academy. Kay left her home in Chicago to pursue an education in speech at Marquette University. During his second year of college, Ray fondly remembers the first time he met Kay and thinking “She was the best looking girl I’d ever seen.”
Early Adult Life
Ray and Kay dated through college and when she agreed to marry him, it was with the condition that they wouldn’t go back to his hometown of Cassville, Wisconsin. They married in 1948 and graduated a year later, Ray with a law degree and Kay with a degree in speech. Ray and a classmate started a law practice in Milwaukee but didn’t have enough contacts to make it work. So with their first child on the way, Ray and Kay made the practical decision to move to Cassville. Located on the southern edge of Wisconsin, nestled between 300-foot bluffs and the Mississippi River, Cassville is a small town of less than 1,000 people. In 1949 Ray opened his Cassville law office and Kay grew accustomed to small-town life, especially enjoying the majesty and beauty of the river.
The Eckstein family grew and so did Ray’s ambitions; in 1958 he started a river transportation business which later grew to Wisconsin Barge Lines. With a fleet of tugboats and barges, the company carried bulk commodities from port to port along the Mississippi River. After selling his first company, Eckstein formed a new company in 1978, naming it Marquette Transportation after his alma mater and the French Jesuit priest who explored the Mississippi River. He served on the board of directors until 2015 for the company, which is headquartered in Paducah, Kentucky.
The Eckstein’s giving has been a statement of their values – the Roman Catholic faith, education, and their home town. Ray and Kay held a considerable amount of real estate and after selling some of it they began conveying the rest to charity. The original Marquette Transportation office building was donated to Cassville for use as a public library with a support trust for its maintenance. Other office buildings were conveyed to support trusts for St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Grade School in Cassville, the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago, and the Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee. An athletic field, computer lab, and track equipment are all projects that have been funded for the Cassville High School.
Marquette Law School
Their personal giving activity culminated in early 2005 when the Eckstein’s formed the Ray & Kay Eckstein Charitable Trust. Later that year, Ray and Kay made the decision to committed $51 million to Marquette University for a new Law School facility. They made the gift as “an expression of gratitude” to the University. It was the single largest gift the University had ever received.
My wife and I have many fond memories at Marquette. It was the place of our meeting and courtship, and the beginning of our wonderful life together. Catholic, Jesuit education has played an important role in our lives. We are honored and thrilled to be able to provide the Law School with the foundation for a new building, so that students in the future can have the opportunity to benefit from the education like we did.