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Jay Kislak

Jay Kislak, the namesake of the Van Pelt Library Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, died on Oct. 3 at age 96. 

Kislak, who graduated from The Wharton School in 1943, was a well-known real estate magnate, historian, and philanthropist. 

He donated over 3,000 books and other artifacts to the Jay I. Kislak Collection at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. In addition, he gave $5.5 million to the Kislak Center at Penn in 2013. 

He visited Penn in 2013 for the dedication ceremony, which was part of Penn Libraries' $17 million campaign to renovate the 5th and 6th floors of Van Pelt. 

“Preserving cultural history and making materials from the past available to researchers has always been my passion," Kislak told the Penn Libraries website at the time. “Through the renovation of the [special collections] space, the Penn Libraries have shown their commitment and leadership in the field, particularly in the digital humanities. My family and I could not be more pleased to support their endeavors.”

Kislak was the first of three generations of his family to go to Penn. Many of his family members have gone to Penn, including his son Philip Kislak, who graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1970, and his granddaughter Elizabeth Kislak, who graduated from Wharton in 2010. 

Raised in Hoboken, N.J., he became involved in his father’s business, Kislak Realty, at age 16. After graduating from Wharton with an economics degree, Kislak joined the United States Navy as a pilot during World War II.

Credit: Avalon Morell Lea Library, part of Van Pelt's Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts

In 1953, Kislak moved the operations of the now-named Kislak Organization to Miami, where he would found the Kislak National Bank ten years later. The company has now orchestrated more than 1,550 commercial real estate transactions with $6.3 billion in gross sales since 2000, according to its website.

Kislak expanded his enterprise to art collection in the 2000s. 

“I’ve always hung around books and libraries,” he told the Fine Books & Collections magazine in 2008.  “When I first moved to Florida, I had a shelf filled with the regular fodder young people collect—fine bindings, Dickens, that sort of thing.”

Credit: Luke Chen In Nov. 2013, a celebration was held on the 6th floor of Van Pelt for its dedication as the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Jay Kislak, his family, and Amy Gutmann were among the attendees.

Through both the Kislak Family Foundation and the Jay I. Kislak Foundation, he was dedicated to preserving “rich collections of primary research materials on the history of Florida, the Caribbean and Mesoamerica, with special emphasis on native cultures, their contact with Europeans and the colonial period to about 1820,” according to Penn’s Kislak Center web page. 

"Jay Kislak was a leader and innovator in business and philanthropy,” said President and CEO of the Kislak Organization Tom Bartelmo in an interview with GlobeSt. “He saw attributes in people and opportunities in life that many people did not see. His impact and contributions in so many areas — real estate, education, arts and humanities, animal welfare and environmental preservation — will be felt for generations to come.”

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