Graham Kilmer

Who Was George ‘French’ Moss?

Foundation in his name made $2.5 million donation to a county park for people with disabilities.

By - Jul 3rd, 2023 05:34 pm

George F. Moss. Photo courtesy of Western States Envelope and Lable and family of Moss.

In 2022, a new foundation made a $2.5 million donation to the development of a park designed for people with disabilities.

So sizeable was the donation that, in honor of the man whose wealth funded it, George F. Moss, his name may be lent to the park in some way. But who is George F. Moss?

Moss, known to his friends and family by his middle name French, was the third George F. Moss in his family. The first was the founder of the Western States Envelope Co. French, too, worked at the family business, first as president and then as Chairman of the Board. He built a sizeable fortune that his family never really knew about and organized a foundation to disburse his money to charity upon his death.

This is how a $2.5 million donation came to be awarded to a project being developed at Wisconsin Avenue Park in Wauwatosa by the non-profit Ability Center. Once finished, the park will be the first in southeastern Wisconsin designed for universal accessibility. The park will include new playground features, interactive play and fitness equipment and adaptive sports among other things. And all of it will be designed to be universally accessible.

It’s possible, now, that the park will be named Moss Universal Park, in recognition of the contribution from his foundation. Wisconsin Avenue Park is currently named simply for the street it sits on. Whether Moss’s name is is part of the park’s future name or not, Damian Buchman, Ability Center CEO, said he thinks the clubhouse would be a good place to tell his story. “He seems worthy of the recognition and of the generosity.”

Many in the business world knew him as George Moss. But for Beth Peterson, he was her Uncle French. Peterson’s mother Carol Beyerlein was Moss’s sister, and hers was the only family that Moss had, having never married or had children. Peterson described Moss as a “very, very unique individual” and  the “ultimate gentleman”: someone who was very private and thoughtful.

“He was extremely humble,” she said, “and obviously extremely generous.”

Moss was born in Milwaukee in 1936. He grew up in Wauwatosa, attending Wauwatosa East High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Southern Methodist University and a law degree from UW-Madison Law School. Peterson said he never formally practiced law, though he doubtless used it during his time in business.

At Western States, the company begun by his grandfather, Moss served as president from 1975 to 1997, then chairman of the board until his death in 2019.

He lived all his life in Wauwatosa, a good chunk of it with his parents at Serafino Square apartments. When he moved out, it was only down the hall, Peterson said. While he never moved far away, Moss was nonetheless footloose. Peterson said he traveled the world, and it was difficult to name a country to him that he hadn’t visited. He loved skiing and the outdoors and was a member of the Vagabond Ski & Social Club.

“He could go hours and hours talking about his travels, telling you about his experiences,” Peterson said. “And if you were willing to listen, he was a wealth of information.”

It was a lifelong wish to donate his life’s earnings to charity, Peterson said. So he made arrangements for a foundation to be started in his name upon his death. He left the family out of the business of the foundation, Peterson said. “My belief is that he didn’t want to impose on the family. I think that he just didn’t want anybody to have to bother with any of his affairs.”

Information on the George F. Moss Foundation Trust is scanty but it is listed as having assets of $9.6 million.

Moss was a sensitive man and had what Peterson called, “a heart for people.” She said he liked to go to the floor of the manufacturing facility at Western States and learn not only the names of his workers, but of their husbands and wives, their children and whether they were in good health. “He was just a very caring individual,” she said.

To know that his money was helping to fund a park for children and adults with disabilities would have really touched Moss, Peterson said: “I think would have really warmed his heart.”

I think he would have been crying.”

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Categories: MKE County, Parks

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