Robert B. Menschel (1929-2022): In Memoriam

image: Robert B. Menschel, family, and friends celebrate the dedication of the Robert B. Menschel Media Center at Syracuse University in 2001. From left: Ed Bleier, William Safire, Joyce Menschel, Jeffrey Hoone, Robert B. Menschel, Martin Zausner, Dr. Mort Lacher, and Carrie Mae Weems.

ROBERT B. MENSCHEL (1929-2022) — With profound sadness, we share the news of the passing of our good friend and long-time supporter, Robert B. Menschel, on Thursday, May 27, 2022, at the age of 92.

His generosity and support over a lifetime enabled Light Work to flourish as a photography organization that supported emerging artists as it became a leader in the field and a model for artists’ support across the country. Bob was there every step of the way with advice, encouragement, and generosity. He was passionate about photography. His enthusiasm for the work of individual artists was clear as he beamed about their work when he saw it in an exhibition or a publication. In many cases, his support made those projects possible, while his enthusiasm always gave us the encouragement to do our best. There would be no Light Work without Bob Menschel and we will dearly miss and long remember him.

Robert B. Menschel was an investment banker, avid art collector, and philanthropist. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Robert’s partner, Janet Wallach, his son, David, his daughter, Lauren, son-in-law Vance Jacobs, grandsons Adler Menschel Jacobs and Devin Menschel Jacobs, his former wife, Joyce Frank Menschel, his brother and sister-in-law, Richard and Ronay Menschel, and nieces Charis, Sabina and Celene. 

Menschel was an alum of the College of Business Administration at Syracuse University (’51) and an Honorary Trustee (’91) of the institution for more than twenty-three years. He provided significant support and leadership to the University and was a major sustaining supporter of Light Work and the Urban Video Project. 

Menschel joined Goldman Sachs in 1954. He became a partner in 1968 and continued at Goldman Sachs as a senior director until his retirement in 1988. Only Menschel’s passion for philanthropy and advocacy surpassed his brilliance for business and ingenuity. Light Work is honored to have benefited from his generosity and commitment to being a change agent through his Vital Projects Fund and numerous philanthropic initiatives. 

A recipient of the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, along with his brother Richard L. Menschel in 2015, Bob believed in Carnegie’s philosophy that wealth carries an inherent responsibility to contribute to the world’s betterment and a more just society. Reflecting on this shared vision in his acceptance speech, Menschel said,

“In the pantheon of American philanthropy, Andrew Carnegie stands out for his generosity in both deeds and spirit. His motto of doing real and permanent good in the world underscores my own commitment to charitable giving. From the time I established my foundation some fifty years ago, my goal has been to support vital projects with primary emphasis on nurturing photography as an art form in museums around the nation, healthcare, and strengthening the justice system, particularly working to end mass incarceration.”

Syracuse University facility management crew install dedication signage to Robert B. Menschel Media Center in 2001. The newly renovated space houses gallery spaces, a digital services lab, residency studios, and collection storage.

Jeffrey Hoone, former executive director of Light Work and the Coalition of Museum and Art Centers, spoke to the significance of Menschel’s steadfast support and championing of Light Work’s mission. 

“Bob Menschel was a friend and supporter of Light Work for more than thirty-five years,” said Hoone. “His love of photography and belief in Light Work’s focused mission to support artists working in photography has touched the lives of countless individuals and artists. We simply would not have been as successful as an organization without Bob’s encouragement, advice, and generosity. We thank him, and an entire generation of artists working in photography have him to thank as well.” 

The news of Menschel’s passing prompts fond memories of his visit to Syracuse in May 2001 for the dedication of the Robert B. Menschel Media Center. Menschel, his brother Richard, and other friends and family traveled to Syracuse to open a newly renovated Light Work facility that included three galleries, state-of-the-art darkroom and digital imaging equipment, residency studios, collection storage, and administrative offices. Menschel’s gift of $3.2 million to support the Center set a new standard for naming gifts at the University as well as set a high standard for design excellence. Menschel persuaded noted architect Richard Meier and celebrated artist and SU alum Sol LeWitt to contribute design elements and artwork to the Center, which  SU alum and architect Mike Wolniack designed. This renovation was a key moment in Light Work’s history that allowed us to offer unique access to photographic works through exhibitions, Contact Sheet periodicals, and support to countless emerging and under-represented artists from around the world.

The support that Robert B. Menschel provided to Light Work and a wide range of other arts organizations is humbling. His philanthropy enriched lives and significantly amplified underrecognized voices. It’s impossible to express our unending gratitude. On behalf of Light Work’s staff and board members, we express profound thanks to Robert B. Menschel and the Menschel family. He leaves behind a legacy of passionate lifelong advocacy, unwavering commitment to transformative change, and an immeasurable generosity that will benefit the world for years to come.

Robert B. Menschel exchanges a mini photo slide viewer with an image of the newly renovated Media Center with dedication event guest, Jane Hodgens.