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AARP AARP States Wisconsin

Middleton's 'Piano Man' Wins Top Volunteer Award

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We're thrilled to announce that Bob Auerbach, 94, of Middleton – affectionately known as “The Piano Man” for volunteering his musical gifts at a variety of area senior centers, assisted living and memory care facilities – has been selected by to receive the 2023 AARP Wisconsin Andrus Award for Community Service.

This is our most prestigious and visible statewide volunteer award for community service. We selected Auerbach for the award based on his remarkable service, which has greatly benefited his community, reflected AARP’s vision and mission, and inspired other volunteers.

“He uses his talents and his life story not only to bring the joy of music to the elderly and disabled, but also as a way to raise money for charity,” said his daughter, Emily Auerbach, who nominated her father for the award.

“For example, he turned his 90th birthday into a benefit for the UW Odyssey Project, offering $100,000 of his own money as a match,” Emily said. “His generosity garnered him an outstanding philanthropist award from AFP-Madison, and a news story about his life led to 400 new donors and $150,000 in contributions for a program helping families break cycles of generational poverty.”

The Andrus Award will be formally presented to Bob at a ceremony on Monday, Dec. 4, at 10:30 a.m. at the Middleton Senior Center, 7448 Hubbard Ave., where Robert plans to once again play the piano for the crowd.

"This award acts as a symbol to the public that we can all work together for positive social change,” says AARP WI State Director Martha Cranley. “AARP has long valued the spirit of volunteerism and the important contributions volunteers make to their communities, neighbors, and the programs they serve.
“Bob clearly goes above and beyond the definition of the word volunteer,” Cranley said. “He serves as an inspiring example of the phrase ‘service before self.’ He is committed to doing whatever he can every single day to make life better for those around him. Bob is truly one in a million.”

As part of his award, Auerbach was given the opportunity to select an organization to receive a $1,000 donation from AARP. He will donate all the money to the UW Odyssey Project, an organization that Emily launched and oversees as Executive Director. Emily said his donation will be applied to an ongoing million-dollar match for Odyssey’s Future Fund from two local philanthropists.

"Having been a proud member of AARP for almost half a century, I am particularly honored and humbled to receive this award,” Bob said.

According to Emily, Bob epitomizes AARP’s vision and purpose because he inspires everyone around him with his approach to aging and his service to the elderly. Throughout his career as a UW scientist doing groundbreaking work on cancer and immunology, he also played music, ranging from jazz to classical.

After retirement and then the loss of his wife Wanda of 62 years in 2012, Bob channeled his grief into generosity by traveling to dozens of retirement centers and assisted living facilities, where residents – many of whom have dementia or other cognitive impairments – would often sing along when Bob played songs from their youth.

“He has displayed courage throughout his life, first as a Holocaust survivor and refugee and later as a widower trying to create a meaningful life despite his grief. He is inspiring because at age 94 he is going strong, making sure every day that he contributes in some way to the goals and dreams of others,” Emily said. “He works tirelessly to make life better for others.”

Andrus Award recipients across the nation were chosen for their ability to enhance the lives of AARP members and prospective members, improve the community in or for which the work was performed, and inspire others to volunteer.

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