Short Biography of John S. Best as Collector
John S. Best was a noted Milwaukee lawyer, conservationist, and dog breeder, who built an extensive collection of books on a variety of subjects before his death in 1989. To honor his memory, his wife, Helen M. Best, donated her husbands library of over 2,500 books to the Golda Meir Library in 1997. The core of the collection, approximately 500 titles reflecting Mr. Bests deep interest in wildlife, outdoor sportsmanship, and the breeding, raising and showing of dogs, has been preserved in Special Collections. The collection stands as a lasting testimonial to the causes and activities that were closest to Mr. Bests heart, and to those of his family.
Mr. Best is described by his family as a renaissance man. He was raised in a strong tradition of education, intellectual curiosity and scholarship, and had a deep-seated appreciation for achievement. He developed broad interests concerning the outdoor world around him, which included three passions: conservation, bird hunting, and dogs, most particularly Irish and Smooth Fox Terriers. He combined his curiosity and love of knowledge to form a sizable personal library with a broad range of subjects.
Mr. Best was born in Arlington Heights, Illinois, in 1906. He studied business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After earning a degree in Commerce in 1928, he attended the University of Wisconsin Law School, from which he graduated with honors in 1930. He served as counsel for the Wisconsin Tax Commission for several years, and in 1938, joined the Milwaukee law firm of Lecher, Michael, Whyte & Spohn. He was made partner in 1943 and the firms name was later changed to Michael, Best & Friedrich. He had a long and distinguished career in tax law. He served on the Wisconsin Bar Associations Board of Governors, and was a director of the Wisconsin Society of Certified Public Accountants.
While his successful career in the law remained the focus of his public life, John Best avidly pursued several life-long personal interests. He developed a love of nature early in life while accompanying his father on fishing trips. As an adult, while searching for a country home, he spotted a pair of nesting wood ducks while walking through the back acreage of one home. The ducks finalized his decision to buy that particular home. With his love of nature came the desire to protect it. He was active in conservation groups such as Fin and Feather and Ducks Unlimited. He was one of the early members of the Crane Foundation, a Baraboo-based group devoted to the protection of crane species in Wisconsin. He was an organizer of the drive to save the Prairie Chicken from extinction in Wisconsin which resulted in the formation of the Society of the Tympanucchus Cupido Pinnatus and the purchase of a 7,000-acre sanctuary for the birds.
He was an avid hunter, especially of waterfowl and upland game birds. In addition to hunting fowl, he was intrigued by the idea of falconry, hunting with birds of prey, and collected several volumes on the subject.
Mr. Best was also a breeder and enthusiast of dogs. He bred both Irish and Smooth Fox Terriers, and had a long line of champion dogs that is continued today by his daughter, Mary. His passion for dogs in general, and Irish Terriers specifically, began when he was about 10 years old after reading Jack Londons Jerry of the Islands. Later, in light of his collecting, he joked that Jerry of the Islands and its companion, Michael: Brother of Jerry, were the two most expensive books he ever bought.
Helen Bests donation of her husbands library to UWM preserves John S. Bests life-long achievement as a collector, while making the collection available to a broader scholarly audience. In addition, to commemorate the value John Best placed on education and scholarship, Mrs. Best established an endowment to support the Special Collections Department and the American Geographical Society Collection at the Golda Meir Library. The generosity of Helen Best and the collecting vision of John S. Best are acknowledged by this library with sincere gratitude.
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