Jay I. Kislak

Inspirational Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
Jay I. Kislak, 1922 – 2018

Innovative businessman, philanthropist, aviator, collector, history enthusiast, and patron of education and ideas, Jay I. Kislak was born June 6, 1922, in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Mr. Kislak spent his life exploring unusual places, ideas and ventures, forging relationships and assembling extraordinary treasures, which he generously shared. His achievements encompassed many fields of endeavor – business, collecting, flying and philanthropy, to name just a few.

Entrepreneurial and driven, Mr. Kislak got his first real estate license while still a high school student at Newark Academy. He earned a degree in economics from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating early to serve as a Naval Aviator in World War II. Upon returning home to New Jersey in 1945, Mr. Kislak entered the family real estate business full time and made it his life’s work.

In the early 1950s, Mr. Kislak moved his family to Miami, establishing what would become one of the country’s largest privately held mortgage banks, originating and servicing loans nationwide for more than 40 years. Until his death at age 96, Mr. Kislak served as chairman of the Kislak Organization, which today focuses on real estate investment and brokerage.

While building a successful business enterprise, Mr. Kislak has also created a cultural and historic legacy – unique collections of rare books, maps, manuscripts, paintings and artifacts. He established the nonprofit Jay I. Kislak Foundation for the conservation and study of materials related to the cultures and history of the early Americas.

In 2004 Mr. Kislak donated more than 4,000 items from the collection to the Library of Congress. This extraordinary gift to the American people is now on permanent display and features one of Mr. Kislak’s greatest acquisitions – the 1516 Carta Marina Navigatoria, the first printed navigational map of the world by the celebrated German mapmaker Martin Waldseemüller.

Through a landmark gift in 2017, Mr. Kislak and his family established two permanent South Florida homes for his internationally significant collection – Kislak Centers at the University of Miami and Miami Dade College Freedom Tower.

The Kislak Family Foundation also established Kislak Centers at the University of Pennsylvania, and at Monmouth University (N.J.), and supports programs at Florida State University Real Estate Center, the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, and other institutions.

In honor of Mr. Kislak and all World War II veterans, the Kislak Family Foundation made a leadership gift to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum to support the creation of the Jay I. Kislak World War II in the Air Gallery, anticipated to open in 2025 in Washington, D.C.

Over the years Mr. Kislak held leadership roles in a long list of local, state and national organizations, including the U.S. Department of State Cultural Property Advisory Committee, the St. Augustine 450th anniversary federal commission, the boards of trustees of the National Park Foundation and Eisenhower Fellowships program, the Florida Council of 100, Florida Historical Society, Historical Association of Southern Florida, Mortgage Bankers Association of America, University of Miami, Miami-Dade County’s Art in Public Places Trust, Mount Sinai Medical Center, St. Francis Foundation, St. Leo University, Greater Miami Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Services, and United Way, among others.

His Majesty the King of Spain Juan Carlos I granted Mr. Kislak the prestigious Encomienda of the Order of Merit Civil, and he was named a Miami Living Legend by Miami Today newspaper, a national Unsung Hero by Curtiss Mansion, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals on National Philanthropy Day 2017.  

Into the final decade of his life, Mr. Kislak’s energy, memory and physical bearing were remarkable. He never lost his genuine sense of curiosity, constantly asking questions, interested in learning more, and embarking on new explorations.

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