James M. Gartenberg (A.B. ’87) was a long-time U-M fanatic, and a friend to all he met. After he graduated with an economics degree, he returned to his native Manhattan, where, in addition to a career in commercial real estate, he spent 12 years serving as the president of the New York chapter of the U-M Alumni Club.
Although he was younger than many of the club’s members, Jim’s enthusiasm was infectious. He inspired longtime members to become more involved. He attracted new young alumni like himself. He was well-liked and highly effective as chapter president—so much so that when he was close to being term-limited out of the role, the club amended its bylaws to allow him to keep it.
Jim even met his future wife, Jill (A.B. ’89) through the Alumni Club; she was impressed with his spirit, and they bonded over their mutual love for Michigan. When their daughter Nicole was born, Jim enjoyed taking her with them to football games, all three clad in maize and blue. He’d make Jill laugh by good-naturedly trash talking the opposing team while pushing their tiny baby in her stroller.
On September 11, 2001, Jim was in his office on the 86th floor of the World Trade Center North Tower when a hijacked plane hit the building and he became trapped. Even in the final moments of his life, Jim was thinking of others, calling the local ABC television news station and appearing live on air to reassure people whose family and friends were still in the towers. Devastatingly, however, Jim lost his life that day. At the time, Jill was pregnant with their second daughter, Jamie, and Nicole was still a young child.
The Gartenberg family had suffered an unthinkable tragedy—one felt by friends and strangers alike. Thousands came to pay their respects at Jim’s memorial. Jill received letters from people across the globe who had heard Jim on the news, expressing sympathy for her loss and emphasizing his bravery and selflessness in the face of tragedy.
Despite their grief, Jim’s loved ones refused to let his memory fade. Together, they came up with a way to honor him at the school he had cared so deeply about: the University of Michigan. Soon after, they established the James M. Gartenberg Memorial Scholarship in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Not long after that, the U-M Alumni Club of NYC renamed its longtime scholarship for Jim too.