Marshall Kaplan ’49 with Brooklyn College President Michelle J. Anderson
“I’ve lived here all my life. I was born and raised here, went to school here. Brooklyn is my home,” says Marshall Kaplan ’49. He has never gone far from his hometown, except for the time he spent in the military.
Drafted into the army during World War II after he entered Brooklyn College, the political science major was assigned to the transportation corps. “There were no deferments. People were coming and going. Some never came back. It was a very poignant time.”
After the war, Kaplan returned to a campus bustling with WWII veterans who “piled in,” many having seen three or four years of service. “Most of us were Depression-era folks, when two cents was a lot of money and a nickel was almost a fortune. The Ocean Avenue trolley to campus was five cents. I called that my tuition because Brooklyn College was free to attend then,” says Kaplan. As a returning veteran, he was eligible for the 52/20 program, a part of the G.I. Bill that paid $20 a week for 52 weeks, which helped him supplement his income.
His experience in the military gave him a special understanding of and empathy for fellow veterans and is why his latest philanthropic commitment is directed at the student veterans at his alma mater. The Marshall Kaplan Veteran Scholars Fund has been established to provide emergency student support, academic enrichment, internships and career development, and connections to professional opportunities for the student veteran population. At the heart of the fund is the building of a sense of community among the student veterans and helping them with the transition from academic life.
“It’s a great program,” says Kaplan. “People think that military and civilian lives are seamlessly interchangeable. The same is true of law in the military and law in civilian life. The transition is hard. Whatever we can do to make it easy for people, we want to do. Veterans have a lot to contribute.”
“On top of giving our veterans great academic, internship, and career opportunities,” says Claudette Guinn, coordinator of the Veteran and Military Programs at Brooklyn College, “the Marshall Kaplan Veteran Scholars Fund will help them to complete their programs, graduate on time, and not have to scale back classes because of financial issues.”
While helping veterans is close to his heart, Kaplan has been a longtime supporter of the college, providing, for example, start-up funding for the Learning Center. In 2019, he was presented with the Brooklyn College Presidential Medal.
“I Practiced Law in Brooklyn for a Long Time”
Kaplan got in another semester at Brooklyn College and enrolled in Brooklyn Law School with two and a half years of college credits. “Back then, you didn’t have to have a college degree to go to law school,” Kaplan says. “Two of the most prominent judges of my era went straight to law school from high school.”
Kaplan’s simultaneous enrollment in college and law school allowed him to graduate from both in 1949, when he entered the bar. He joined the army reserve and was commissioned as a judge advocate general, rising through the ranks to colonel and serving as a military appellate judge. Kaplan was also appointed national judge advocate of the Jewish War Veterans. He is still a longstanding member of Milton L. Finel Post 389 in Brooklyn. He retired from the military after 30 years with a Meritorious Service Medal.
“I met some very good lawyers from around the country during my time in the military. It’s been over 40 years since I retired, but I miss it,” he says.
Active in the Brooklyn Bar Association, at various times serving as treasurer, secretary, and president in 1982, Kaplan offers that there was never a dull moment in his decades-long career. “I practiced law in Brooklyn for a long time: tax law, federal criminal cases, admiralty law. I enjoyed and did well at it,” says Kaplan. “There was always something new to do.”
The Brooklyn attorney was also president of the New York City Tax Commission and says it spurred a deep interest in municipal government. “I found it fascinating,” Kaplan says. “The biggest employer in New York City is New York City. There is a great demand for educated employees—lawyers, accountants, managers, journalists. The city pays very good money and offers very good benefits. An educated citizenry in Brooklyn makes the quality of life here better. I’ve met many fellow alumni who work for the city. Brooklyn College contributes greatly to the quality of life in our borough. It’s not emphasized enough that we need an educated citizenry to go into municipal jobs.” To this end, in 2016, Kaplan fully endowed the Marshall G. Kaplan Chair in Municipal Government at the Koppelman School of Business. The current holder of the Kaplan Chair, Professor Daniel Tinkelman, has partnered with the Brooklyn College Career Center to use funds from this endowment in support of internship stipends for dozens of students to date.
Kaplan’s advice to today’s students: “If they are interested in working for the city, there are very good jobs there. I hope they remember the college, and I hope they remember Brooklyn.”