A legacy of integrity and flair – The story behind the Barkin–McKiethan Scholarship

Barkin-McKeithan Scholarship x Mueller Communications

Every summer, Mueller Communications presents college juniors with the opportunity to participate in a full-time paid internship. 

This is no ordinary coffee-fetching, file-organizing summer pastime. The Barkin-McKiethan intern gains real-world agency experience by getting their hands on client work, researching solutions and being surrounded by passionate communications professionals. In addition to PR experience, the intern receives a $2,000 scholarship, a flexible work schedule, a beautiful office space inside the Milwaukee Fortress, and an incredible team of mentors. The catch? Mueller Communications expects Barkin-McKiethan interns to live up to the namesakes – Ben Barkin and Jack McKiethan – who were known for their integrity, ingenious creativity, dedication to sharing the truth and love for the Milwaukee community.

“The professional integrity and credibility that Ben Barkin gave to this profession – we want the Barkin-McKiethan Scholar to honor this legacy and embrace it as our own. He was the principle for how we will conduct ourselves.” - Carl Mueller, founder of Mueller Communications.

Ben Barkin: Milwaukee Legend

Passion, integrity, imagination and flare – this was the reputation that Milwaukee’s PR giant Ben Barkin earned for himself as a local celebrity of the 60’s. A showman himself, Barkin was passionate about growing Milwaukee into the city it always aspired to be. From championing local causes to starting the Great Circus Parade, Ben Barkin was a community steward whose commitment to being truthful and reliable has inspired citizens of the city, including leadership at Mueller Communications.

Maybe what contributed most to Barkin’s dedication to Milwaukee were his roots here. A native to the city, he grew up on the north side in a Jewish neighborhood, right around 16th and North. 

Milwaukee in the ’60s was buzzing with family-owned breweries, banks and small businesses. Seeing this economic boom, Barkin took advantage of the business scene in Milwaukee to use his personality, passion for telling the truth and networking skills to tell the stories of these family-owned businesses that made up the city. His goal was to put Milwaukee on the international map so that people all over the world could recognize the city in a positive way.

Barkin embedded his core values of truth and integrity into his communications firm, Barkin, Herman, Solochek and Paulsen. He not only set those standards for his own communication style but also expected them to be present and proactive in the people that he hired – and it showed. The people who worked for Ben Barkin were distinguishable simply for the manner in which they conducted themselves. With clients such as the Marcus Theater, Schlitz Brewing Company and even the United Nations, Barkin knew the stakes he was working with. He not only represented the companies of his clients, he also represented their employees and families.

Milwaukee’s Great Circus Parade

Barkin’s passion was embodied in one of his favorite projects – organizing the Milwaukee Great Circus Parade. Following its founding in 1963, the Great Circus Parade quickly turned into an international sensation. Every summer, Milwaukee closed downtown roads to welcome crowds of people from all over the globe to line Water Street and watch a celebration of elaborate carts, colorful floats, horses and performers, all honoring the history of Wisconsin’s circus culture.

Partner in Communication – Jack McKiethan

Barkin also befriended another Milwaukee legend, Jack McKiethan, who led Schlitz Brewing in its final years, and who helped do a great deal of fundraising for the Great Circus Parade. McKiethan was known for his integrity as well, being generous with praise and scarce with criticism in every personal encounter.

After Barkin passed away in 2001, McKiethan worked with Carl Mueller (founder of Mueller Communications) to put together what became the Barkin-McKiethan scholarship. Many of the early recipients even got to meet McKiethan as part of their experience! Jack McKiethan passed away in 2018, but the scholarship continued to be supported by the McKiethan family for a few more years.

“Jack was enthusiastic about supporting a scholarship in Ben’s name to inspire future generations of young professionals to carry on in his footsteps.” - Carl Mueller

Paying it Forward: Barkin’s Pivot to Mentorship

Fast forward a few decades, and the Milwaukee scene changed dramatically. Family-owned firms were being sold to corporations, banks were merged with larger banks, and iconic breweries were relocating – but Barkin remained loyal to the city.

Having blazed new trails and achieved his business goals, Barkin’s interest turned to mentorship. Training young people to be dedicated to the truth and guiding them to form high professional standards, ethics and skills. That commitment to mentorship inspired the creation of the Barkin-McKiethan Scholarship.

“Ben Barkin did more than just hire good people — he created an inspiring company culture where good and talented people could thrive. We work hard to create this at Mueller Communications as well. We’re so proud of the people of Team Mueller and their deep commitment to their colleagues, clients and community.” - James Madlom, CEO of Mueller Communications.

A Scholarship Program is Born

The Barkin-McKiethan Scholarship program was created for hard-working young people so that they could carry forward the legacy of Barkin and his friend, Jack McKiethan.

Eventually, Barkin’s firm faded, but a  scholarship in his honor was created at his firm’s successor, Morgan & Meyers. Lori Richards, one of Mueller Communications’ CEOs, was a recipient of the scholarship through this program when she was a junior at Marquette University.

After some time, the scholarship ceased to exist. However, in the late 2000s, when Mueller Communications was scouting out talent, Lori remembered what the Barkin-McKiethan Scholarship opportunity meant to her as a young professional. She and Carl Mueller, founder of Mueller Communications, worked together to give the scholarship a new home.

“Our success in this industry has been based upon our ability to successfully put someone else - not ourselves - in the spotlight. With this in mind, it only made sense to continue to honor local legend Ben Barkin in this way.” - Lori Richards, CEO of Mueller Communications

Nobody would have blamed Carl and Lori for leaving the name behind and beginning a new scholarship and internship program, but Lori’s personal ties and Carl’s admiration of Barkin and McKiethan led them to carry on the tradition. The namesake for the scholarship has remained ever since. 

The Barkin-McKeithan Scholarship Today

Now, the scholarship serves as a great vehicle for students to live in the dynamic world of a 360-degree communications agency. Inspired by their credibility, reliability and creative minds, Mueller Communications is proud to continue the legacy of Ben Barkin and Jack McKiethan today.

“You can be famous, but it doesn't take long after you're gone that you are merely a memory. What Barkin and McKiethan left is a legacy that gets carried on by young people entering the profession.” - Carl Mueller