Jay Kislak was born and educated in Hoboken, New Jersey. He received a degree in economics from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 and immediately joined the Navy, serving as a naval aviator during World War II.
After the war, Mr. Kislak entered the family business, real estate brokerage and mortgage banking, founded by his father in 1906. In 1953, Jay Kislak moved to Miami, Florida, where he started the J. I. Kislak Mortgage Corporation. Today, The Kislak Organization has extensive operations in real estate and financial services including mortgage banking.
Currently, Mr. Kislak serves as a member of the Board of Trustees for the National Park Foundation. He also serves as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Eisenhower Fellowships. Mr. Kislak served from 2003-2008 as Chairman of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, an expert panel that advises the U. S. Department of State regarding the importation of cultural artifacts. He was appointed to the position in 2003 by President George W. Bush. Mr. Kislak has also served as a member of the Florida Historical Society and the Historical Society of South Florida.
With his wife, Jean, Mr. Kislak is a respected collector of rare books, manuscripts, historic documents, maps, artifacts and art works. The Jay I. Kislak Foundation was established in 1984 to foster greater understanding of the cultures and history of the Americas. Its collections have included extensive primary research materials on the history of Florida, the Caribbean and Mesoamerica, with special emphasis on the region’s native cultures, their contact with Europeans and the colonial period. In 2004, more than 4,000 Kislak books, manuscripts, art works and other objects became a gift to the nation as the Jay I. Kislak Collection at the Library of Congress.
Beginning December 2007, the Kislak Collection was placed on permanent display, open to the public in the Library’s magnificent Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington, D.C.
Among the items either in the Kislak Collection are some very important early St. Augustine documents including a holograph letter from Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the founder of St. Augustine in 1565, containing secret sailing instructions for the Spanish fleets returning from Havana usually laden with gold and silver from the “New World,” and the first map of St. Augustine done for the Drake expeditions in the 1580s. The collection in Miami contains on microfiche, all 28,000 documents from the Library of General James Grant, who was the first British Governor of St. Augustine in 1761. Some of these items may be made available for the Commission to study and maybe even exhibit.
Congress established the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Commission as part of the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 and charged it with ensuring a suitable national observance of St. Augustine’s 450th anniversary by complementing the programs and activities of the State of Florida and the City of St. Augustine. The members were appointed by U. S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar after considering the recommendations of the Mayor of St. Augustine, the St. Augustine City Commission, and the Chancellor of the University System of Florida, the Governor of Florida, and the Florida delegation in Congress.