When he died at the age of 100 in 2014 in Princeton, William H. Scheide was one of the region’s most prominent philanthropists, scholars, and musicians. He funded Princeton buildings, founded international organizations devoted to the work of Johann Sebastian Bach, and regularly worked out on both a grand piano and an organ he kept in his living room — where he shunned practicing scales or exercises so he could play only music.
The Chronicle for Philanthropy fittingly portrayed him as “an oil heir who supported some of the most important court fights of the civil-rights era as a key donor to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund . . . Inheriting the fortune his grandfather made in a 19th-century Pennsylvania oil boom, Scheide devoted most of his life to philanthropic and artistic pursuits that also included classical music and rare books. (He) paid for his family’s library to be reconstructed at Princeton University, his alma mater, as the Scheide Library, now home to one of the world’s finest rare-book collections. The NAACP legal fund said he was its longest-serving board member and most generous individual donor. His widow, Judith Scheide, said he gave $6 million to the organization in the last two decades.”
The chief vehicle for his philanthropy was the Scheide Fund, founded when he was 28. Yet despite the corporate sound of its name and having an executive director, it was a private entity through which Scheide financed what he chose to support — and with sublime independence to pursue his own passions and values.
By the terms of his will, it ceased to exist upon his death.
Seated in her living room on Library Place, Judy Scheide talks about the man behind the philanthropist. “It was always an adventure,” she says.
It was 2003 when 89 year-old Scheide married Judy McCartin, but their adventure started earlier and followed the end of their earlier marriages. Her husband, Peter McCartin, died in 1986. Scheide’s first wife was Lorna Riggs, a social activist with whom he had three children. They married in 1940 and separated in 1966. He married his second wife, Gertrude, in 1971. She died in 2002.
Judy says she met Bill after she became an associate director of campaign relations at Princeton University in 1984. But it was her social awareness, master’s degree in English literature from the University of Minnesota (1962), and an exposure to the older forms of English literature that built the connection.
“When I was hired,” says Judy, “I decided to join the friends of the library and the friends of the museum. I thought that by joining organizations like those, I would meet the people I needed to know. The friends of the library always invited Bill and his wife to their events, and they came. At a library event, I was surprised and fascinated to spot the ‘Blickling Homilies,’ a collection of medieval sermons written in the 900s. I had read about it as a graduate student. And there it was in a case. It belonged to Bill. That was how I met him.”
Judy says she got to know Bill more some years later, when her Princeton University assignment consisted of monitoring annual giving among alumni classes, including Bill’s Class of 1936. The class had elected Bill vice president in charge of annual giving for the endowment. “He was so thrilled!” Judy reports. “He blurted out, ‘Finally, I’m a big man on campus!’”
“His first task was to write a letter asking his classmates to include the Princeton endowment in their wills. He was very concerned because his class ranked among the 10 lowest donors. Bill consulted sample solicitation letters and came up with his own draft. Dodo [the nickname of Bill’s wife, Gertrude] called me and told me that I had to tell Bill not to send it.”
“The sample letter began ‘Dear Colleagues.’ Bill had crossed that out and wanted to substitute the name of each member of the class…. ‘Dear Buzz,’ or whoever. He went on to say something like ‘I was surprised that ’36 was among the lowest 10 donors, and I now plan to leave $25,000. You should also contribute. So fork it over, Buzz. We want to be one of the top 10.”
“I told Dodo that Bill’s letter was great. He sent it and people loved it. Money and pledges poured in. Bill would never tell anybody all of this. He thought it was nobody’s business.”
Without questioning whose business it is, Judy tells about his marriage proposal on a flight returning from the first meeting of the Leipzig Bach Archive in Germany in 2003. “We were sitting in the first row, and Bill turned to me abruptly, and said, ‘I think we should get married.’ Actually, I had thought he might ask me. I told him I would think it over. Before we left the plane, I told him ‘yes.’”
“He wrote the most wonderful wedding invitation,” she says, sharing a copy. It is in his down-to-earth style, inviting guests to the reception at Jasna Polana country club. He calls the site “a secret magic castle deep in the vast mysterious forests surrounding Princeton,” and adds, “Only specially chosen people may be admitted, but never fear for YOU are indeed most welcome.”
“Bill’s money came from his grandfather, William T.,” she says about the source of the philanthropy. “William T. was born in Philadelphia, the son of a baker. He grew up in Titusville, in western Pennsylvania, the center of the oil industry. There, he befriended a man from Ohio by the name John D. Rockefeller.
“John D. had been a Sunday school teacher,” Judy continues. “He loved the biblical story of Joseph, who interpreted Pharaoh’s dream about seven fat cows and seven lean ones as a warning to store grain in times of plenty in order to use it in times of famine. John D. thought that there was money to be made by applying Joseph’s advice to oil. He proposed to William T., then 22, that they buy up oil, and store it, rather than develop oil wells themselves.
“At first they arranged for the oil to be stored in empty liquor barrels. That’s why the unit for measuring oil is called a ‘barrel.’ At first, those barrels were transported in unsteady horse-drawn carts. Looking for something more stable, they switched to pipelines.”
“William T. was to be in charge of the pipelines that would transport the oil to the barges that would carry it to its destinations. He would be the vice president of the new company. John D. proposed that they call the company ‘Standard Oil.’”
“In 1869 Standard Oil sold at 11 cents a share,” Judy says. ‘William T., Bill’s grandfather, bought shares every month. By 1889 his holdings were worth a million dollars. He didn’t need more, retired at age 42, and began collecting books. He never went to college.”
Bill’s father, John H., (Princeton Class of 1896) expanded William T.’s library in Titusville, Pennsylvania, acquiring recognized treasures. When his father died in 1942, Bill inherited the family fortune, as well as the library, and continued to enlarge its holdings. After their marriage, Judy accompanied him to auctions in search of additional acquisitions.
In 1959 Bill provided for the library established by his father and grandfather to be replicated in quarters he donated to Princeton’s Firestone Library. The original bookcases, tables, assorted furnishings, rugs, and windows from Titusville, Pennsylvania, were moved to Princeton. The library’s treasures by then included the first printed Bibles, early editions of works by Shakespeare and Milton, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, significant classical music manuscripts, and a trove of rare books, as well as Emily Dickinson’s recipe for chocolate pudding. Donated to the university by Bill’s will, the library, valued at more than $200 million, was the largest gift to Princeton University in its history at the time.
Immediately after graduating from Princeton in 1936, Bill made his mark in music. His Princeton major was in history, since Princeton offered no music degree when Bill graduated. He was the first American to publish scholarly articles in Germany’s “Bach-Jahrbuch,” an annual periodical of Bach-related research. After earning a master’s degree in music from Columbia University, he taught musicology at Cornell University, where he began to compile the arias included in Bach’s cantatas. In the 1940s he founded the Bach Aria Group to perform those pieces in concert; the ensemble endured until 1980.
Bill acquired the famous 1748 portrait of Bach. After years in the Bach family, the painting ended up in a junk shop and landed in England when it was bought and smuggled out of Germany by a Jewish refugee during the rise of Nazism. It was purchased by Scheide in 1951 and hung in his living room. Following the terms of Bill’s will, Judy returned it to the Leipzig Bach Archive. A true-to-the-original photographic copy of the masterful painting now replaces it in the Scheide home.
Blending music, philanthropy, and local needs was Bill’s practice in the series of seven January concerts he devised to celebrate his birthdays from 2008 to 2014. For each of these Bill imported the personnel of a European orchestra to Princeton, along with their instruments, and provided for their stay in the United States. Included in the programs were compositions by Bill himself. Judy enthusiastically welcomed audiences. Income from the concerts went to local entities.
The range of beneficiaries is a snapshot of Bill’s local interests. Recipients included the Scheide Center for Youth Development at Isles, a family-oriented Trenton organization; Centurion Ministries, an organization devoted to freeing falsely convicted individuals from prison; the Princeton Arts Council; helping the underinsured using the facilities of Princeton’s University Medical Center; the Princeton Public Library; the Community Park swimming pool; and Westminster Choir College of Rider University.
Bill’s guidance for philanthropic decisions came from his father, Judy says. “Bill’s father, [John Scheide] made sure that Bill understood that he would inherit a lot of money, and that he was to be the steward for that wealth. The money, he pointed out, did not really belong to him; Bill was to use it for others.”
Bill was not interested in material possessions for their own sake. He never had a yacht. His car was a Volkswagen bug. Until the end of his life he practiced martial arts. A photo in the living room shows him triumphantly lifting an ambitious-sized barbell.
A prominent example of Bill’s following his father’s advice on how to handle his fortune was his involvement in the landmark Supreme Court decision declaring school segregation unconstitutional. With millions of dollars of support over a period of more than a decade, Bill helped eventual U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall pave the way to desegregation in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Once the decision was reached, Bill contributed to seeing that it was carried out.
Attempting to list all of Bill’s beneficiaries is a task of considerable proportions. Anne O’Neill, who became executive director of the Scheide Fund in 2007, provides a list of his gifts by categories. Gifts include entities ranging from local to international. Many of the gifts amount to millions of dollars. Rather than trying to list all the beneficiaries, we summarize their range.
Here are the statistics for the 72 recipients named on O’Neill’s list. Arts, including music and visual arts: 11 recipients. Civil rights: 7 recipients. Education/Princeton University: 8 recipients. Education/Other: 11 recipients. Environment: 5 recipients. Health and Disabilities: 12 recipients. Poverty and Relief: 15 recipients. Religion: 3 recipients.
From her intimate insights into how Bill managed his wealth, O’Neill has advice both for those seeking financial support and for those in a position to provide it. She counsels support seekers, “Your task is to find your own Bill Scheide.” For billionaires, she suggests, “You can be the next Bill Scheide.”
#b#The Last Will#/b#
As expected, Scheide’s Last Will and Testament shows provisions for his family and close associates. Yet the philanthropist provides some lasting support for the area and one special artist.
The will “bequeaths the sum of $3 million in trust” to Judy Scheide “to collect the income there from and to distribute said income no less frequently than annually” to tax-exempt institutions or organizations, selected “solely in the absolute discretion of the trustee.”
It then stipulates that all books, manuscripts, furniture, furnishings, and “pictures and objects of art” in the Scheide Library in Princeton University’s Firestone Library “be part of a conditional gift” to the Trustees of Princeton University.
Included in the collection are the first six printed editions of the Bible; the original printing of the Declaration of Independence; Shakespeare’s first, second, third, and fourth folios; significant autograph music manuscripts of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Wagner; and an autograph 1856 speech by Abraham Lincoln on the problems of slavery.
The conditions call for the university trustees to pay all estate, inheritance, legacy, success, or transfers taxes related to the collection; pay for it to be inventoried and appraised; and to keep the collection intact. Another item in the will provides funds for collection maintenance.
In a few personal touches, the will deliberately specifies the transfer of specific objects to specific individuals. A black and white Ansel Adams photograph went to his niece, photographer Natasha D’Schommer, and his Bosen Dorfer piano went to his wife.
And then there is a final tribute to one of Scheide’s favorite artists: Mark Laycock, former longtime conductor of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. A generous gift was bestowed to him by Scheide "in acknowledgement of all the pleasure his music has brought to me over the years and I designate him the Scheide Conductor Laureate.” Laycock returned to Princeton on multiple occasions to conduct Scheide’s birthday concerts.
— Dan Aubrey