November 19, 2014

William H. Scheide Dies at 100

The death of prominent philanthropist William H. Scheide last Friday morning, November 14, has inspired numerous tributes from members of the many organizations in Princeton with which he was associated. Mr. Scheide, who was 100, died at his home on Library Place.

A memorial service has been scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Saturday, November 29, at Nassau Presbyterian Church, 61 Nassau Street. The service will be simulcast in Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall, on the Princeton University campus.

Mr. Scheide was known for his contributions, intellectual as well as financial, to music, civil rights, and the preservation of rare books and manuscripts. His generosity extended to many local institutions including Princeton University, from which he graduated in 1936; Princeton Public Library; Rider University’s Westminster College of the Arts; the Institute for Advanced Study; Centurion Ministries, Isles, and the Princeton Recreation Department, to name a few.

“Bill was a unique individual, a person who made a real difference in the world,” said Leslie Burger, executive director of the Princeton Public Library. “We have lost a true philanthropist, Renaissance man, passionate supporter, and most of all, a dear friend.”

“I shudder to think where we would be were it not for the support of Bill and Judy Scheide,” said James C. McCloskey, founder and executive director of Centurion Ministries, a Princeton-based non-profit organization which seeks to free wrongly convicted individuals from prison. “He was a giant of philanthropy for his entire life. He really uplifted the lives of countless people over the decades, a lot of whom were the nation’s disenfranchised. And he was a modest man who shunned the limelight.”

In addition to his wife, Judy McCartin Scheide, Mr. Scheide is survived by his daughters Louise Marshall and Barbara Scheide, and his son John; three stepchildren, Carol Taylor, Mary Holmes, and Kate McCartin, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Born in Philadelphia into a wealthy family whose fortune came from Standard Oil, Mr. Scheide was the only child of John Hinsdale Scheide, an 1896 alumnus of Princeton University, and Harriet Hurd. The elder Mr. Scheide was a pianist and his wife was a singer. They started their son with piano lessons when he was six years old, beginning a passion for music that continued throughout his life.

Mr. Scheide majored in history at Princeton University and earned a master’s degree in music from Columbia University. He was a renowned Bach scholar who founded the Bach Aria Group in 1946. For the past seven years, the Scheides celebrated his birthday by sponsoring annual concerts by leading ensembles and orchestras, benefitting local institutions. The most recent, “Ode to Joy,” included the Westminster Symphonic Choir, the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, and several soloists. A piece Mr. Scheide composed as an undergraduate was included on the program.

“Bill was a good friend to me and to the [Westminster] Choir College,” commented Robert Annis, dean and director, Rider University’s Westminster College of the Arts. “He served on Westminster’s Board for 27 years, nine of them as chairman. A renowned Bach scholar, he was a frequent lecturer and engaged leader who underscored his belief in the mission of the College with generous support. Westminster was honored to participate in his 100th birthday concert in Princeton in January, 2014. He leaves an inspiring legacy through the lives of our students who are serving the world through music.”

Another of Mr. Scheide’s passions nurtured from childhood was his collection of rare books and manuscripts. He is the namesake of the Scheide Library at Princeton University’s Firestone Library. In a room built to replicate the original home of his father’s collection, the library includes the first four Bibles ever printed, an early 14th century manuscript of the Magna Carta, an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, several musical manuscripts by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Wagner, and Emily Dickinson’s recipe for chocolate pudding, according to the Princeton University website.

“People always talk about the treasures of the Scheide Library. But the reality is that the real treasure was Bill himself,” said Karin Trainer, Princeton’s University Librarian. “He was a great collector. But what set him apart was that he was a great sharer. He collected with a scholarly passion, but he really wanted other people to be as enthusiastic as he was and understand why they were important. And that’s not true of all collectors.”

Mr. Scheide made the collection available to all. “He wanted it to be for the newest Princeton undergraduates and the world’s most eminent scholars and musicians, who were regular visitors,” Ms. Trainer said. “The collection was always open to students at Princeton Adult School, for example. He would take out his copy of the Gutenberg Bible or the Declaration of Independence and get them to understand why these things mattered. He delighted in that.”

Mr. Scheide was also committed to social justice, funding the landmark 1954 case that desegregated public schools. “He was an extraordinarily moral and ethical man,” Ms. Trainer said. “I’m very struck by the fact that this is the 60th anniversary of the settlement of Brown v. The Board of Education. Bill underwrote much of the legal fund that fought that case for what became the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.”

Princeton University awarded Mr. Scheide an honorary doctorate of humanities in 1994, calling him an “advocate, scholar, student, benefactor, and friend.” The Scheides were regular hosts during the annual University reunions of the “Old Guard,” who were alumni of classes celebrating 66 years or more. “You always knew it was Reunions because the Old Guard tent would go up on the Scheide lawn,” said James Steward, director of the Princeton University Art Museum.

Mr. Scheide was a loyal patron and contributor to the Museum, especially in times of need. “One of the extraordinary things about Bill and Judy was how often I found myself turning to them as what we would call angels,” Mr. Steward said. “I could so often call them to step up if a project wasn’t going as well as expected. They understood that sometimes the most worthwhile projects are the harder ones.”

The Arts Council of Princeton was another beneficiary of Mr. Scheide’s support. “Bill was a pioneer in many ways, serving as a staunch supporter of the arts and civil rights,” said a statement by the Arts Council’s executive director Jeff Nathanson, president Cindi Venizelos, and advisory board co-chair Peter Bienstock. “Bill understood that the primary goal of a community arts organization such as the Arts Council of Princeton, should be to bring together people of all backgrounds, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or socioeconomic situation, in a shared creative environment. He was a consistent supporter of the Arts Council’s mission of “building community through the arts and we hope each and every one of us can, in our own small way, embody his passion and continue to further his legacy.”

Contributions in Mr. Scheide’s memory may be made to Centurion Ministries of Princeton and Isles, the Trenton-based community development and environmental organization.