By Pam Hersh
I never intended to go to the Community Options fundraising dinner on Thursday, May 9, under the big white tent on the lawn of McCarter Theatre.
Years ago, I adopted a curmudgeon stance towards fundraisers, when I declared my boycott of all “typical” fundraising dinners that for the most part are: too noisy, too hot, too cold, too little food served, too late, too dark (although at my age that is a positive), too much blaringly loud dance music and too few (if any) dance partners. I preferred to give small presents instead of my presence.
And, then, came the email from my longtime friend Judy McCartin Scheide, who asked me to be her guest at the benefit for the Princeton-based Community Options Inc., celebrating 30 years of providing residential and employment support for people with severe disabilities.
Eager to catch up with and impossible to say no to Judy, who was a sponsor of the event, I decided I had to take an antihistamine for my allergy to fundraisers and attend. It turned out to be the best medicine I ever took. In spite of all of the anticipated negatives, the evening became an occasion of memorable joy rather than drudgery, because of one essential reason – Judy Scheide.
Unbeknownst to any of the organizers of the dinner, unbeknownst to Judy’s friends at her table, and unbeknownst to Judy’s Executive Manager Anne O’Neill, Judy became the star of the dinner one minute before Community Options Founding President and CEO Robert Stack was about to say goodnight to the crowd.
She stood up and was asked to come to the podium to say a few words. Judy delivered two sentences about the “phenomenal” mission of Community Options, an organization that brings purpose, dignity and happiness to those with severe disabilities, and then she closed her remarks with a simple declaration. She would donate $100,000 to Community Options – but only as a matching grant. If Community Options would raise $100,000 of “new” money over the course of one year (any money raised that night of the benefit would not count), she would match it with another $100,000.
The dramatic announcement was reminiscent of the 1950’s TV show, “The Millionaire.” John Beresford Tipton Jr. would give out a million dollars each week in the form of a cashier’s check delivered by his executive secretary Michael Anthony to a shocked and deserving recipient.
“No one knew what I was going to do – I had no idea I was going to do what I did – until the last minute. I decided that I had to shake up the fundraising – be an impetus to get others to contribute … to make a real impact for this organization and its extremely worthwhile and humanitarian mission,” said Judy.
After the dinner, Judy said she saw nothing extraordinary in giving this gift. “It’s what I do – make donations to worthwhile causes…. It’s my job, the best profession imaginable with exceptional rewards.”
The how and how much and to whom – the story behind her storied profession – goes back to her marriage to the nationally renowned philanthropist, scholar and musician Bill Scheide, an oil heir who died at the age of 100 in 2014. She is carrying on a commitment to philanthropy – the value that brought them together and sustained their 11-year marriage.
“Bill’s training for becoming a first-rate philanthropist came from his father,” Judy said. “John Scheide instilled in Bill the responsibility to give back to society. He wanted Bill to understand that the considerable amount of money he would inherit did not really belong to him. Bill was to be the vehicle for distributing the money to charitable nonprofits of his choice. … Bill took that message to heart. Although most famous for his commitment to Civil Rights causes (particularly through the NAACP Legal Defense Fund), Bill was passionate about supporting local humanitarian causes.”
The Scheide Fund, founded shortly after Bill, class of 1936, graduated from Princeton University, was the source of hundreds of millions of dollars of donations. Anne O’Neill, who became executive director of the Scheide Fund in 2007, said the gifts reflected Bill’s passions – civil rights, social justice, education, environment, health and disabilities, poverty relief, the arts and religion/ethics.
According to the terms of Bill Scheide’s will, said Judy, the fund ceased to exist upon his death, when the money was disbursed to his children, relatives and close associates. The will, however, also specified the creation of Judy Scheide’s current job. He bequeathed a modest amount of money in trust to Judy Scheide, who was to use the interest from the principal to fund donations to tax-exempt institutions or organizations, selected by Judy. Carrying on the humanitarian and social justice values that sparked their love and respect for one another, Judy now makes gifts to support the various causes she and Bill championed during Bill’s life.
“There are so many crucial needs in society that I wish I had more money to distribute. I do what I can – even the smaller amounts of support are important because they inspire others to give – thus the value of a matching grant,” said Judy, who learned the benefits of matching grants when she worked as an associate director of campaign relations at Princeton University in 1984.
The week I connected with Judy at the Community Options dinner was a snapshot into the life of a hyperactive philanthropist. Her week included a Centurion Ministries event to support its mission to vindicate the wrongfully convicted; a special dinner at McCarter Theatre celebrating Emily Mann, McCarter’s artistic director and the director of David Hare’s “Skylight”; a Planned Parenthood luncheon, taking on particular relevance in light of the new controversial anti-abortion legislation in Alabama and Georgia; and the graduation ceremony for Westminster Choir College – an institution Bill Scheide, a scholar of classical music and Johann Sebastian Bach, whole heartedly championed.
Judy worked her magic on me. I am about to make my first donation to Community Options. I did inform her, however, that curmudgeon Pam still would rather pay NOT to play at a fundraising dinner – unless she were planning another dramatic episode of “The Millionaire,” Princeton-style.