Idamae Schack’s generosity built Everett’s arts and cultural community

  • By Theresa Goffredo Herald Writer
  • Friday, December 18, 2009 10:20am
  • LifeEverett

Idamae Schack always prefers being in the background.

She takes after her late husband John Schack in that regard, shunning the spotlight and eschewing credit.

Most recently, Idamae expressed reluctance when the Arts Council of Snohomish County wanted to rename the new Artspace building in downtown Everett the Schack Art Center.

She eventually agreed to the name change after getting a green light from family members. Still, she jokes that the arts council could have come up with a more beautiful name.

“I’m always aware that I have to be modest about what I’m doing, never noisy, and I think that’s the way John felt about a lot of things, too.”

Idamae and John Schack, who died at 95 in 2004, have given their love, their time, their business expertise and millions of dollars to the Everett community since making the city their home in 1978.

At 91, Idamae Schack has given so much to the cultural arts community in Everett that it wouldn’t be far off calling her the matron saint of the arts in Everett.

What was it that motivated John and Idamae to give so much? During this season of giving, it seemed a good time to ask that question.

“What you have and what you can share, it’s always been part of my life,” Idamae said. “And whether there’s a little amount or larger depends on the circumstances of what is available to use and to give. It’s not amounts particularly, it’s giving of yourself and of your resources, too.”

Over the years, the Schacks’ resources of giving went to the community of Everett, to nurture its arts and its infrastructure. Idamae described Everett as the kind of community that was worth the investment, where she could watch a vision unfold.

“And what we can do, we should do,” she said.

Some of the local institutions that have benefited from the Schacks’ generosity are the Everett Public Library, the Greater Everett Community Foundation, Everett Community College and Providence Everett Medical Center, where the Schacks gave money for hospital expansions and the Pavilion for Women and Children.

In the arts community, the Schacks gave $1 million to the Everett Symphony in 1999, and basically saved the Historic Everett Theatre from the wrecking ball with a $1 million donation, also in 1999. The Schacks declined when friends suggested renaming the theater after them.

Of all these groups, Idamae said Imagine Children’s Museum has been her favorite.

Seated in an armchair in her Rucker Hill home, with Trevor, her black and white Papillon at her side, Idamae recalled how she and John visited children’s museums back East, and how John loved toys — he left the toy business in the late 1950s to start a precast concrete company called Utility Vault. Their curiosity led to this question: Why not Everett?

The Schacks donated $1 million so the museum could purchase the former Everett Mutual building, 1502 Wall St., for its new home.

Nancy Johnson, Imagine Children’s Museum’s executive director, said she and Idamae Schack share the kind of joy that comes from giving.

“It may sound corny, but when donors not only give you their money but they give you that trust and love and admiration and the things we all want to receive. It’s huge,” Johnson said.

The museum’s treehouse is called the Schack Treehouse. Johnson said the Schacks were willing to give up their anonymity after she explained to them that their name on the tree would help to motivate and inspire others to give.

“The museum, I just love to go down and see how well it’s run,” Idamae said. “It’s just a delight for me, and it makes me happy.”

Even during this recession, Idamae has continued to give to Everett, recently giving thousands to the Everett Public Library to go toward the new teen center.

Idamae says she believes that you should give during good times and bad. She understands from personal experience about bad times.

Born one of three children in Cameron, Colo., in 1918, Idamae was raised by a single mother after her father, a miner, died when she 8. She attended 13 different grade schools before graduating from the business school at the University of Denver.

Her first husband, Walter Miles, a civil engineer, died suddenly, leaving her with three young children. She took over his Auburn sand and gravel business and married John Schack, a widower, in 1966.

Though they moved to Everett in 1978, Idamae commuted to Auburn to work for nearly a decade. In 1985, she sold her business, which is now run by grandson Walter and granddaughter Lisa.

John and Idamae Schack’s legacy of giving has been handed down to the couple’s children. And not just the importance of giving, but being part of a community.

Daughter Patty DeGroodt of Mill Creek, who is the chief strategic officer for Providence Regional Medical Center, recalled a time when her mother was known as Miss Auburn Beautification, planting trees throughout that community.

“To make it a better place to be, and that was the example she gave to us,” DeGroodt said. “And if you lived somewhere and you weren’t part of a place, it was a strange thing. Because it was important to be part of a place.”

The part that the Schacks have played in Everett’s history and community was acknowledged during the September public renaming ceremony of the Artspace building to the Schack Art Center, a regional arts center where artists will live and work.

The Schacks have supported the arts council in many ways over the years, executive director Judy Tuohy said, adding that Idamae was one of the first donors to the regional art center’s capital campaign, which is now nearly finished.

Tuohy said the Schacks’ “support and love of the arts has reached every corner of Everett and beyond.”

To which Idamae might reply: “And if you can give a little bit, you should, I think.”

Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424; goffredo@heraldnet.com.

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