Idamae Schack cared deeply about life in Everett. It wasn’t her first home, but locals needn’t go far to see how one couple’s generosity transformed the culture here.
The Schack Art Center, the Imagine Children’s Museum, the Historic Everett Theatre and the Everett Public Library are only the most visible of many organizations supported by Idamae Schack and her late husband, John Schack.
Idamae Schenkeir Miles Schack died Jan. 7. Born Aug. 13, 1918, she was 102.
“She was amazing,” said Judy Tuohy, executive director of the Schack Art Center. In 2009, what was once the Arts Council of Snohomish County was renamed in honor of the Everett couple who had been generous patrons. Now informally called The Schack, the center has gallery space, art classes and a state-of-the-art hot shop.
“She was graciously optimistic about life,” said Tuohy, who shared a teatime visit with Schack in her Everett home not long before the coronavirus arrived.
“The matron saint of the arts in Everett” is how a 2009 Herald profile described the woman who, as a widowed mother, took over as manager of an Auburn sand, gravel and concrete business after her first husband, Walter Miles, died in 1964.
She and John Schack married in 1966. After moving to Everett in 1978, they unsparingly supported organizations devoted to children, culture and the community’s well-being. John Schack died in 2004 at age 95.
The Imagine Children’s Museum wouldn’t be the destination it is without the Schacks. They gave $1 million for the purchase of a former bank building at 1502 Wall St., the museum’s current home, which is now undergoing an expansion. In 2009, Idamae Schack told The Herald that the museum was her favorite of all the nonprofits she has helped. “It’s just a delight for me,” she said.
“In addition to a donor, she also became a friend,” said Nancy Johnson, executive director of the Imagine Children’s Museum. “She was an amazing lady, a smart businesswoman, extremely kind, and a mentor. She genuinely loved seeing wonderful things happen.”
The Schacks also gave $1 million gifts to the Everett Symphony, which in 2010 became the Snohomish County Music Project, and to renovate the Historic Everett Theatre. Other major gifts from the Schacks have gone to Everett Community College, Providence Regional Medical Center’s Pavilion for Women and Children, and the Everett Public Library — which has a cozy coffee shop, thanks to the couple.
“They liked the idea of providing a place for people to gather,” said Karri Matau, the Community Foundation of Snohomish County’s president and CEO.
“Idamae was deeply devoted to supporting the community, especially for children,” Matau said. The Schacks were the third of the foundation’s eight founding families, she said. “She inspired many great projects with hope and optimism,” Matau said.
The second daughter of coal mining engineer Leo William Schenkeir and his wife, Anne, Idamae was born in Cameron, Colorado. She spent her childhood around mining camps in that state’s southern highlands. She was 9 when her father was killed in a mining accident. Her mother kept the family together by running boarding houses for miners.
After a move to Denver, she graduated from high school and took business law and accounting courses at Denver University. In 1936, she married Walter Frank Miles, a civil engineer from Tacoma. They had four children. Walter Miles’ engineering jobs included the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the Grand Coulee Dam.
Idamae put her business skills to work at Miles Sand and Gravel Company, started by her first husband in Auburn. With son Frank, she ran it after Walter Miles died.
It’s not easy picturing the sweet-smiling white-haired woman Everett friends came to know as a hard-charging leader of a sand and gravel company. “I just did it,” Idamae Schack said in a profile written by Ann Duecy Norman for the Snohomish County Women’s Legacy Project.
In addition to husbands John Schack and Walter Miles, she was preceded in death by sister Ruth Zanger, brother William Schenkeir, son Frank Miles and granddaughter Anne Woll Roberts. She is survived by her children Edith Woll, Alice Erickson and Patricia DeGroodt; by John Schack’s children, Margaret Schack Davis, Ellen Schack Harley and James Schack, and by their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“As a mom, she was understanding. She was loving. She was a great listener, especially to her children. She was always kind, always gentle,” said daughter Patty DeGroodt.
Her mother and John Schack never sought attention, DeGroodt said. “The family never wanted their name on anything,” agreed Tuohy, who recalled being the one to ask, after John had died, about naming the art center in their honor.
Tuohy said artistry runs in the family. DeGroodt creates Tiffany-style stained glass lamps, and her sister Alice Erickson is a stone carver and jewelry maker.
DeGroodt has lovely memories of a mother who adored snow skiing and the outdoors. She also recalls her mom in a beautiful dress, ready to enjoy the Seattle Opera with her first husband.
“And John and Mom, they were always holding hands or sitting close,” DeGroodt said. “She was 102. We were so lucky every day we had her.”
Julie Muhlstein: firstname.lastname@example.org