Schacks’ quiet generosity leaves huge legacy in Everett

EVERETT — Some cities have the names of their leading families inscribed all over buildings, street signs, landmarks and neighborhoods.

In Everett, however, there’s just one building bearing the Schack name, and that’s a relatively recent addition.

“They had never wanted their name on anything previously,” said Judy Tuohy, the executive director of the Schack Art Center, which until 2009 was known as the Arts Council of Snohomish County.

John and Idamae Schack had long supported the Arts Council, and when the nonprofit was moving into its new facility, the board took two years to settle on a new name, Tuohy said.

“We wanted to leave a legacy of everything they’ve done for the community,” she said.

John Schack, who died in 2004 at age 95, didn’t live to see his name on the building.

Idamae Schack, now 97 and enjoying a quiet retirement, according to family members, was touched with the proposal.

“She cried,” said Patty DeGroodt, Idamae’s daughter. “She always wanted to be quiet and unassuming.”

Unassuming did not mean uninvolved, and the history of the Schack family is one of giving out and giving back.

Both John and Idamae came from humble beginnings. John’s mother came from a well-off family in Missouri, but his father was an immigrant from Denmark who died young from a heart attack.

John’s oldest daughter, Margaret Schack-Davis, said her grandmother had to take in boarders to make ends meet.

John Schack’s business career had its ups and downs, Schack-Davis said, and he had help from friends to get him through hard times.

“If he thought he could one day pay them back in some way he’d like to do it,” Schack-Davis said.

Idamae had a similar experience, growing up in Auburn, marrying Walter Miles and then settling into the life of a homemaker while Miles established a business, Miles Sand and Gravel.

Walter died suddenly, leaving Idamae with four young children and a choice. She decided to take over running the company on her own.

“She set a really good example for me, what it means to be a strong woman,” DeGroodt said. “She ran a sand and gravel company.”

“But she also always put on her high heels in the morning. She was a lady,” she added.

Idamae also made sure that her four children would grow up to be well-rounded.

“She always played classical music for us, took us to the opera, dance classes,” DeGroodt said.

John and Idamae married in 1966 and they moved up to Everett in 1978 when John bought another business. His successful precast concrete company in Auburn, Utility Vault Co., was purchased in 1981 by Oldcastle Precast, while Idamae commuted for another decade to run Miles Sand and Gravel.

While the Schacks were passionate about causes, including the arts, children and health care, it was people they were investing in, said Jim Schack, John Schack’s son, who took over running the family business after John retired.

Case in point: the Imagine Children’s Museum, to which the Schacks donated $1 million to buy the building at 1502 Wall St.

“They had a real ability to vision, but also think through what it was going to be able to take to sustain it over the long term,” said Nancy Johnson, the executive director of the museum for the past 17 years.

That has allowed the museum to build on the foundation that the Schacks had established, allowing it to draw in broad support from individuals, businesses, foundations and even some government support, she said.

“It’s a way to honor those donors who give to us to continue to grow that support base,” Johnson said.

In the Schacks, Johnson found a unique pair of partners that allowed the museum to move out of a 4,000-square-foot leased space on Colby Avenue into the museum’s first permanent home.

“They were just very open to what we believed the future of a children’s museum would be in Snohomish County,” Johnson said.

The Schacks also recognized in Johnson the ideal person to lead the museum into that future.

“They wanted to throw their support behind someone with that energy and drive to take it to the next level, if you will,” Jim Schack said.

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. Today the Schack endowment supports the work of the Snohomish County Music Project, a human services organization.

“He (John) and Idamae had very much enjoyed the Everett community, because there were a number of active individuals in the community that they were tickled to put their resources behind,” Jim Schack said.

Margaret Schack-Davis, who has lived in Montana off and on since 1964, said that spirit of giving has been passed down through the generations.

“We were encouraged to make charitable gifts in our own communities,” she said, and mentioned that her father made a contribution in her town, even though he’d never lived there.

“It wasn’t huge sums of money, but it was more than we could have done on our own at that point in our lives,” she said.

“Subsequently my husband at the time led our children to do some looking around our community and find things to do,” Schack-Davis said.

DeGroodt remembers her mother always taking time for other people even while she was raising children and running the family business.

“She drove people to radiation treatment. She took a gang of us to the library to make sure we were readers,” she said. “A lot of little small things that made a difference to one or two people, but made a difference.”

And in true Schack fashion, they did it quietly, behind the scenes, and rarely taking credit for their work.

“It never seemed to be about them, it was about building their community,” Tuohy said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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