For Immediate Release — Thursday, August 4, 2005
Mary E. McCrank
Media Relations Officer
SUNY Geneseo Receives Largest Alumni Donation in History of the College
Retired Queens librarian leaves nearly $900,000 in his will to alma mater
GENESEO, N.Y. — Mark Scheiber led a quiet life, working as a librarian dedicated to serving the poor and spending money only on the arts, occasional travel and rent.
When he contacted his alma mater — the State University of New York at Geneseo — in 1997 about putting SUNY Geneseo in his will, little did the college know that Scheiber's gift would be the largest alumni donation in the history of the 134-year-old college.
But that is exactly what the late New Yorker's gift turned out to be. Scheiber bequeathed his entire life savings to the college — $863,052.58 — which he saved during the course of his decades-long career as a librarian for the Queens Borough Public Library in New York City.
Geneseo Interim Vice President for College Advancement Dick Rosati said Scheiber contacted the college in the mid-1990s after he received a mailing about how alumni could make planned gifts to the college. Scheiber only asked for minor help with preparing his will, said Rosati.
"We spoke only a few times, but it was quite clear that he cherished his days as a graduate student in our library school, and he certainly felt that Geneseo paved the way for his satisfying career as a librarian," said Rosati. "Little did I realize back then that his generosity would result in one of the most significant gifts in the history of this college. We are deeply touched by this profound expression of his gratitude."
Scheiber, who died of pancreatic cancer two years ago last Friday — July 29, 2003 — at the age of 75, was 42 when he received his master's in library science from Geneseo in August 1970. He received his bachelor's in English literature from Swarthmore College in 1948, and also had a master's in English from the University of Minnesota, said family members.
After he graduated from Geneseo, Scheiber relocated to Queens, settling into an apartment in the Astoria-Long Island City neighborhood, within walking distance of the library branch where he worked toward the end of his career. He devoted many of his efforts to providing services for underserved library patrons in housing projects.
Scheiber led a very "poignant" and "courageous" life, said Betti Haft, whose husband, Leon Haft, is a first cousin of Scheiber's late stepmother, Josephine Scheiber. Haft met Scheiber in the 1970s, when he shared a ride with the Hafts, who lived in nearby East Elmhurst, N.Y., to a family event. For years, Scheiber's and Haft's friendship existed primarily on the phone, but when they both retired in 1996, they had occasion to spend time together, attending art exhibitions and sharing lunch at obscure neighborhood Greek restaurants. After Scheiber became ill, Haft served as his health care proxy.
"He came into a difficult world, and he very consciously made a life," said Haft. "It's significant that he wanted all his material resources to go to your college. It was an important period of his life, and his training at Geneseo helped him carve out a meaningful and useful place for himself in that world."
Geneseo President Christopher C. Dahl said the college is proud of Scheiber's commitment to his community and of his generous gift to Geneseo.
"When a graduate gives back as Mark Scheiber has done, it reaffirms Geneseo's basic ideals," said Dahl. "We are grateful for this extraordinary gift. Geneseo will be stronger in many ways because he was among us."
Scheiber was born in 1927 in Brooklyn, to Samuel and Mary Strauss Scheiber. Two days after giving birth to Scheiber, his mother died of complications from childbirth. Scheiber went to live with his paternal grandmother, Rose Scheiber, and her family in Brooklyn.
Samuel Scheiber met Josephine "Josie" Levinson, who had her degree in social work, at the Henry Street Settlement House, which serves children, families and the poor, and is located in the lower east side of Manhattan. Josephine and Samuel — who shared a lifelong interest in helping others — married, and Mark went to live with them in Peekskill, Westchester County, where his father ran a wholesale plumbing business. When he turned 12, his stepmother adopted him. Scheiber and his stepmother were very close, and, after she passed away in 1999, it was discovered that Scheiber had written a postcard to her at her Peekskill health facility every single day without fail during all of the years she stayed there.
Scheiber graduated with honors in 1944 from Croton-Harmon High School before attending Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa. After college, he traveled throughout post World War II Europe and the Western United States, including Colorado and Taos, N.M., where he embraced the Navajo culture. He also spent some time working at his father's business. When he returned to New York City, he lived an artist's life in Greenwich Village, writing and painting and studying art with famous painters, including French Purism artist AmŽdŽe J. Ozenfant, whose work is in the Guggenheim Museum.
Scheiber's college classmate, Peter Sternlight of Brooklyn, said he and Scheiber kept in sporadic touch throughout the years, having taken different paths in life.
"He was kind of a very gentle soul, very sensitive and caring about his friends," said Sternlight, a retired executive vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Scheiber and Sternlight performed together in the Swarthmore orchestra, with Scheiber playing cello and Sternlight playing French horn. Scheiber enjoyed writing poetry, painting abstract paintings and had a potter's wheel in his apartment, he said.
"He knew some of the major literary figures in post-war America," said Sternlight. Among those were: Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg, abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock and British poet W.H. Auden. Many of these folks he met at parties thrown by his aunt and uncle, Augusta "Gus" and Ben Scheiber — a concert pianist and judge, respectively — in their Greenwich Village home, he said.
It was his passion for the arts and literature that led Scheiber to return to college when he was 40 for his second master's, this time in library science, friends and family said.
"I think he found a real affinity for that and felt he was doing something worthwhile there," said Sternlight.
Although Scheiber's family was well to do, he shunned all signs related to affluence and preferred to live a low-key, modest life in Astoria. Scheiber was born into a family dedicated to serving others and who believed in giving back to the community. His aunt, Ann Scheiber, was a federal tax auditor who went on to become a Wall Street investor and multimillionaire, leaving her entire estate of $22 million to New York City's Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women, after her death at age 101 in 1995.
Scheiber is survived by his stepbrother, Peter Scheiber, of Bloomington, Ind., a musician and inventor.