Whatever Became of Julius Rosenwald and William Schuman?

Have you ever opened the old photo album of a parent or grandparent and wondered, “Who are these people?” So many smiling faces lost to the passage of time.

We spend lots of effort at the job of being remembered. No one wants to be forgotten, unless, like the old-time actress Greta Garbo, you “want to be alone.”

Indeed, one of the chief reasons people skip high school reunions is the fear of not being recalled.

Look around you at the buildings. Once gone, the person whose name appears on the edifice loses control. Buildings get torn down, names get changed.

Take Dyche Stadium, Northwestern University’s football field in Evanston, Illinois. The edifice opened in 1926, named after William Dyche, an NU grad in the Class of 1882, who later became the Mayor of Evanston and oversaw the venue’s creation. To the dismay of the Dyche family, NU sold the rights to the name in 1997 to Pat Ryan, then the Chairman of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees. For eight-million dollars, Dyche Stadium became Ryan Field.

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Percy Bysshe Shelley would have understood. His poem Ozymandias tells a similar story about the collapse and destruction of an ancient monument to a once formidable and arrogant ruler. An inscribed pedestal is the only thing left:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

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If the exception proves the rule, then we should talk about Julius Rosenwald. You probably don’t know his name and Rosenwald wouldn’t have cared.

Julius Rosenwald (pictured at the top) was President of Sears, Roebuck, and Company from 1908 to 1924, and the Chairman of its Board until his death in 1932. In 1917 he established the Rosenwald Fund, a charitable enterprise designed to have no endowment, i.e. an untouchable bankroll to be invested for the purpose of the charity’s survival. Rather, Rosenwald intended the Fund to disperse grants “for the well-being of mankind” until there was nothing left. The money was gone by 1948; and with it, any chance we might hear about it in our time. Only a 2015 documentary on the philanthropist’s life has (for the moment) reintroduced his name to the public.

During its existence Rosenwald’s fund distributed about $70 million, with much money going to the establishment of over 5000 schools in the South, aimed at educating black youth. Rosenwald was also a principal founder of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, seeding it with five-million dollars and serving as its president from 1927 to 1932. At the time, people in Chicago were as likely to refer to the structure as the “Rosenwald Museum” as they were the Museum of Science and Industry.

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William Schuman’s name, on the other hand, was never a household word. But in his day (1910-1992), only Aaron Copland was a more prominent living American composer in the classical world. Moreover, as president of the Juilliard School and then of the emerging Lincoln Center, no one had a greater influence on serious music in the middle portion of the last century. Schuman also wrote 10 symphonies among other works, and won the first Pulitzer Prize ever given for musical composition. His Symphony #3 is arguably the greatest such piece written by an American.

William Schuman: Symphony No. 3

Yet, the centenary of his birth in 2010 was hardly noticed by performing groups and the major US orchestras pay him little attention. I asked an orchestral executive why, with few exceptions, deceased 20th century Americans like Schuman are not performed. His wry answer: once dead “it is easier to say ‘no’ to them.” All the friends in high places who programmed Schuman’s music are now gone, along with his music, except for occasional performances and recordings. The musicians and executives of our own time don’t know his work and don’t care, or so it seems.

Schuman would have agreed, I suspect, with the notion that a composer’s life is like trying to create art on a block of ice on a hot day in July, to paraphrase Arthur Miller. In other words, you hope those notes will last and be played, but the odds are against you.

Shakespeare treated the fleeting memory of our existence more gently in the words he gave to Prospero, the sorcerer, in The Tempest. Prospero’s comment comes as he ends a brief staged performance — a play within a play. What he says refers not only to the matter of creating illusions in the theater, but also to the insubstantial and temporary nature of life itself, not just our names:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and

Are melted into air, into thin air…

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The irony implicit in Shelley’s and Shakespeare’s words is that while they talk of the transience of things, their names and works live on. Though it’s not called Dyche Stadium any more, the place Dyche built still stands along with the “Rosenwald Museum.”

Got to run. A recording of Schuman’s Symphony #3 is coming on the radio. Perhaps his music, like that of Gustav Mahler, will be revived 50-years after his death.

The future is full of surprises.

Who knows. Somebody at the reunion might remember you after all.

The top video is the trailer for the 2015 documentary, Rosenwald. The 1970 photo of Ryan Field (formerly Dyche Stadium) comes from Greenstrat. Steve F-E-Cameron is the author of the Temple of Ramses II, Luxor, Egypt. The photo of the Museum of Science and Industry is courtesy of Knarfol. All of these are sourced from Wikimedia Commons. The final image is the Columbia LP (long playing record) cover of William Schuman’s Symphony #3 with the smiling Schuman facing the photographer.

Lunch Break

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I had lunch with two old friends the other day. They are old friends in every sense. We go back 50 years. But this day was different.

One is a man of enormous energy and optimism, not to mention resilience: a survivor of life-threatening illnesses. I’ll call him “Grande.” The other is steadfast and quietly clever, but a block of granite underneath. You want “Top Hat” beside you in the trenches.

All that sounds too serious, I think. We mostly have fun, talk about everything and nothing. Conversation is easy. So this was a lunch like dozens or hundreds we’ve had before, until the topic turned to an acquaintance, someone we know pretty well, though he is younger. Another good fellow and, unlike ourselves, a great athlete.

At our age conversation easily leads to demise and Death — little d and Big D — those twin comedians. Seniors all suffer from daily aches and pains: your knees, your back, arthritis, balky shoulders, whatever. The conversation darkened.

Top Hat had seen the other buddy, Achilles, and was distressed over his appearance. “He didn’t look well. He isn’t the same old godlike, invulnerable Achilles.” Did the lights in the diner dim just then? Who turned on the air-conditioner? D entered the restaurant. D as in Death.

Achilles’ name brought the conversation too close to home. Meanwhile D circled our table as we ate. I watched the lettuce in my salad discolor.

Past a certain age, most people wait for a late night phone call about their parents. The three lunch-comrades lost them quite a while back. In the case of my dad I got the call early one morning 15 years ago from my brother Ed. Dad had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and lasted only a few more days. I visited mom on a Sunday morning about nine months later, part of my regular routine, only to find her unconscious. She, too, made a “clean getaway,” as my friend Dan likes to call a speedy and painless death.

I still drive a 16-year old car my father rode in a few months before he kicked the bucket. I think about that sometimes when I look at the empty passenger seat.

The conversation continued. We talked about what our dating experience in high school might have been like if we’d been more mature and what a preposterous thought that was. Our kids’ well-being entered the discussion along with news of my new grandchild. One of the guys explained the reason for the brace on his hand. The other reported some exciting travel plans. Retirement issues came up. Politics, playoff baseball, and robotic automation were mentioned. We are all worried about what the world holds for our offspring. Grande suggested a get-together with other high school buddies. He plans to give a call to another chum whom we’d not seen in a while  — to say hello for all of us.

My mind drifted just a little. I started to think about how special this matter-of-fact lunch was. How much I love these two men. I was reminded how unimportant are the imperfections in each of us — even as much as we sometimes make of them. And I thought how short will be the time (however many years it might be) before one of us will be absent. Thank goodness we are now all in good health for our age.

I remembered, too, a videotaped oral history I did with my dad in his mid-70s. I asked him what he’d figured out about life. Milt Stein paused for a few seconds and then said, “I’ve learned to appreciate some things.” Not the most philosophical of people, in that moment he became the wisest man on earth.

My reverie passed and I noticed Death moving toward the door. As D pulled the handle, he turned and caught my eye. Did he wink? What a friendly guy!

Then he left us — for now. Other appointments to take care of first, I imagine.

Here are words of Shakespeare’s Prospero at the close of The Tempest. He is speaking about the players in the play, but also about all of us:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The top photo is called Sunset at Land’s End in San Francisco, by Brocken Inaglory. It is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.