Everett philanthropist John Schack dies at 95

EVERETT — When friends suggested naming the historic Everett Theatre after John and Idamae Schack, the couple respectfully declined.

Mr. Schack said that putting an individual's name on the theater might keep other donors from feeling invested in the project in the future. He wanted everyone who contributed to feel they had a part in the 103-year-old theater, even though it was the Schacks' gift of $1 million that saved the building from the wrecking ball.

Friends and family say that was simply the kind of big-concept philanthropist Mr. Schack was; a man who, with his wife, committed millions of dollars to charities, hospitals, public institutions and the arts but didn't expect recognition in return.

Mr. Schack died Sunday (April 25) of natural causes at his Everett home. He was 95.

Other local institutions that benefited from the generosity of Mr. Schack and his wife were numerous and varied: the Everett Public Library, the Everett Symphony, the Children's Museum in Snohomish County, Providence Everett Medical Center and the Greater Everett Community Foundation.

"He was one of those people who really believed in the Everett community," said Mark Nesse, director of the Everett Public Library. "And if it was going to become a better place, everybody would have to do their share. His share was philanthropy."

More than 20 years ago, the Schacks donated money to computerize the library's circulation system. Subsequent donations went toward remodeling the library and establishing its new coffee shop.

"He touched thousands and thousands of lives, far and wide," said Dottie Piasecki, executive director of the Providence General Foundation, where the Schacks donated to hospital expansions and, most recently, the Pavilion for Women and Children.

"He wanted to make a huge difference in people's lives, but not (take) the credit."

Mr. Schack was born with his fraternal twin, James, on April 20, 1909, in Seattle's Capitol Hill district. He graduated from Broadway High School in 1928 and attended the University of Washington. After the death of his father, he left college before graduating.

After the Depression he became involved in manufacturing and founded or managed a number of companies, including Tacoma Metal Products, which manufactured the Little Chef toy stove and accessories popular with children in the early 1950s.

In the late 1950s, Mr. Schack left the toy business and went into the precast-concrete business, said his son, James Schack of Kent. He started Utility Vault Co. in 1965, which is now a subsidiary of Oldcastle Precast, and run by his son. The Auburn-based company makes everything from precast concrete for highway barriers to underground vaults for utilities.

"He was my leader and mentor as well as my father," his son said. "And he was superb at all three."

Mr. Schack's first wife, Margaret, died in October 1964 after 22 years of marriage. He married Idamae on July 6, 1966.

"We've lost a dear, dear friend," said Nancy Johnson, executive director of the Children's Museum in Snohomish County. "There are those people who come along once in a life and change your life forever. He was a brilliant businessman and someone who cared very much for this community."

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

For many institutions, the Schacks were a kind of arts-stabilization fund.

"There needs to be more people in the community like them," said Randy Mather, the Everett Theatre's executive director. "The nice thing about John, he was always interested in local, but it was broad-based."

That story was repeated at the Everett Symphony, to which the Schacks donated $1 million in 1999. The endowment "basically saved the symphony at a time when the symphony basically was lacking in funding," said Mary Brueggeman, the symphony's executive director.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Schack is survived by daughters Margaret Schack Davis of Anacortes and Ellen Schack Harley of Walla Walla; stepchildren Frank Miles of Mercer Island, Edith Miles Woll of Prescott, Ariz., Alice Miles Erickson and Terry Holland, both of Birch Bay, and Patricia Miles DeGroodt of Mill Creek; as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Immaculate Conception Church, 2501 Hoyt Ave., Everett, followed by a reception at a location to be announced.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Children's Museum in Snohomish County, 3013 Colby Ave., Everett, WA 98201; or the Greater Everett Community Foundation, P.O. Box 5549, Everett, WA 98201.

Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or dwright@seattletimes.com