William and Judith Scheide
The gates of the Ford Motor Twin Cities plant yawned open at 5 a.m. with the shift change.
Judith Scheide, weighted by the Hubert Humphrey campaign buttons that hung in her apron, stood waiting for the flood of workers to emerge.
And when they did, she yelled, “the Senator is coming!” and waded into the crowd with incumbent Senator Humphrey close at heel, shaking hands and asking for votes.
During the late 50s and early 60s, Judith spent much of her time outside university in this way, whether it was selling one dollar tickets to baked bean feed fundraisers or handing out buttons at shopping centers.
She had first cut her teeth in politics knocking on doors with her four siblings in her father’s successful run for St. Paul Finance Commissioner.
And even prior to his candidacy, Judith’s father had seen himself as something of “a ward heeler.” With his daughter at his side, he would walk the political ward speaking with residents about their problems and aspirations, helping them organize around shared concerns.
“He felt it was the most important role a person could play,” she said.
Beyond the local issues close to his heart, her father was also deeply concerned about water rights and supply, fifty years before the global water crisis catapulted into the headlines.
“I remember him telling us that we shouldn’t worry so much about oil and gas,” she said. “There was going to be a huge water shortage in 50 to 75 years and people will not be prepared.”
Her father’s daughter, Judith later found herself running local campaigns and Democratic clubs in and around Princeton, New Jersey.
Given the degree of her involvement in local politics, a newspaper reporter grew curious about her ambitions.
“He called one day wondering if I wanted to run for mayor,” she said. “I told him, ‘all I ever wanted to be was a ward heeler!’
“‘How do you spell that,’ he asked, ‘heeler or healer?’ ‘I think they both apply, I answered.’”
In time, she would instead go to work for the Scheide Fund.
She first met her future husband and colleague, William Scheide, during a tour of the Scheide Library that featured 10th century Anglo-Saxon documents.
“I was fascinated by them, so whenever Bill showed a selection of his magnificent books I went to see them,” she said.
William had long been a collector of early printing and music, including the Gutenberg Bible, Emancipation Proclamation and Declaration of Independence.
His father, and grandfather before him, had worked for Standard Oil. Both men turned their fortune first to collecting books, and then to libraries and schools.
“Bill had to manage the family’s accounts following his father’s death, and believed it was important to do something worthwhile with his inheritance,” said Mrs. Scheide. “His father felt that anyone who had money, had to share it; it was not an inalienable right to possess it, one was simply a steward of the funds.”
A deep love of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach inspired Mr. Scheide to first create and then direct the Bach Aria Group for 34 years. A strong commitment to civil rights from his father and his mother, a social worker, then led to his early involvement in the desegregation of public schools in Princeton, where he had attended university and would later settle.
And in the early 50’s a young lawyer from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense Fund (LDF) paid him a visit.
That young lawyer, future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, wanted to know if he would support a case called Brown vs. Board of Education.
William Scheide would become a primary funder of the case that desegregated U.S. public schools and spend the next 40 years on the LDF Board.
In the time since, Mr. Scheide has supported countless civil rights initiatives, including the Nestlé boycott initiated by Corporate Accountability International (then Infact).
“He’s been with Infact since the beginning, because he believes the organization works on issues where civil rights are being deeply abridged,” said Mrs. Scheide.