It is impossible to know what history will regard as William Donald Schaefer's greatest legacy in Baltimore. But we do know the legacy he sought to perpetuate. Governor Schaefer may be known for the Inner Harbor and Oriole Park, but he was a lifelong champion of Baltimore's neighborhoods, and he put a plan in place, long before his death, to ensure that his particular brand of support for them would continue for generations to come.
Governor Schaefer listened to and worked with individual citizens and neighborhood groups even as he devised grand plans for a revitalized city and a prosperous state. One of his grandest plans was to empower neighborhoods through small grants to neighborhood groups, made possible by private contributions. His "Civic Fund" dispersed grants to help communities do what they thought was best to strengthen themselves, whether that was putting up a flagpole or creating a garden in an empty lot.
In 2008, Governor Schaefer moved his Civic Fund to the Baltimore Community Foundation and added to it with leftover campaign funds. Even after he moved to Charlestown Retirement Community, he gave his own house to the fund. He specified that the William Donald Schaefer Civic Fund would support the community foundation's existing Neighborhood Grants Program, which for over 20 years has helped neighborhoods in Baltimore City and County tackle projects that strengthen communities and make them supportive environments for families and businesses.
The Schaefer Civic Fund is a permanent endowment, perpetuating Governor Schaefer's legacy of reaching out to neighborhoods with funding for good ideas.
Governor Schaefer recognized that people in neighborhoods knew best what they needed, and he listened to them. While he was famous for declarations that could make him sound abrupt, even autocratic, his "do it now" motto is not a bad one for today, when we could use a little more impatience with the status quo.
When the governor moved his Civic Fund to the Baltimore Community Foundation, he hoped that others would want to join with him in making sure that there would always be a source of grant money for projects to make neighborhoods better. That's why the governor's closest friends and associates have asked that those who wish to memorialize him direct a gift to the William Donald Schaefer Civic Fund at the Baltimore Community Foundation.
At an event marking the launch of the Schaefer Civic Fund at BCF, the governor said that what he wanted was simply to make neighborhoods a better place for people to live. He said, "There's no place like Baltimore. We've taken our little city ... and turned it into a place where people want to come." He told the assembled crowd of political pals and community leaders that he was glad that when people say "I'm from Baltimore," nobody laughs anymore.
We're not laughing today, governor. But we'll smile at the memory of you, as we thank you for the opportunity to "do it now" for Baltimore — and, through this wonderful endowment, to do it forever.
Lainy LeBow-Sachs served as Governor Schaefer's chief of staff. Tom Wilcox is president of the Baltimore Community Foundation.