$1.4 million Schaefer bequest to aid neighborhoods

William Donald Schaefer left $1.4 million to a civic fund that will make dozens of grants each year for neighborhood improvement projects in the city and Baltimore County, the Baltimore Community Foundation plans to announce today.

The late governor and mayor, who died at 89 in April 2011, directed the money to the William Donald Schaefer Civic Fund, which is administered by the foundation.


The bequest follows a gift of $400,000 Schaefer made to the fund in 2008. The new money is expected to produce interest that will finance about $70,000 in grants each year toward such projects as neighborhood fairs, community gardens and beautification efforts.

"Basically, it challenges neighborhoods to consider what they need to do and gives them the resources to do it," said foundation President Tom Wilcox. "I am absolutely convinced it will make a significant difference for the city."


The larger endowment will allow the foundation to finance more projects, such as one undertaken by the Franklin Square Community Association. It used an earlier grant from the fund to turn five vacant lots into a neighborhood park.

Scott Kashnow, association vice president, said the money helped pay for a wood-chip path and a rain garden on the West Baltimore property, where water runoff used to create an unsightly mud puddle.

"It's starting to bloom now — looks really nice," he said.

Kashnow said the Schaefer grant helped leverage another $20,000 grant for the neighborhood from the city's Office of Promotion & the Arts. He's expecting the announcement of another grant to Franklin Square from the Schaefer fund when the foundation holds a news conference today to announce the bequest.

The money has been matched by the volunteer labor of neighborhood residents, Kashnow said. Often, he said, they combine work days with neighborhood cookouts. "It absolutely has brought the community together," he said.

The announcement comes nine months after a court rejected a claim made by Mike Schaefer, who is not a relative, seeking compensation of $28,000 for meals he bought and other favors he performed for William Donald Schaefer in the last years of his life. Wilcox said the announcement of the bequest had been in the works a long time but was delayed by the legal wrangle.

Schaefer, who was known for his frugal spending and modest life style, left an estate estimated at $2.5 million after a six-decade political career that ended in 2006 when he was defeated in his effort to win a third term as state comptroller. Previously, he served two terms as Maryland governor and four as Baltimore mayor.

The gift to the foundation's civic fund was the largest bequest in Schaefer's will. The foundation expects the money to earn roughly 41/2 percent interest each year to fund grants in perpetuity.


"He lived simply and saved money so he could help Baltimore forever," Wilcox said. He said most Schaefer grants range from $1,000 to $10,000.

Lainy Lebow-Sachs, the former Schaefer chief of staff who served as his executor, said her old boss spent a lot of time planning the neighborhood fund. She said it was his way of continuing to give to his city and the neighborhoods he loved.

"We talked about it endlessly," she said. "It's so Schaefer."

Lebow-Sachs and Wilcox said Schaefer took a keen interest in the operation of the civic fund, touring neighborhoods to see the progress of projects and sitting in on the grant selection process.

"He came in and met with neighborhood leaders," Wilcox said.

The current version of the Schaefer civic fund was established in 2008 when the former governor transferred the remaining money in his campaign finance account to the foundation. Lebow-Sachs said that was later supplemented by the proceeds of the sale of Schaefer's townhouse in Pasadena, where he lived before moving to the Charlestown retirement community.


Lebow-Sachs said Schaefer's civic fund goes back to his time as mayor, a job in which he served from 1971 to 1987. She said he continued the fund while he was governor but let it become inactive during his years as comptroller before its revival in 2008.

The community foundation, created in 1972, is made up of 600 individual funds. It distributed about $26 million last year to nonprofits in the Baltimore region.