Silvester Schiele

1946 Obituary Silvester Schiele

Of the First Rotary Club President Silvester Schiele by General Secretary Philip Lovejoy

With the passing of Silvester Schiele on December 17, 1945, thousands upon thousands of individuals, both Rotarians and non-Rotarians had lost one of their dearest friends.

Hundreds of Crippled children owe their rehabilitation to the pioneering educational work of Silvester. Hundreds upon hundreds of young men, sore pressed for adjustment in the depression days give thanks for the privilege of having been befriended by Silvester. there are thousands of folks in this world of challenges who are striving to emulate the sterling qualities always exhibited by Silvester.

Truly he was one of the great men of the 20th Century, for greatness must come as a result of personal contacts, of helpfulness, of square dealing, and of kindly sympathetic understanding.

Silvester was an idealist, but at the same time a man of practical affairs. He was first of all a success in his home life, for in 1909 he was married to Jessie L. MacDonald, of Michigan, who was his constant partner in good works in the city of Chicago, IL. The two were a great tam of personal service.

Silvester was a success in business. He was Christian businessman, having been president of the Schiele Coal Company from 1902 to 1939, when he retired. His employees held him in high regard.

Silvester Schiele was a success in the things of life that really count. Mundane accomplishments are essential in this world of competitive enterprise, but the competitor can have great respect, and this was true of all those in Silvester’s field of activity. His real greatness was for everywhere men had a good word for Silvester, perhaps because he had a good word and a great heart for them.

He was what many like to think of as a typical American. He was born of German parentage in a log cabin in Clay City, Indiana, in 1870. He slept in the attic while the snow crept in the chinks between the logs. He broke ice out of the pitcher to get water for the morning wash. He had all the difficulties of a young pioneer. There was the family fireplace of those early years, which was an important training ground. Then there was school at Terre Haute, a period of service in Cuba in the Spanish-American War, and then activity in Chicago in the retail coal business.

About 1896 he had loaned some money to a friend from who he had been unable to collect. Passing by his office frequently was a young lawyer and one day Silvester asked this young lawyer for advice as to the collection of the money.

Thus began the friendship of Paul Harris and Silvester that was to result in the founding of the Rotary Club of Chicago as the forerunner of the more than 31,000 Clubs throughout the world today and, indeed, of the thousands of other service clubs of the 20th Century.

In the early days of the century Paul and Silvester shared a room in the New Southern Hotel at 13th Street and Michigan in Chicago. On Sundays in top hats and Prince Albert coats, they would stroll down the boulevard to church and in the afternoon they would walk to the park.

This Damon and Pythias friendship was to weather all storms of disagreement, and constantly ripen. In his latter years Silvester was a constant companion of Paul as was his wife, Jessie, to Paul’s wife, Jean–an inseparable foursome. Paul said that Silvester’s life became increasingly useful in advancing years.

As the co-founder of Rotary, Silvester became the first President of the first Rotary Club. After some five months of existence, Silvester suggested to Paul that the members give talks about their businesses and Paul asked Silvester to make the first talk. Thus was presented the first Vocational Service talk in Rotary, a practice that has now become universal.

He was a community-minded man interested in working with boys, he knew the problem’s, which confronted young men and hence became a natural counselor for them. Hundreds cam for advice and it was always given freely but in humility.

Because Silvester himself was an idealist, it was perfectly natural that the altruistic service program of Rotary would appeal deeply to him. Any movement, which is to become great, must have an altruistic idealism in the hearts and minds of its founders. The idealism of Paul and Silvester was the very practical cornerstone on which the great structure of Rotary International was ultimately to be built.

Silvester left this life in active service to Rotary International, he was serving as the international Treasurer. Having been asked by the Board of Directors to become Treasurer, his comment was simply, if I can be of service I would gladly accept.

His was an indelible impression, as the minister said at the funeral service, Silvester didn’t have a Sunday profession and a Monday practice. He was a man of honor and righteousness, which is no mean achievement in these hectic days. His whole life was quiet, humble, unobtrusive, and persuasive goodness. A great Rotarian, his good deeds and noble thoughts will live forever in the hearts and minds of those who knew him.

Provided by RGHF Senior Historian Dr. Wolfgang Ziegler, 19 July 2006