Friday, February 18, 2000

Marge's gifts come from her heart

It's just money, honey

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Marge Schott
        Regis Philbin has nothing on Marge Schott. She's giving away her money by the millions, no questions asked.

        In January, St. Ursula Academy announced her $1 million gift to build Margaret Unnewehr Schott Hall on the school's East Walnut Hills campus.

        Next Thursday, the Boy Scouts plan to announce Marge's $1 million gift to build an 18.5- acre lake on the Dan Beard Scout Reservation, a 500-plus-acre spread in Clermont County.

        In honor of her gift, she gets to name the lake. I told her my vote is for Lake Marge.

        She frowned at that suggestion. She also frowned when first asked about giving away 2 million dollars.

        “I like to do these things quietly,” she said. “No publicity.”

        Her frown turned to a smile as she supplied her reasons for giving.

        “I'm doing it for the children, honey. One million for the girls. One million for the boys,” Marge told me as we sat in her office at Schott Buick in Norwood.

        She then brought up a topic she returned to repeatedly in our two-hour conversation. She is childless.

        “Charlie and I were never blessed with children,” she said, mentioning her late husband, Charles Schott. “When you don't have kids and you're in a Catholic family — one of my sisters had 10 children in 11 years, she's part rabbit — you feel kind of guilty about that. So, I want to do things for other people's children.”

        Smoke from an ever-present Carlton, appearing in her hand to be every bit as long as a Louisville Slugger, wreathed her head as she spoke.

        She adjusted a photo on her desk, a snapshot of Marge and Muhammad Ali.

        “He was wandering around the stadium one day, sort of out of it, the poor guy's not well. I told him, "Muhammad, come in here. Watch the game from my box.' That's where this picture was taken.”

        Two photos of George W. Bush, one with him kissing Marge, hang on an opposite wall.

        “I want him to get elected president,” Marge declared. “He's from a good family. Barbara Bush did a good job raising her kids.

        “How could George and Barbara Bush get beat by a Clinton? What's wrong with this country?”

        We talked on Valentine's Day, a perfect chance for her to wear red, her favorite color during the nearly 15 years she was majority owner of the Reds. They were years that saw Pete Rose break Ty Cobb's record in 1985 and be banned from baseball in 1989. The team bounced back the next year to sweep the 1990 World Series.

        After suspending Marge in 1993 and 1996 for racist remarks, Major League Baseball forced her to sell her majority interest in the team for $67 million in October. She still retains a share (as does the Gannett Co. Inc., parent company of The Cincinnati Enquirer).

        “Selling that team was the last thing I wanted to do,” Marge said. “That broke my heart.”

        So, on Valentine's Day, when she had a rosy opportunity to wear red — Cincinnati Reds red — she was dressed in blue.

Two gifts
        As blue as she is about selling the Reds, Marge was upbeat talking about her gifts to St. Ursula and the Boy Scouts.

        “The Boy Scouts teach discipline, rules and morals. They believe in old-fashioned values. They dress up with uniforms, like a military thing. That kind of discipline is very important for children.”

        She also heartily endorses the dis cipline and education students receive at St. Ursula. The school's appearance and its aims remind her of her alma mater, Sacred Heart Academy.

        “I loved Sacred Heart. It was a girls school filled with beautiful old wood. And all sorts of traditions. So's St. Ursula. At Sacred Heart, we had to curtsy to the nuns and wear white gloves. We learned discipline, obedience. We learned to do what was right.”

        St. Ursula celebrated a Mass in Marge's honor on her 71st birthday in August. She toured the school and heard about the plans for a new complex of classrooms.

        On Dec. 27, Marge called St. Ursula's principal, Frances Reardon Romweber. They have been friends “since Fran was a baby.”

        Marge told the principal she had “a Christmas gift for you and St. Ursula. Could you come to Schott Buick?”

        When the principal arrived, Marge took out a pen, opened a checkbook and started writing. “Here, honey,” she said. “I hope this helps.”

        She handed the principal a check for $1 million.

        The next day, Marge wrote another check for $1 million to the Boy Scouts.

        “We had been talking for years about the scout reservation,” said Andy Swallow, director of planned giving for the Scouts' Dan Beard Council.

        “Mrs. Schott was interested in giving something. But, I was still floored. I'm used to writing checks for $10.” This one had five more zeros to the left of the decimal point.

        Marge Scott knows these gifts will come with a price. They will open her to criticism: She's doing this to get a good name. She's buying her way into heaven.

        “I'm used to that,” Marge said and visibly slumped in her chair.

        “But, I don't care what people think. If people want to bitch, fine. Let them give something.”

        Marge has plenty of free time on her hands for philanthropic endeavors. Her hours are no longer consumed by Reds business.

        She still follows the team. The Ken Griffey Jr. trade, she said, is “great for the Reds and the city. I just hope he doesn't hurt himself the first week.”

        She is elated Tony Perez and Mar ty Brennaman are going into the Hall of Fame. She hopes Sparky Anderson gets in, too. And she thinks Joe Nuxhall should have been named with Marty because “they're a team.”

        Marge plans to visit Cooperstown in July to watch the induction ceremonies. She'll visit the Hall of Fame, if her health holds up.

        Most days, she needs a cane to get around. At the office, she leans on walls and desks to maneuver. The hip she broke on Opening Day in 1998 has mended. But she's suffering from osteoporosis.

        “The bones in my back are collapsing,” she said. “It's hell trying to climb in and out of bed. I take pain pills and calcium supplements.”

        But she keeps going and intends to keep giving.

        “I'm doing this for the children, honey.”

        Read what you want into Marge's gifts. She has made some terrible mistakes. And she has paid dearly.

        She knows she will be remembered for her sins. She hopes no one forgets she could also do good.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.