Friday, December 24, 2021

F.W. Schumacher, a Real Life Santa Claus

I was reading about the Navarro sentencing like most of you last week, and I came across this gem - yes, the "juice man video". It makes one wonder, why are people built like this? The answer is, most arent. 

F. W. Schumacher was born in Ohio in the 1860's and became a pharmacist. Word is - you piece this together from lore, the man doesn't have a wikipedia page - he invented a few somethings that sold well and he made himself a success. On or about 1910, he read about an area that lay about 1,000 miles north of him in the forests of Northern Ontario, where gold was just found in potential abundance. An adventurous sort, he decided he'd take a trip to see what the fuss was about. 

While there he learned that a parcel of land set aside by the government was available, and remarkably no one was claiming it. In the spirit of legendary diamond finder/horse owner Chuck Fipke, he laid claim and got the land for a princely sum of $8,000. It turned out to be a wise move, as just a few years later he returned and sold the prize property for a reported $2 million. 

Mr. Schumacher returned to the camp several times over the years, making deals, and immersing himself in the community. In 1916, again as the story goes, he started to sprinkle around his good fortune, and one of his ideas was to give each of the kids at the newly constructed schoolhouse a Christmas present. In a new town, with no real running water or electricity, kids getting a pair of mitts or boots, or the latest item from a Toronto or Columbus department store was, well, like Christmas. 

This wasn't a one-off; Mr. Schumacher turned this into an every year event.  

Kids in 50's After Getting Presents at School
1950 getting gifts - Daily Press

Sixty or so years later I walked into school for the first day of class and saw a portrait of a white haired man in the foyer and said, "he looks like Santa!". Months later, as I was called downstairs to line up for a present, I learned I wasn't far off. I happily opened a wrapped gift - a hot wheels or a tonka truck, or later, even a remote controlled car - and brought it home to put under the tree. 

Although perhaps anachronsitic in the day and age where everyone is so much richer, in a boom bust town where unemployment could reach 40%, at times these were the only presents under the tree for some. They were bought by Mr. Schumacher, 30 or 40 years after his death.  

In 2021, 105 years after the very first set of gifts, the school - Schumacher Public School in the town now named Schumacher - is still there, looking not much different than it did a century ago. And 160 presents were purchased for the kids, K through grade 8. When the local fire chief (who purchases and wraps the presents) called to ask for a check for $6,000 to cover it, word is Mr. Schumacher's great grand-daughter said "is that all you need, we can go higher." I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. 

2019 gifts - Daily Press
Mr. Schumacher did more than buy presents for over a century, he also donated money to child care, mental health and seniors. Throughout his life he did more on the philanthropical side outside of the town who holds his name. And, a relatively private man, he never once asked for anyone to know about it. 

This Christmas many of you are tending to a sick horse, or trying to find a way to add one to your rescue. You're scraping together a little added bonus money for a groom, or a fellow horseperson going through some trouble. You're heading over to a friend's who is holed up to jog their horses. You, like Mr. Schumacher, don't have a wikipedia page or shout it from the rooftops, but it's what you do. 

People like Jorge Navarro who seem to take joy from "we screw everyone" are not even a footnote in history. They will be easily forgotten. People who do the work of Fred Schumacher, and that includes many of you in this sport, tend to be always remembered. 

As noted, if you google Mr. Schumacher you won't find much. But if by some chance his family stumbles upon this little blog, I'd like you to know I remember your grandfather or great grandfather fondly. Not only did his land bear fruit - my grandfather worked underground for 30 years at the Hollinger, helping someone like me years later to go to university - but his good deeds each and every Christmas stick with me, long after receiving my last present. 

Daily Press photo

My sincere best wishes everyone. May you and your families have a wonderful Christmas. 

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