I met Grace Schaible in the early 1990’s when I was the CEO of Alaska Public Radio Network. She was the State’s first woman Attorney General and her philanthropy in Fairbanks was legendary. She was an obvious “target” to serve on the Network’s endowment exploration campaign. She said yes and a long relationship began.
In the late nineties I saw Grace at the Downtown Deli in Anchorage. I was raising money to build the Alaska Native Heritage Center. I remember that we asked for $50,000 in increments of $10,000 a year for five years. She said that her donations were already committed for the next three years. I suggested a five-year pledge of $50,000–nothing due in years one, two and three, $25,000 in years four and five. We shook on the deal.
But we really got to know each other while standing under the eave in the rain outside the Westmark Hotel in Sitka. Grace spent time in Sitka each summer to fully experience the Sitka Summer Music Festival. She had a longstanding arrangement to have an apartment set up in the hotel each summer. We ran into each other that evening in the rain because we were both smokers back then–me a bummer, she an enthusiast.
We served on The Foraker Group board of directors together with our dear friend Jeff Cook, and Ed Rasmuson, too. We four and others came together at the inaugural meeting of the Golden Heart Community Foundation. Eventually Grace invited me to her home to see her incredible collection of polar bear art. Sculptures, paintings, photographs, even Christmas ornaments. The finest in the world, I’m told. Once I found a tacky polar bear floor mat at a flea market in Brooklyn and sent it to her. I chuckled whenever I went to visit and saw that mat on the floor in front of her sink.
I could listen for hours to Grace’s stories about her annual trip to Norway to see the polar bears, which continued until she was almost ninety. The other passengers came on the boat for a week. She stayed for a whole month. She never took a photo–there were always plenty of professional photographers on board who were eager to sell their work. She just wanted to be with the bears.
One of the greatest honors of my life took place at the 2009 Annual Philanthropy Awards event. Grace was being honored as philanthropist of the year. She did a beautiful, humble speech and then said she wanted to single out three of her mentors. I was shocked when I heard my name because, clearly, Grace was the mentor in this relationship. She said I helped her think of herself as an Alaska philanthropist for the first time because no one from outside Fairbanks had ever before asked her to support a statewide effort.
On Grace’s ninetieth birthday a couple of years ago, her beloved University of Alaska colleagues put a lunch together in Fairbanks to celebrate. We sang her a special version of “Amazing Grace” with Schaible lyrics.
Rest peacefully, dear Grace. You were loved and admired by many. Thank you for inspiring me.