The Gift that Keeps on Giving
A letter, written and addressed to the Manitowoc City Council on March 11, 1888, states the following: “…I hereby tender this $1,000 dollars to the City of Manitowoc for the benefit of the poor in the following condition:
1. That the Board of Poor Commissioners or their successors shall be the trustees of said fund to be known as the “Christmas Fund”.
2. That they shall loan such amount on first lien security.
3. That the income of said fund shall be expended and distributed by them in presents of any kind or nature each Christmas among the city poor; or if found more preferable the selection and distribution of presents may be left to any aid society…”
The man who signed this letter was John Schuette. And by doing so, he sent a ripple of goodwill through Manitowoc’s history still felt to this day. The Schuette Family was one of the most influential forces in the development of the City of Manitowoc. A twelve year old John Schuette arrived here from Germany in 1848. His father opened a general store on Eighth and Jay Streets that would grow to become the landmark Schuette Brothers Store.
In 1884, John Schuette sold his interest in the business to his younger brothers and organized the Manitowoc Savings Bank. He also opened a flour mill, organized the electric light company (later sold to the City of Manitowoc and now Manitowoc Public Utilities) and served five terms as Mayor of Manitowoc.
Upon John’s death in 1919, the Schuette family discovered a hand written note from him expressing his wishes that his will be updated to include a $10,000 gift to the City for the Christmas Fund. The family honored his wishes and proceeded with the donation. In today’s dollars, his initial gift of $1,000 would be roughly $25,000 and the 1920 bequest would be over one hundred and ten thousand dollars.
For all his accomplishments and success, John Schuette worked deliberately towards the improvement of his community and its people. At the time of his passing in 1919, a total of over $30,000 was bequeathed to area hospitals, churches and to the “Christmas Fund”. The John Schuette Park, also known as Riverview Park, was also donated to the city.
The most remarkable part of the story is that the money is still held by the City of Manitowoc and distributed for the benefit of those in need during the Holidays.
Several others made contributions to the fund over the years and there have been some changes in its administration, but John Schuette’s wishes are still being fulfilled.
This heartwarming story seems to come from a bygone era.The celebration of the Christmas holiday has changed a great deal in the past 120 years.LED lights have replaced the candles on the tree, wooden toys and dolls have been replaced by electronics and hi-tech toys.However, the same spirit of the Holiday embraced by John Schuette remains today as we refocus on family, community, and the welfare of other.