Albert L. Schultz, benefactor of JCC in Palo Alto, dies at 99

He was generous enough to have a popular Bay Area Jewish Community Center named for him, and gracious enough to have his name removed when the time came.

With the death last week of Albert L. Schultz, the Bay Area Jewish community lost one of its philanthropic giants. A quiet leader all his life, Schultz died March 20 in San Francisco, five months shy of his 100th birthday.

“What I remember is his incredible warmth,” said Ric Rudman, interim executive director of Palo Alto’s Oshman Family JCC, the successor institution to the Albert L. Schultz JCC. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for [Schultz].”

Schultz stepped up soon after moving to the Bay Area in 1979. He joined the board of the then-homeless Palo Alto JCC, kicking in $500,000 in 1983 to make it a reality on the site of the former Terman Middle School.

“It was possible through Al’s initial gift and continuing giving,” recalled Sandy Blovad, who served as the JCC’s director from 1982 until 2001. “Al was first and foremost a gentleman, extremely dignified and always respectful. He and [his late wife] Janet were very humble about credit.”

In 1983, the Albert L. Schultz JCC was born. Over the next 20 years, the couple gave millions more to the institution, according to Blovad.

When plans for a new, more elaborate JCC took shape in the early 2000s, the Schultzes donated $5 million. As construction proceeded, Schultz voluntarily relinquished naming rights for the center.

Said former Oshman Family JCC executive Alan Sataloff in a 2009 interview with j.: “The Schultzes recognized the [new] JCC would need to raise a significant amount of money, and should a donor arise who could make a very magnanimous gift to make this dream a reality, they would relinquish their name, which is pretty amazing. You don’t see that.”

Ken and Barbara Oshman donated $10 million to the JCC early in the capital campaign, and the institution was ultimately named for them; the Albert and Janet Schultz Cultural Arts Hall at the Oshman Family JCC bears the Schultz name.

“He certainly had a very big impact on the community in terms of his philanthropy and his involvement,” recalled friend and fellow Jewish community activist Carol Saal. “He was there in body as well as in writing the checks that needed to be written. He set the bar very high for everyone else.”

Natives of Akron, Ohio, Janet and Albert met as teens at that city’s JCC in the 1920s. After high school, Janet attended Akron University while Albert enrolled at Ohio State in Columbus, where he studied engineering and business administration.

The couple’s romance blossomed, with Albert commuting often to visit his sweetheart. “We had to shuttle back and forth to keep the romance going,” he told j. in 2006. “There was no heater in my car, and sometimes it was pretty cold in the winter. My roommate was a mechanic, so he drilled a hole in the floor and we got the heat from the engine.”

The couple married in 1935. Albert  opened an accounting firm, while Janet became a schoolteacher. As World War II loomed, Schultz joined the Army, serving in the transportation corps.

During the postwar boom, Schultz joined a fledgling company that manufactured electronic parts and vacuum tubes. It  evolved into the global electronics conglomerate, Teledyne. Because he was there on the ground floor, Schultz became a wealthy man during his 26-year tenure.

The couple had two daughters, Phyllis and Miriam, and lived a happy life in Ohio, filled with family and travel.

In 1979, the Schultzes moved to Menlo Park and quickly made their presence felt in the Jewish community. Within a couple of years, Albert had joined the board of the Palo Alto JCC, which was being set up at Terman, the former middle school.

The Schultzes had their “aha” moment while inspecting the site and noticing  puddles on the basketball court.

“The powers-that-be said they didn’t have the money for a new roof,” Schultz told j. in 2006.  “I said I would like to prepare the center for a proper opening, but I was a newcomer here. It might look presumptuous making a large contribution. They said, ‘Don’t worry about that. It’s the money that counts.’ ”

He didn’t worry. The couple donated $500,000, instantly becoming philanthropic leaders in the community.

Shultz endured his share of sorrows. Daughter Miriam, who was a board member at Jewish Family and Children’s Services, died of cancer in 1994. Wife Janet died in March 2008 from complications following a stroke. The couple had been married for 72 years.

Meanwhile, daughter Phyllis became a Seattle book editor.

Schultz never stopped his philanthropic efforts. “Al had an interesting philosophy,” Blovad said. “He wanted to spend down his estate while he was alive. He wanted to see how the resources were used, and he always wanted to make sure the JCC was viable. Many people waited; he did not wait.”

Contributions in Schultz’s memory may be made to the Miriam Schultz Grunfeld Scholarship Fund at Jewish Family and Children’s Services, 2150 Post St., S.F., 94115; Hebrew Free Loan, 131 Steuart St., Suite 520, S.F., 94105; or the Salvation Army, 832 Folsom St., Suite 600, S.F., 94107.