Schumann Foundation Continues Legacy of Philanthropy
Since the Schumann family first started visiting Madison back before the Great Depression, they have not only felt a deep affection for the town and its residents, they have put that compassion into action. The Schumann family’s various acts of philanthropy encompass the funding and creation of national organizations such as the Center for Media and Democracy and the Audubon Society, but their acts have also funded numerous local and less publicized acts, including in Madison, where the Schumann generosity can be seen on almost every section of Route 1.
According to David Schumann, grandson and son, they were raised not with a sense of entitlement but with a responsibility and purpose of duty to communities. David, who, along with his brother, Robert Jr., still sit on the Schumann Foundation Board, said his family’s support for Madison is homegrown and deep.
The Robert F. Schumann Foundation has funded a number of projects in Madison and across the shoreline. Robert was David’s father, and the philanthropy in regard to Madison goes back a generation further.
David’s grandmother, Robert, purchased the Congregational Church rectory on the green and subsequently gave it back to the Church. David’s grandfather was intimately involved in a number of projects, including the creation of the Surf Club.
“They funded what was important to them and to the community at that time,” Schumann said.
David’s father, Robert, was even more involved in preservation and community projects. Despite staunch pushback from town officials and other community leaders, Robert is credited with saving the former Griswold airport parcel from development and was largely responsible for the creation of the pristine and protected Salt Meadow Park.
“My father spent almost a million dollars on legal fees to stop the Griswold Airport development,” Schumann said. “He did not want to see condominiums in there; it would’ve destroyed the whole area. Unfortunately, there were many people who did not like my father’s politics very much. He was very liberal and a staunch environmentalist, so despite his work, he wasn’t really appreciated for that. My father was a true environmentalist, but he also didn’t really talk about it outside the family.”
David said his family’s tradition of low-profile philanthropy and staying under the radar may have created a scenario that, unfortunately, didn’t shine a light on their generosity.
“I just felt that the family didn’t really get the notice… I’m not sure Madison knows how much the family has actually done for the town, and that’s a bit unfortunate. In fact, originally, they wanted to name the park the Robert F. Schumann Park, but the selectman at that time said no way. Then a large group of people who had donated to the effort requested that it be named for him, but they didn’t do it. Finally, they were going to name a path at the park for my father, but as far as I know, that never happened either. But we were very touched by the petition that they got together to try and do it. That was powerful.”
According to David Schumann, his grandparents fell in love with Madison when vacationing here in the 1920s and never lost their enthusiasm and devotion for the town.
“Some friends told them that they should check Madison out, this was during the Depression, so they came up and stayed at the old Madison Beach Hotel and just loved it. They came every summer for their entire life,” said Schumann. “They really loved the town.”
According to Schumann, his family was raised with a sense of duty to others and an ethos that required a focus on actions and not necessarily on credit or attention. From the Hartford school system to the Scranton Library to endowments to Wesleyan in Middletown, the family has and continues to not only support but also maintain funding for a wide array of organizations.
“I come from a family of philanthropists, so we learned from an early age. They performed large and small acts of generosity. My grandmother really enjoyed helping churches and libraries and her children wanted to have even bigger impacts. The family has been very well endowed…so the family has always been generous. That’s the way they were raised. At that time, if you were privileged, you had a duty to give back,” Schumann said.
One of the family’s most beloved institutions, the Scranton Library, has been the recipient of massive donations from the family Foundation for almost 90 years. Almost every major renovation of the Scranton has resulted from funding via the Schumann Foundation, including the Children’s Wing, added to the library in 2020 with a million-dollar endowment.
“My father funded the library, and much of that is from his estate when he died. The Foundation is still supporting the Scranton. It just gave the library a large grant to fund the summer camp activities and the upcoming turtle exhibit. We are still quite involved and definitely want to keep the library vital,” Schumann said. “My father made it clear he wanted to support the library and we want to honor him always. It doesn’t make much sense to give a building and then not support the programs that need to be in place to keep it running. You have to stay in touch with those types of gifts.”
Library Director Sunnie Scarpa said the Schumann funding is an absolutely integral part of the library’s past and its future.
“The Schumann Family legacy of giving to the library shows their commitment to the community as a whole. By investing in the Library they have been able to have a positive impact on everyone in the Town of Madison since the Library is for everyone,” Scarpa said. “I have so much respect for their family and the Foundation, not only because they have given so much to the Scranton Library, but because they’ve also committed to so many local environmental causes, another way they give back that results in positive outcomes for all.”