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Monday, February 24, 2014

An immigrant's gift.

Schreiner Institute, Kerrville, as it appeared in the late 1920s.
In the early days of Kerrville there was a young immigrant with little formal education. His life was not an easy one: he lost his parents when he was young, and was on his own at 16. There were many years of hardship and even poverty for the immigrant and his family and some traces of his homeland never went away. Even late in his life he spoke with a slight accent, a faint echo of his first language. Some of his manners were a bit foreign, too.
Yet he loved Kerrville and Kerr County and his actions proved his feelings for our community.
The immigrant was a hard worker, and he was smart. His business acumen was phenomenal. He was not trained in business; his father had not been a businessperson; he was never an apprentice, learning from a mentor. But he was a gifted businessman, with an eye for value, and he was an excellent merchant. He built a great fortune,
His customers liked him, and his community trusted him: they elected him to several public offices, including county treasurer.
Late in his life, after providing for his large family, he gave a lot of his wealth away, in gifts large and small, mostly benefiting the community of Kerrville and our neck of the Texas Hill Country.
The gift which has touched the most lives was his gift which started a school on the outskirts of Kerrville, a preparatory school for boys.
The immigrant had the idea for the school before World War I. He announced his plan: he would donate $250,000 to establish the school, with the provision work on it could not begin until the war was over and at least a year had passed from the signing of the peace treaties.
In those days $250,000 was an enormous amount of money, much greater than it is today. In the years after the announcement about the school, the immigrant added to his gift; the total he gave for the school eventually added up to a little over $550,000.
It wasn't until 1922 that construction on the school began. Three buildings were erected: a three-story main building, a dormitory, and a headmaster's house. The architectural style of the buildings was described in the Kerrville Mountain Sun as "English Colonial," a style "which is specially adapted to the rugged surroundings and has the further advantage of being very homelike."
When the cornerstone was dedicated, the immigrant was there.
In September, 1923, almost 90 years ago, the school opened its doors to students. Again, the immigrant was there for the festivities.
That immigrant, of course, was Charles Schreiner; the school he started was Schreiner Institute, which is today known as Schreiner University.
* * *
There were several speakers at the opening of the school, and two in particular stand out: J. E. Grinstead, who was a newspaperman and writer, and Dr. J. J. Delaney, the first president of the school.  Their remarks were reported in the September 20, 1923 edition of the Kerrville Mountain Sun.
Grinstead was a favorite local speaker at the time. He'd come to Kerrville at the turn of the century because his wife was ill with tuberculosis, and in a few short years he owned the newspaper, was elected mayor, then school board president, and later state representative. He published a magazine, and spent his later years writing pulp westerns. He authored much of the image and myth of the Texas hill country.
"A year ago," Grinstead said at the opening of the school, "this spot was an open field. A crop of grain had been harvested from it, and I used to take walks out this way and think it was a dreary place. And now, look at the beauty of it! Almost like the story of Aladdin and his wonderful lamp. When you think about how it came about, quite as wonderful. From the rough surface of a field, within a few months have sprung these magnificent buildings. True, there were many artists and artisans at labor, but in effect every brick, stone, tile and shingle was placed by a single man. A man who devoted his life to service. He was half a century accumulating the materials for this great institution, and it was he in effect who, having the materials at hand, raised on this eminence a wonderful monument to service. From this gift of Captain Schreiner, there is a wonderful lesson for you -- the lesson of service. Of service to God, to your country, and to your fellow man.
"The building of the real edifice, the most beautiful thing of all, is just begun. You men of the first year of the Schreiner Institute are the foundation and corner stone of that more beautiful building, that shall grow and grow throughout the generations to come. A building of men whom, wherever they may be found, shall look back with pride and pleasure to the days they spent in this institution. You have opened the book, in which is to be written the history of Schreiner Institute. The pages are blank and white. Write upon them with the pen of inspiration, drawn from earnestness of purpose. Emulate, throughout your labors here, that splendid example of the unselfish service shown by the founder of your school."
J. J. Delaney presented an oil portrait of Captain Schreiner to the school, and remarked "it is far more to us than a reminder of a man who gives generously of his wealth that the youth of Texas may have the opportunities of education. It should be a constant inspiration to high endeavor to every man who passes through these halls.
"It is easy to envy Captain Schreiner the 'opportunity' and 'luck' and complain of our disadvantages. Young men, the 'luck' of Captain Schreiner was to return after four years' hard service in the Civil War with nothing but what he had in his own spirit except a noble wife and two small children. His 'opportunity' was to wrest a living for them from an untamed wilderness with his bare hands or starve.
"The opportunities for you today are a hundredfold larger and the same qualities which have brought success to him will bring abundant fulfillment of any worthy ambition that burns in your hearts.
"I wish that we might inscribe under this portrait just these words, 'Integrity, Industry, Economy,' for it is to these and not to easy fortune his success is due."
At the end of the dedication program one member of the school's faculty called the students together and led fifteen cheers for Captain Schreiner and for Schreiner Institute.
That's how the school started: with cheers for the immigrant and for the school he founded.
This story originally appeared in the Comanche Trace Lifestyles Magazine August 2013.

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1 comment:

  1. Many decades ago, I attended Schreiner Institute, and I enjoyed it.

    A few years ago, I went back to Kerrville for a visit. One of my stops was Schreiner University. It had changed, but some of the buildings that I remembered still existed.

    It was an enjoyable day.

    ReplyDelete

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