“Elegant” — that’s a term numerous people used to describe Janet Schultz. She had the style, grace and panache of a lithe 1940s movie actress; when she shuttled between meetings at Jewish community organizations — and it seemed like she belonged to all of them — one could be forgiven for taking the silver-haired lady as a throwback to another time.
You would only be half right, however.
“She was old-fashioned in the sense of manners and dress — but not in world view,” said Norman Olson, a lifelong friend and contemporary of Schultz’s daughters.
“Janet was one of the most highly educated, progressive and ahead-of-her time women, even when we were children. There wasn’t an ounce of narrow-mindedness or parochialism in her. Jews were not as outspoken in those days [50 years ago], but she was always in front of things with a considerable amount of progressive thought.”
Schultz died March 8, several months after suffering a stroke. She was 94.
For many in the Bay Area Jewish community, Janet Schultz was a component of “JanetAl,” the lifelong partnership she formed with her husband, Albert. The two had been in love for 78 years and married for 72. “They were my role model for an adult couple in love,” said Carl Grunfeld, who married one of the Schultz’s daughters, Miriam.
Albert Schultz first spied Janet Abramson at the opening of the Jewish Community Center in Akron, Ohio, and he was smitten. He picked her up in his father’s Studebaker and took her to the Menorah Club (it was his first date). The two continued to see each other during their college years, when he attended Ohio State and she was at Akron University. Albert rumbled between Columbus and Akron weekly in a car that had no heat; he drilled a hole in the floor so warmth from the engine could enter the car.
She was valedictorian in her grade school and high school and first in her college class. After graduation, she became a teacher and married Albert, who had become an accountant. He would later get in on the ground floor of Olson Radio and become a wealthy man when the company was bought by Teledyne.
She eventually quit teaching to raise the couple’s two daughters, Phyllis and Miriam. Yet she never stopped learning.
“She had a remarkable intellect. If she was born 20 years later she would have been a professor, 30 years later she would have been a rabbi and 40 years later a CEO,” said Grunfeld, who remains close with the Schultz family 14 years after Miriam died of cancer.
“As her kids grew up, she began taking philosophy courses in her 40s and 50s at Akron University. Out here, she was always in a course; her favorite was Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan’s Talmud course. Into her 90s, at family dinners on Rosh Hashanah or at a seder, she could quote Wolf-Prusan’s Talmud course. Miriam was a carbon copy of that, and that’s one of the reasons I love Janet so much. They were both very concerned with other people in addition to being brilliant, just plain brilliant.”
Those familiar with the Schultzes only through their philanthropy in the local Jewish community may be surprised to learn that the couple only moved to the Bay Area in 1979, when they settled in Menlo Park.
Albert was hesitant to make a huge donation to the local JCC — he thought it would look “presumptuous” for a newcomer — but his gift was gladly accepted. Thanks to the family’s $500,000, the Albert L. Schultz JCC in Palo Alto was born.
Originally, Albert did not wish to have his name attached, but was persuaded it would inspire other wealthy Jews to donate to the community. The naming of an atrium at the center after Janet was done “behind her back,” according to Grunfeld, who added that she “never wanted to be in the spotlight.”
The couple went on to give many millions of dollars to the local Jewish community, including $5 million toward the Taube-Koret Campus for Jewish Life in Palo Alto. Janet served as president of the Albert and Janet Schultz Supporting Fund at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Endowment Fund. She passionately supported camp scholarships, helped bring the Wexner Heritage Foundation leadership training program to the Bay Area and showered support upon youth trips to Israel and local day schools.
“The watchword of both Janet and Al Schultz was to enhance and maintain Jewish life and ensure Jewish continuity,” said Phyllis Cook, executive director of the JCEF.
After Miriam’s death in 1994, the Schultzes established the Miriam Schultz Grunfeld Scholarship Fund at Jewish Family and Children’s Services, which awards higher education scholarships to local young people.
The couple lived on the Peninsula until moving to San Francisco about a decade ago. Up until her December stroke, and even afterward, Janet Schultz was living an active and intellectually stimulating life. She and her husband attended numerous musical and theatrical performances; she insisted niece Deana Freedman call her whenever the two saw the same play at ACT so they could deconstruct it.
“At age 94, we were still discussing books and movies,” said Grunfeld. “If she told me to go to Movie A and not B, she was always right.”
Grunfeld once asked Janet Schultz how much money she and her husband had given away. She replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care. All I know is I give to what I think is important.”
“They weren’t keeping track,” Grunfeld added. “What they were focused on was the future, where there was a need and how they could help.”
Janet Schultz is survived by her husband of 72 years, Albert of San Francisco, daughter Phyllis Hatfield of Seattle, as well as many nieces and nephews. Contributions in her memory can be sent to the Miriam Schultz Grunfeld Scholarship Fund at the JFCS, 2150 Post St., S.F., CA 94115.