When LCCVI heard it was receiving a $300,000 donation for the music department from a Burlington couple they were stunned and surprised.
But Rosanne Orcutt, who is a member of the parent council, was also curious. Who was Otto Bernhard Herbert Schuldt and why was he giving the school so much money? So, she began to dig for clues.
As she did, word came that three other organizations, The Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Foundation, the Petrolia Library and St. Andrew’s Church were also gifted $300,000.
Still, no one was really sure of the mystery donor’s identity and tie to the community. Darlene Coke, the head of libraries for Lambton County, had employees at the archives look for clues. They even reached out to archivists in Burlington and the historical society in Halton to try to figure out the link. “It has been a mystery, it’s a mystery we’re trying to solve.”
Orcutt’s curiosity grew, too. “We cannot not know who this person is,” she says.
The key came when someone remembered Schuldt’s wife, the former Kathleen Cunningham. She grew up in Petrolia. Her family ran Cunningham Meats in the downtown. She went to LCCVI and she was a member of St. Andrew’s Church.
The young woman loved music, according to her friend, Mary Jean Gardiner. After high school, she took a year off, took organ lessons, and played for St. Andrews on Sundays. “I remember one time, we were having an anniversary and St. Andrews brought a soloist up from Toronto and she accompany him, she was pretty nervous about it but excited,” says Gardiner.
Gardiner remembers her as a fun-loving young woman who “was the type of girl any mother would just love to have.”
After a year at home, Kathleen Cunningham set off to see the world and worked in Europe for a while. When she returned, she went to the Hamilton area to become a teacher. She met her husband, Otto, there. Gardiner, who reconnected with her childhood friend at a teacher’s convention, says they lived in a small bungalow in Burlington, enjoying music and tending their gardens. The never had a family of their own.
So Gardiner, like those who received the cash, was stunned by the donations. “I was very surprised, I visited their home it was very plain, a nice little family bungalow, I had no idea they had accumulated that kind of money.”
The donations can all be connected to Kathleen’s past. St. Andrew’s Church- where she played the organ – received $300,000 to make sure the rare organ is maintained. Bob Newman says the organ – which dates back to 1903 – is in very good shape. Some of the money will be used for upkeep of the historic building on Queen Street.
“It ensures we will be able to maintain our building for a long time; it takes away the worry about the ongoing care especially of the outside structure of the building… it was built in the late 1800’s…and we want to maintain and keep them as long as we can, this will certainly help do it.”
The Library donation is to be used to help the children of Petrolia who use the library – Cunningham Schuldt was a teacher. Coke says the library is consulting with the Town of Petrolia and the library users to see how the money should be used.
Owen Byers, the chair of the CEEH Foundation says the bequest is welcome. The hospital is planning a major upgrade and the town will have to contribute heavily for equipment.
Cunningham-Schuldt loved music, therefore the money to the LCCVI music department. Principal Greg Nemcek says the department has already used some of the money to buy new instruments at a cost of about $92,000.
The old instruments may become part of a co-op program to introduce instrumental music to elementary school students in Lambton.
Nemcek says the school is carefully considering what else could be done in the music department with the bequest – some of it will go into music scholarships.
Orcutt, who is glad the donors are no longer strangers, hopes LCCVI names the music room after Kathleen Cunningham Schuldt. “I think that is a simple recognition of the gift that will be there for years to come.”