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THE MAN BEHIND THE SCHAHCT FINE ARTS CENTER

In 1966 — the celebratory 50th anniversary year of Russell Sage College— President Froman approved construction of performance space for the College’s expanding fine arts activities, believing that “a facility for the performing arts is a necessary adjunct to a liberal arts program.”

 


Built on the corner of River and Division Streets at a cost of $1.25 million, the 18,000-
square foot building — which would be dedicated in 1968 as the Schacht Fine Arts
Center — included an art wing with an exhibition room, three studios, and classrooms
with elevated seats; a music wing with a chamber music hall, practice rooms and
faculty offices; a 1,400-seat theater with a balcony, proscenium stage, and workshop
areas for scenery and costumes under the auditorium; and a non-denominational
Meditation Chapel, which was considered a “novel feature of the building.”

 

Over the years, countless performances and exhibits, convocations and baccalaureates,
Class and Rally Days as well as the installations of the last four college presidents
have occurred in Schacht. Since 1992, the building has been home to the New York
State Theatre Institute, a partnership that has allowed Sage to develop thriving theatre and musical theatre programs. And the Meditation Chapel has been the site of many
marriages. But, just who was the building’s namesake, Elmer C. Schacht?

 

A graduate of the University of Michigan, Elmer Schacht (pronounced “shocked”) arrived in the Capital District in 1925. He worked his way from production manager to president and CEO of Behr-Manning Company while actively supporting many local institutions. (In addition to 30 years on Sage’s Board of Trustees, he was involved with Albany Medical College and Troy’s City Planning Commission and was a founder of the United Community Services, including the United Fund.)

 

On the College’s Board of Trustees from 1937 to 1967, Schacht served as secretary and vice-chairman for many of those years, while also leading fundraising committees for the new library, the science building, and the Second Half Century Capital Funds Drive. His generosity to the College over that time is impossible to adequately recognize. From a phonograph for the student center to a painting for the new Kellas Hall, from furniture, carpets and books, to the Katherine Schacht (Kay’s) Memorial Garden on the corner of First and Ferry Streets, Schacht endeared himself to the Sage community. His gift of $750,000 toward the construction of the Fine Arts Center in November 1966 was the largest single gift to the College up to that time.

 

On April 23, 1968, the Schacht Fine Arts Center was dedicated with a morning ceremony and concert for the college community and an evening concert for both the College and Troy communities. Alice and Arthur Nagle, well-known duo-pianists, performed and Elmer Schacht was present for the dedication. Students especially appreciated the terraced seats in the art classroom so that everyone could see the slides (An article in The Quill quipped, “That may not sound exciting to you, but if you’ve ever had art history in the basement of Science Hall . . . ”)

 

In its first year, the Schacht Fine Arts Center hosted several art exhibits, a film series, and a joint folk concert with the glee clubs of Russell Sage and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, as well as the Northeast Intercollegiate Nursing Conference. Carl B. Stokes, first African-American mayor of Cleveland, spoke during Student Government Week. Dr. Nancy G. Roman, Chief of Astronomy for NASA, spoke about the Apollo 8 and 9 flights and mezzo-soprano Carol Randles gave a recital. In 1971, RSC bestowed upon Elmer Schacht the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters. The citation echoes Mrs. Sage’s own philosophy, stating, “Your belief that each individual has an obligation to voluntarily subscribe a portion of his time and capabilities to community causes and institutions is something that we all applaud.” After an interview with Schacht in April 1977, a student wrote for The Quill, “His distinguished, yet friendly air bespoke a man who has done a lot to further education at Russell Sage College . . . . [H]e was one of the greatest guys I have ever met.”

 

Sage Archivist Aggie Stillman answers questions of interest to RSC alumnae. Write “Ask Aggie” at stilla@sage.edu or Connections, Office of Communications, The Sage Colleges, 45 Ferry Street, Troy NY 12180