A $1.2 million giveaway for girls in need

Thursday, July 30, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

I think she looks like her father. It's the eyes. Direct gaze, almond shaped. Kind. Intelligent.

They were traveling together in France when she was killed in an automobile accident at the age of 19. He established a trust fund in her name, and I wonder how much its terms had to do with what they talked about on the trip. Or at the dinner table. Maybe they spent more time together because she'd already lost her mother.

Maybe she was persuasive. Maybe he was just visionary.

In 1907, Jacob Schmidlapp set aside $200,000 for a fund to honor his daughter's memory. Today the assets are worth more than $30 million, and this year Fifth Third Bank, which manages the fund, will give away $1.2 million. The Charlotte R. Schmidlapp Fund is remarkably progressive, its consequences imposing.

This man, a banker, purposely left a lot to interpretation. "The net income shall be used in aiding young girls in the preparation for womanhood, by bringing their minds and hearts under the influence of education, relieving their bodies from disease, suffering or constraint and assisting them to establish themselves in life."

Scholarships in math and science, job training, housing, child care, medical research, scouting, the arts -- nearly every facet of a woman's life has been enriched by his instructions to trustees to "discharge your responsibility with wisdom, with broad-minded earnestness."

Old money, new problems

Lawra Baumann, the bank's foundation officer, and the other members of the distribution committee are taking Mr. Schmidlapp at his word. They are asking for proposals from any 501-(C)-(3) organization in Greater Cincinnati "offering opportunities for girls to explore, learn and become confident of their capabilities as young women."

They are looking for solutions to problems Jacob Schmidlapp never dreamed girls would have. An epidemic of teen-age pregnancies. Girls committing violent crime. Women as the head of the household.

"His instructions encouraged experimentation and adaptation, and we have been studying needs over the past year," Ms. Baumann says. A 1997 City of Cincinnati Youth Services study found that most of the funding in our area goes to disease and rehabilitation.

"We are looking for programs that emphasize prevention and intervention," she says, "especially for girls 9 to 18. We're hoping to ferret out some smaller plans that need a boost." Details are available at 579-6034, and deadline for application is Aug. 14.

"How one is influenced to do charitable giving is difficult to say," Mr. Schmidlapp wrote. "It comes, as do most of our commendable accomplishments, by degrees." How many conversations with his daughter led to a plan 90 years later that might help a single mother moving from welfare to work?

I used to tell my father that he helped liberate France, but I helped liberate him. I said this, knowing that I wouldn't have been so free to shoot my mouth off if it weren't for him.

After her death in 1906, Charlotte Rose Schmidlapp was described by a schoolmate: "She is as much a personality to me now as she was the last time I saw her, and I shall always feel her presence."

Thanks to her father, so will we.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com