The world looked remarkably different in 1918. The United States only just got involved in World War I. Dixieland jazz enjoyed radio play for the first time. Woodrow Wilson lived in the White House and Montana elected the first female congressman in U.S. history. It was to this world that Betty Frank was born, one of conflict and change, but the coming century treated her well. She was talented dancer and with looks enough to model through college and talent enough to tap at the RKO on Broadway. She went to college and got her “Mrs.”—the ambition of the day. She met an Ohio State football player from West Virginin, an All American named Alex Schoenbaum, on the first day of school and would follow him back to Charleston. There, he started a little restaurant that turned into a very big restaurant chain. If the name Schoenbaum never rang bell for you before you came to Sarasota, the name Shoney’s likely did and still does. But when the mortal world bid adieu to Betty Schoenbaum in July, she wasn’t just remembered for her looks, her luck or her fortune. Ohio remembered her as the benefactor behind critical scholarship funds. Flowers were laid in Charleston at sporting venues and performing arts halls bearing her name. And in Sarasota, the nonprofit world and the legions of people served here remembered the generosity and the capacity of a woman dedicated to helping the underprivileged better navigate the challenges of life.


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Suncoast Sweetheart


Alex Schoenbaum was in his early 30s by the time he opened his first restaurant, a drive-in called Parkette in the city of Charleston. Within five years, the company took the name Shoney’s and Schoenbaum invested in franchising and naming rights. The business went public in 1971 and by 1984 had become the largest regional franchise in the nation. But he also developed other brands with varying level of regional appeal—Captain D’s, Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken, Fifth Quarter Steakhouse. As Alex amassed a fortune, Betty raised a family. The couple had four children coming up through the West Virginia school system. “He thought men took care of business and women took care of the home,” she once explained to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The Schoenbaums set up scholarships at
their shared alma mater, but he handled all the accounting.

As the children grew, the couple started to winter in Sarasota. But Betty wanted to start giving back. She devoted her life to giving back. It started with some standard gifting to organizations that meant something to the family. In West Virginia, she supported public projects like the Haddad Riverfront Park public stage. She bought a new pool for the YMCA and a library for the University of Charleston.

Meanwhile in Sarasota, her close friend Kay Glasser had an idea with the potential to revolutionize social services in the region. Glasser knew the difficulties faced by families relying on social services, people often too poor to have reliable transportation, in traveling all around town to take advantage of a number of programs. But what if they didn’t need to? How much more efficient would it be to house agencies on a single campus? A one-stop-shop for families that needed job counseling, day care and housing assistance would be able to take care of multiple tasks in an hour that might otherwise take all day. Through her own volunteer work, she helped bridge private philanthropy and public sector partners.

In 1988, she started to pitch to partners. A new center, Glasser said, would “provide accessible and affordable service to low income people” and at the same time “save agencies operational dollars so that they would have more resources for services.”

But she still needed seed money. That’s where the Schoenbaums stepped in. And in 1990, the Glasser/Schoenbaum Center was born. Phil King, who would become executive director of the center years later, began volunteering at the Glasser/Schoenbaum in the mid-90s and recalls working with both of the center’s namesakes. Glasser, he recalls saw unending good that could come from the facility. “She was very proud about providing opportunities for the underprivileged,” King says. “The number one thing for her was that she learned the power of giving back.”

Schoenbaum for her part felt the reward simply serving as a benefactor at first. But after Alex died in 1996, she ended up taking a heightened role in philanthropy. “I was thrust into a world I’d never been involved in before,” she told the Gazette-Mail. “I had to find out about charitable remainder unified trusts and annuity trusts and all these things you have
to set up to protect your holdings.”

For many years, she remained content to provide the center money as she mastered keeping her own books. Glasser acted as head of the board at Glasser/Schoenbaum while King ran day-to-day operations. The facilities continued to grow; King recalls Glasser’s particular excitement at the opening of a children’s clinic. But then in 2010, Glasser, too, passed away. King says that as long as Glasser remained the face of the center, Schoenbaum felt content to be just a name on a plaque. But when she remained the last person standing from the formation of the Glasser/Schoenbaum relationship, Schoenbaum suddenly felt the call to become more involved. Even in her 90s, she took an active role in the board of directors, helping with fundraising drives and administrative hires.

That continued even after Schoenbaum turned 100 years old. Last year, the center held a fundraiser around intergenerational recruitment, and Schoenbaum served as a co-chair for the event along with King and Cumberland Advisors’ Gabriel Hament. By that point, Kameron Hodgens had taken over as CEO of the center. Organizers liked to note that Schoenbaum at 100, King at 70, Hodgens at 39 and Hament at 25 represented respectively the World War II generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millenials. “This kind of reinventing of our supporters is very important,” says Hodgens. “We can’t sustain ourselves
on aging databases.”

And while those actions aimed to create a sense of sustainability, the center in many ways had already proven its vitality could outlive its founders. The December gala would be the last one in which Schoenbaum held a chairing role. Seven months after proving the campus could continue with support from philanthropists 75 years her junior, Schoenbaum passed away.

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Spry and Cheerful


In those cases when a celebrity lives a full century before they die—those rare Bob Hopes or Gloria Stuarts—the news generally doesn’t shock. More often, for those who remember the players in their prime, there’s perhaps a surprise to know the notable in fact was still alive. For younger generations, there’s usually little connection to the news at all.

Yet when news broke that Schoenbaum passed away, it rattled the Sarasota community. It just seemed impossible the philanthropist’s personal work would ever stop. “She was attending meetings, campus potlucks and agency events right up to the end. Truly remarkable,” says Hodgens. “Towards the end of this past season, I was often worn out, but then I’d see Betty and think, if she can do it, so can I!”

King, who worked with Schoenbaum at the center for years, recalls visiting her at Sarasota Memorial even when her health started to fail. Undaunted, she kept making phone calls for capital campaigns. “If I could just have two more weeks, I could get this done,” Schoenbaum told King. 

The loss stung for King, who went from helping plan her 100-year birthday to a few months later helping to arrange a local memorial honoring her memory.

News of Schoenbaum’s death won front-page coverage in community newspapers everywhere she lived. Schoenbaum’s daughter Joann Miller told The Columbus Dispatch her mother loved giving and frequently said there were “no luggage racks on the hearse.” “She always said she had the most beautiful, privileged life, and she grew up in the most loving family,” Miller told the paper.

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Hament says while her giving should inspire the many wealthy people in Sarasota to follow an example of generosity, he was most struck with the intense work ethic that lasted in Schoenbaum her entire life. He couldn’t believe how spry she was even after living a century, and wonders if a life of good work had some role in that. “What she did was act as a role model that all generations could look up to, to believe philanthropy is an important part of Sarasota,” says Hament. “It was demonstrative of the fact that if you stay engaged in your community, your age means very little.”

And her legacy certainly will continue. The Glasser/Schoenbaum campus at the time of her death had grown large enough to house 17 health and social services agencies assisting low-income and at-risk adults, children and families. Over more than 28 years, an estimated $10 million in operating expenses has been saved by the organizations, which pay just $8.50 per square foot annually to rent space there. Those organizations in turn have assisted more than 45,500 clients each year. 

Both Glasser and Schoenbaum lived long enough to see the Center become an enduring institution. Hodgens says the deep involvement of Schoenbaum infused the culture there with friendliness and goodwill.

That type of human connection, Hodgens says, made Schoenbaum such a presence in the region. “Betty’s ability to connect with everyone—anyone—who had an opportunity to meet her was beyond admirable. She loved to know your story, what excites you, what motivates you, what makes you laugh,” Hodgens says. “She never stopped learning.”

Those at the center say the philanthropist’s presence won’t be forgotten soon. “She was larger than life and yet remembered as so accessible and kind,” says Christina Russi, a staff member at Glasser/Schoenbaum. “She knew how best to use all her wonderful years as a platform to inspire and motivate. Her humor helped to embrace all in her mission. She will be missed, but her lessons of caring and giving, of making every day count, will be remembered.”

But most important to Schoenbaum, King says, was the knowledge her work truly made a difference in the lives of those benefitting from the service. Regularly, some clients would use as many as five different social services located on the
single campus. That empowered many to rise out of poverty and to improve their
lives and those of their children.

King recalls that one of the nurses who cared for Schoenbaum at the hospital shortly before her death learned the patient’s name and let her know she’d gotten into nursing school thanks purely to workforce placement services at the Glasser/Schoenbaum Center and a scholarship she applied for there. That brought this woman from evenings sleeping in her car with her children to holding a professional job that paid well enough to feed and house the whole family.

“Knowing that made Betty very happy,” King says, noting that particular legacy would matter more to the philanthropic icon than having her name on the building. “When we speak of eternal life, most think we are talking about something in the next world,” she says. “But I think that she achieved eternal life in this life. She literally changed the world and made it better. The effect of her generosity and her life always had an impact. That’s just part of who she was and why she made a difference.”