Former Board of Trustee member Guy Schoenecker ’49, a philanthropist and a great friend to the university, died Tuesday at 89.
Schoenecker endowed the largest scholarship fund at St. Thomas, and as a result hundreds of students have received scholarships over more than two decades. Other contributions led to the construction of the old Schoenecker Arena (1981) and the new Schoenecker Arena (2010), which were named for his parents, on the St. Paul campus and Schoenecker Law Library (2003) in the School of Law on the Minneapolis campus. He was one of the founders of the Minneapolis campus, and a fresco portrait of him and his wife, Barbara, hangs in the atrium of Terrence Murphy Hall. He also supported programs in the Center for Catholic Studies and the installation of artificial turf on the south field.
“Guy was one of our most distinguished alumni,” President Julie Sullivan said. “He believed passionately in the value of a St. Thomas education because of his experiences here as a student, and he wanted to see others get the same opportunity that he had as a young man. He was a wise and thoughtful trustee, giving unselfishly of his time and providing invaluable advice as St. Thomas evolved from a men’s liberal arts college into a comprehensive university. We will miss him dearly. I am comforted to know that his legacy of active participation, astute questions and wise counsel will continue at St. Thomas through his daughter, Lisa’s, ongoing role as a member of our Board of Trustees.”
Schoenecker served on the St. Thomas Board of Trustees for 30 years (1978 to 2008), and today his daughter, Lisa Schoenecker Anderson, is a trustee. He was also a founding member of the School of Law’s Board of Governors in 2001 and served for 35 years on the board of the Catholic Digest, a monthly magazine that St. Thomas sold in 2002.
Schoenecker was the founding chairman of what now is called BI Worldwide – formerly known as Business Incentives – an Edina-based company that has 25 sales offices on five continents.
He acquired his business acumen in Eden Valley, a town of 800 people 70 miles west of the Twin Cities. His family owned a hardware and furniture store and three funeral homes, and he began helping his father in the funeral business at the age of 15. Working in the family business was his first lesson in the importance of serving customers: "In a small town, where everyone knows everyone, customer satisfaction is crucial," he told St. Thomas magazine.
As a St. Thomas undergraduate studying philosophy and political science, Schoenecker sold diamond engagement rings to veterans returning to the St. Thomas campus after World War II. But as he prepared to graduate from St. Thomas, he did not know what his future would hold, and he once recalled sitting in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas one rainy day praying for direction.
"At that point," he said, "I committed my future career to God. ‘Lord,’ I said, ‘I don’t pick up on subtlety too well. When you want me to make a change, give me a clear sign.’ In retrospect, that’s what’s happened in my life."
He read those signs, and they led to success. He founded Business Builders, which sold merchandise to businesses to use as incentive awards. His jewelry and furniture stores evolved into a consumer loyalty business in the 1950s, with frequent customers of supermarkets and gas stations earning dishes, pots and pans. In 1970, Schoenecker changed the name of his company from Business Builders to Business Incentives.
The importance of tithing
Schoenecker built the concept of tithing into BI’s budgeting process. In a St. Thomas magazine interview in 2000 he said his desire to tithe to St. Thomas stemmed from the many benefits he received as a student and the greatest gift he ever received – the love of his family.
“My family was extremely important to my image of myself and my security,” he said. “With parents and two sets of grandparents around, I always knew I was loved. That’s a tremendous gift that a lot of young kids don’t have today.”
“Guy was one of the most conscientious people I have known in my life,” said Father Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas from 1991-2013. “He got his start here at St. Thomas and he got his inspiration here, and he wanted to make a St. Thomas education possible for future generations. He was a lovely man who cared deeply for those around him.”
St. Thomas conferred a Doctor of Laws degree on Schoenecker in 2000, commending him for his insightfulness and leadership: “Throughout your life, you have insisted on setting – and achieving – the highest standards," the degree citation said. "You have been an important guide in St. Thomas’ own journey to quality, and we are grateful for your quiet steadfast counsel as we have grown from the small liberal arts college that you attended into the comprehensive regional university that has educated five of your children.”
He was recognized with accolades many times over the years. In addition to the Doctor of Laws degree, he received a St. Thomas Aquinas Medallion from the School of Law in 2009, the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1993 and the John F. Cade Award for entrepreneurship achievement in 1991. Twin Cities Business magazine named him to the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame in 2008, and he received a Leading With Faith Award from the Catholic Spirit in 2002.
One of Guy’s sons, Larry Schoenecker, president of BI, said in 2000 that his dad taught him that "the harder you work, the luckier you get. The people who work the hardest win. That’s been the key to my father’s – and our company’s – success."
The younger Schoenecker also said he admired his father’s belief in treating customers and employees well and empowering employees to resolve issues on their own and rewarding them for doing so.
Schoenecker is survived by his wife, Barbara; seven children; and nine grandchildren.
Visitation was from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 28, at Pax Christi Catholic Church, 12100 Pioneer Trail, Eden Prairie, and one hour before a Mass of Christian Burial at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, at the church.