By Deb Peterson
When you ask Josée Schliemann how and where she learned to be so generous, she looks puzzled.
“Barney asked me the same question,” she says, “and I didn’t have an answer for him either.”
Barney Larry is the executive director of the Baxter Regional Hospital Foundation. The foundation has been the recipient of many of Josée’s generous financial gifts, but the hospital wasn’t first on Josée’s gift list. Ed Coulter, former chancellor of Arkansas State University-Mountain Home, was the first person to put Josée’s name above a door.
“Josée helped us when we were first getting started,” says Ed. “We needed a learning lab, and she helped us create the Schliemann Learning Center on campus. Then she made another major, major gift to the university for the Schliemann Conference Room in Gotaas Hall, the health sciences building on campus. We love her. She makes people happy.”
When you ask Josée about her early years, it becomes quite clear where her generous spirit comes from. She grew up in Brussels, Belgium. Her father left her mother, Josephine, when Josée was just 7, and the two moved in with Josée’s maternal grandmother, an aunt, and two uncles who ran a corner grocery store.
“I can remember having no money at all,” Josée says. “I remember my mom scraping by. It was only through the charity of her family that we had a roof over our heads.”
Josée was 18 and working as a secretary, taking shorthand and typing in French, during World War II. She gave every check to her mother and received a small allowance for herself. Like most young women at the time, she was captivated by the young soldiers in town. She married an American GI in 1946. While her new husband was still on active duty, the U.S. government sent Josée and 200 other war brides to Paris and then to the port in Le Havre where they boarded a Holland America cruise ship that had been converted into a troop ship for the war.
She had just turned 19 when she arrived in the United States alone and with $50 in her pocketbook. She waited on board the ship for three days for her husband’s family to collect her and take her home to rural Illinois, where the city girl found no utilities. When her marriage dissolved after seven years, Josée headed for St. Louis. She spoke five languages—French, English, German, Flemish, and Portuguese. It wasn’t difficult for her to find a good job in the city, and she went to work for Anheuser-Busch as a secretary.
“I had to learn shorthand in English,” she says of those early days in St. Louis. There, she met Frank Schliemann, who would become her husband. He worked for Ralston Purina. Both companies had savings plans for employees, and Josée and Frank each put $60 into their accounts every month. Whenever they could afford to buy three shares of Purina stock, they did, and the company added one additional share. They did the same at Anheuser-Busch.
The couple was married for 40 years and never touched their savings plans or stocks. In 1979, they retired to Oakland. Josée was just 52 and full of life. She fished often with Glenn Roberts, who was known for catching huge stripers. She and Frank were regulars at the community center in Oakland, where they became friends with Gerry Bluemlein.
“She was feeding the cats,” remembers Gerry, who was president of the Oakland Area Improvement Association for 19 years. The group built the city’s post office, fire department, and library, played bingo Saturday nights, and created Christmas Day baskets for residents.
Over the years, Josée busied herself in a little trailer next to the house painting sweatshirts and bird houses while listening to the radio. One day in 1987, she heard the stock market was falling. She went to talk to Frank.
“We should sell something,” she said, “but don’t sell my Anheuser-Busch.”
Frank said, “Don’t sell my Purina.” So they kept it all and the market eventually went back up.
Josée lost Frank in 1998. A few years later, when Nestlé bought Purina, the company paid cash for all Purina shares, and Josée went to see her tax man.
“He talked to me about a charitable remainder trust,” Josée says. It was good timing for Ed Coulter. Josée was able to share her money with the university, get a tax break, and receive some income every month for the rest of her life. Win, win, win.
By that time, Josée had become close friends with Dr. Mary Wren, whose father was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease at the same time as Frank. The two shared important conversations. Mary was passionate about opening a women’s center at the hospital. She invited Josée to serve on the board of directors and help get the project started.
“Gerry and I had just started keeping company,” Josée remembers. “I said, ‘I don’t know anything about business,’ but Gerry said I should take it, do it.”
It was the beginning of a relationship with the hospital that has grown closer and more affectionate over the years. When Josée received another large stock buyout when Anheuser-Busch was purchased by InBev, it was easy for her to decide what to do with her money. She endowed the Schliemann Center for Women’s Health Education, allowing the foundation to make beautiful updates and additions to the community house and create a gorgeous garden surrounding it.
Jaren Beavers is the current coordinator at SCWHE, where classes and support groups focus on education for women and girls regarding babysitting, breastfeeding, childbirth, menopause, nutrition, wellness, and heart health. The center offers programs such as Girls’ Night Out, Golden Girls’ Day Out, Teen Girls Go to College, Working Women in the Know, and Schliemann Learning Sessions.
Josée is 88 now. She still serves on the SCWHE advisory board.
“Gerry and I are getting old,” she says. “We needed to sell the house on the lake in Oakland.”
The task seemed daunting. Close friend Estella Tullgren stepped up to help. She’s the planned giving officer at the foundation, and she helped Josée create two charitable gift annuities.
“I gifted my house to the foundation,” Josée said. “Estella helped me move 30 years worth of stuff out of there.” She gave much of it away.
“They always think of their community,” Estella says. “Josée has created a legacy that will live on and on.”
Her gift helped the hospital build Josée’s Nursery in the Women & Newborn Care Center, a state-of-the-art facility with 10 labor and delivery rooms, decorated by Lori Kauffman.
“It’s calm and soothing,” Josée says, “with beautiful photos on the walls of the babies of all of the nurses.”
She and Gerry also purchased a Building Block for Babies that reads: To the children of Baxter County from Josée and Gerry.
Listening to Josée talk about the nursery, it’s clear how pleased she is to have had the opportunity to help create it. She doesn’t have children of her own, but she and Frank raised his four children together—Barbara Nagel of St. Louis, Bill Schliemann of Houston, Marge Dale of Galveston, and Dan Schliemann of St. Louis. She has lot of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Josée may not realize where her generosity comes from, but she has definitely embraced the quality and exercises it in small ways, too.
“I like to give. I’m a generous tipper,” Josée says. “It makes me happy to see people smiling and happy.”
“Josée is an angel on earth,” says Ed Coulter. “She is sweetness and light.” M! December 2015/January 2016