June 27, 2017
Remembering Martin Schwartz, Hoosier Humanities Hero, 1917–2017

Indiana has been blessed with a number of business leaders who have been strong cultural stewards.

At the top of the list, of course, is Eli Lilly—founder of Lilly Endowment Inc. and supporter of organizations such as Conner Prairie, the Indiana Historical Society and Indiana Landmarks There’s also J. Irwin Miller, who as head of Columbus’s Cummins Engine Company was responsible for turning his town into a mecca of modern architecture.

At Indiana Humanities, we have our own cultural champion: Martin Schwartz of Muncie.

We were saddened to learn last week that Mr. Schwartz died on June 20 in his beloved hometown at the age of 100. But as we remember his dedication to our organization and read about his service to other civic and religious groups, we’re reminded of just how lucky Indiana has been to call him one of our own.

Mr. Schwartz’s life was an American success story, and his century of living coincided with one of the greatest periods of our nation’s history. Born to Lithuanian immigrants, Mr. Schwartz grew up attending the Muncie public schools, graduating from high school at the height of the Great Depression. Upon earning a degree from Harvard College in 1938, he returned to Muncie to work at his family’s business, the Schwartz Paper Company. After service in World War II (as an administrator in Washington and an officer in England), he came back home for good in 1946.

Many people would have been absorbed by the challenges of running the family operation, but as Mr. Schwartz’s obituary points out, “the intellectual, civic, and religious activities that he pursued throughout his life were at least as important to him as his business dealings.”

Mr. Schwartz was committed to his religion and contributed significantly to the Jewish community and Jewish causes, especially educational programs and scholarships. He was a big supporter of his city’s cultural institutions, including the library, civic theater and symphony.

And to our good fortune, in 1972 he became involved with what was then known as the Indiana Committee for the Humanities.

The late Virginia Ball, a fellow Muncie resident, had helped to found the committee, and as she and her colleagues were looking to grow the board, Mr. Schwartz no doubt seemed a strong fit. As a Harvard alumnus (and with a master’s degree from Ball State), he certainly had a strong academic pedigree, but as a businessman he also saw the value that the humanities could bring to the community at large.

“I have always been committed to the idea that learning is not a subject for the ivy halls,” he once told an interviewer. “That there is a public dimension in education which many academics [deny]. . . . And that has sort of been . . . a background accompaniment to all my interests in the humanities. That this is really a viable, significant part of American life.”

Mr. Schwartz continued to support the ideals of public humanities during his tenure at Indiana Humanities in the 1970s, including his service as board chairman. After working to ensure our success in the formative years of our organization, he turned his sights to the national stage. In the late 1970s he helped to found the Federation of State Humanities Councils, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the 56 state and territorial councils and serves as a vehicle for exchanging information, ideas and expertise.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Schwartz and his wife demonstrated their ongoing commitment to the humanities by donating funds to the Federation in order to establish the Helen and Martin Schwartz Prize. The annual award recognizes and promotes excellence in public humanities programming, and Indiana Humanities is proud that we’ve received the honor twice.

Over the years Mr. Schwartz continued to support Indiana Humanities and the other civic causes that were important to him, and he was committed to having a positive impact wherever he went. His obituary points out that “in introspective moments, he confided in people close to him that he wanted to leave behind a legacy. He succeeded in that goal—and the world is profoundly better for it.”

We at Indiana Humanities couldn’t agree more. As we carry out the important work of encouraging the people of our state to think, read and talk, we realize that we’re able to do so in large part because Mr. Schwartz built such a strong foundation. We’re grateful for his dedication and service, and we’re proud to hold up Marty Schwartz as our example of the ideal Hoosier hero.

For more information about Mr. Schwartz’s life, we encourage you to read his beautifully written obituary. Per the family’s request, memorials may be made to Temple Beth El at 525 W. Jackson St., Muncie, IN 47305, or to Indiana Humanities.

"Do [the humanities] help to make a better society? Yes. Is that important for all citizens in this terrible, rough environment that a lot of us are living in and raising our children and grandchildren in? Yes. Vital, important. . . . The long-term effects are infinitely more important to what kind of society we’re living in and going to live in.”—Martin Schwartz
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