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updated: 3/14/2014 5:24 AM

Veteran's birthday idea turns into $150,000 gift to comrades

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  • Instead of gifts, Bill Schumann asked the nearly 250 guests at his 65th birthday celebration last Friday to bring donations to the Homeless Veterans Shelter in downtown Wheaton. He matched the donations, which totaled nearly $30,000. And the new total led to yet another big match.

       Instead of gifts, Bill Schumann asked the nearly 250 guests at his 65th birthday celebration last Friday to bring donations to the Homeless Veterans Shelter in downtown Wheaton. He matched the donations, which totaled nearly $30,000. And the new total led to yet another big match.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Bill Schumann of Wheaton receives a gift from Pam Kostecki, executive director of the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans, during his 65th birthday celebration at the Hilton Lisle last Friday.

      Bill Schumann of Wheaton receives a gift from Pam Kostecki, executive director of the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans, during his 65th birthday celebration at the Hilton Lisle last Friday.
    Courtesy of Kim Johnson

  • Bill Schumann, right, in his Army days, is shown after giving a speech for a Fort Knox basic training graduation ceremony in January 1972.

      Bill Schumann, right, in his Army days, is shown after giving a speech for a Fort Knox basic training graduation ceremony in January 1972.
    Courtesy of Bill Schumann

 
 

Bill Schumann was pretty down about turning 65 this month, so he decided to throw a party to raise his spirits.

It worked. But it wasn't because of cake and presents.

Schumann, a longtime Wheaton resident and businessman, started the ball rolling on what turned into a $150,000 gift for struggling veterans.

He asked the nearly 250 guests at his birthday bash not to bring presents but instead to give to the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans in Wheaton.

They came through in spades, donating nearly $30,000. And Schumann, an Army veteran himself, fulfilled a pledge to match the donations.

"It took all the negative of turning 65 off my plate and turned it into a positive force for the community," he said.

The giving didn't stop there.

Before Schumann's party, an anonymous World War II veteran pledged $75,000 to the shelter if it raised the same amount.

Executive Director Pamela Kostecki said the shelter set the goal of raising the money by this month, but it had raised only $15,000. The $60,000 brought in at Schumann's gathering, however, brings the home right up to its goal.

"We're very, very grateful for his generosity, and it really couldn't have come at a better time," Kostecki said.

The shelter at 119 N. West St. serves homeless and low-income veterans by providing them with a place to live and support services, such as substance abuse counseling and job training, that lead to self-sufficiency.

Kostecki said the proceeds from Schumann's party will not only help with ongoing operations but will allow the shelter to launch a new affordable housing project for female veterans.

"We couldn't be more delighted at the outcome," she said, adding that the shelter hopes to open the center for females by Memorial Day. "We're really thankful he helped the community see the significance of our program and shared his birthday and generosity with us."

The shelter has only one unit dedicated to women. The hope is to purchase a home in the near future that would include three units for female veterans, Kostecki said.

"We've kind of seen the need for these services over time," she said, adding that the shelter has had as many as eight women on a waiting list for the single unit.

Rent for the shelter's current affordable housing is $500 a month, which includes clinical and case management services and a sober living environment.

Schumann says he feels very fortunate he did not have to go to Vietnam while serving in the Army. He sympathizes, though, with the many combat veterans his age who have faced mental health and addiction issues since returning home.

That, coupled with the deaths of several young local service members -- including Nicholas Larson, who was killed in Iraq in 2004, and Kevin Landeck, who died in Iraq in 2007 -- drove Schumann to start making monthly contributions to the shelter.

"It just discourages me that these fine, young men and women who had served us were in such difficult straits," he said.

Still, Schumann wanted to do more. He didn't realize getting older would be the solution.

"This is a big deal," he said of the money raised at his party. "This is the way the private sector ought to be going."

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