UO alum and friend Gilbert Schnitzer dies at age 93

Gilbert Schnitzer: 1918–2012 

Exceptionally gracious, kind, and generous—that’s how Brad Foley, dean of the University of Oregon School of Music, described Gilbert Schnitzer ’40, who died on Nov. 18, 2012 in San Francisco. He was 93.

“Our hearts go out to Gilbert’s family,” Foley said. “We are forever grateful for his belief in what our school does for the future of music in Oregon and for making it possible for our students to receive a great education. Gilbert and his family have made a huge difference everywhere they have lived through their incredible support of the arts and medicine.”

In 2006, Gilbert and his beloved wife Thelma, also a UO graduate, added $1 million to a previous gift of $250,000 to put fundraising over the top for a major expansion of the university’s music facilities.

At the time, Gilbert said the gift, which named the Thelma Schnitzer Performance Wing, was a tribute to his “lifelong love affair” with his wife. The wing, part of what is now the MarAbel B. Frohnmayer Music Building, includes Thelma Schnitzer Hall, a rehearsal and performance venue for the UO's choral programs. The couple also enabled the UO to purchase two new Steinway pianos.

Gilbert and Thelma married before their junior year at the University of Oregon and graduated in 1940. His degree was in business and hers in music. Thelma, a gifted pianist, had transferred to the UO from the University of Washington.

Both were just fifteen when their love story began with Gilbert spotting Thelma Steinberg from the window of his father’s downtown office in Portland, Oregon. She was walking to a piano lesson. In an interview, Gilbert reported that he lost no time finding a way to invite her to dancing lessons.

After graduating from the university, Gilbert started his remarkable business career in Portland by founding with his brothers and becoming general manager of Industrial Air Products Co. That business went public in 1968, sold in 1969, and still operates successfully around the world today.

World War II interrupted Gilbert’s business career. He served with the First Infantry Division in Europe and spent 37 days in a foxhole in the Battle of the Bulge. He said that experience caused him to treasure life and always delight in it at every moment.

Upon his discharge in 1946, he returned to Oregon where he resumed his career and community involvement while always making his family his highest priority. Together with his brothers, he took the business started by their father and grew it into multiple businesses, most of which are still thriving today and employ thousands of people.

He is survived by Thelma and their two children Gary Schnitzer (Sandra Wilder) and Deborah Novack (Kenneth); four grandchildren Andrea Schnitzer; Gregory Schnitzer; Melanie Piziali, and Kevin Novack and six great grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister, Molly Levin.

A service remembering his life will take place at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 21, at Temple Beth Israel, 1972 S.W. Flanders Street, in Portland.