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His Family Returns to Remember Co-op’s “Co-optimistic” Founder

The man who founded co-op at UC in 1906, Herman Schneider, was universally known as “the Dean” to colleagues, students and – as it turns out – even to his own family.

Date: 4/11/2006 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824

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Ben Schneider, great-nephew of Herman Schneider who founded the practice of cooperative education, recalls his earliest meeting with “Uncle Herman.”

Herman Schneider

“It was in the 1930s, and my father and I came to the university to visit ‘the Dean’ in his office. Yes, even we in the family called him ‘the Dean,’ referring to Uncle Herman’s role as dean of the engineering college,” Ben recollected, adding, “He’s a folklore figure in our family and certainly the most famous member of the family.”

Regarding that first time meeting with Dean Schneider, Ben said, “I was about 12 years old, and the dean decided to teach me Einstein’s Theory of Relativity right then and there as we sat in his office. He went to a blackboard and drew all over the board. It was all nothing but squiggles to me. I understood absolutely none of it, but I was honored that he thought that I would!”

Very soon, Ben will again visit campus – traveling from his home in Appleton, Wis. – for the April 24-25 celebratory events that are part of the University of Cincinnati’s year-long centennial celebration of co-op. Accompanying him will be his wife, Mackay, along with their son, Ben – traveling from Chicago – and their daughter, Devon Knight – traveling from Vancouver, Canada. In addition, Ben's brother, David -- another great-newphew of Herman Schneider, will travel from Washington, N.C., to participate in events.

The family will be part of a number of co-op related events on campus. These events include

Herman, at far left, with his wife, Louis Bosworth Schneider, and his in-laws in 1904.

This visit to campus by Ben won’t mark the first time he’s returned since his first visit at the age of 12. Ben actually taught here for a time – and met his wife here.

“I taught English at UC for one year, 1947-48, while I was earning my Ph.D. At the time, I wanted a short-term appointment to teach to see if I liked the profession. You might say it was my own personal co-op,” Ben laughed, adding, “And I guess I had no trouble getting the post since I was not only connected to Herman Schneider, but my aunt, Nancy Schneider, was secretary to the UC president of the time.”

However, his first class didn’t quite go as planned. Ben had prepared materials for a 60-minute lecture but found that he was so nervous to be standing up in front of a class full of students that he raced through the material, such that the 60-minute class was over in 20 minutes.

However, the year wasn’t all bad. He met and was courting his wife, Mackay, at the time – only to find that she and her family also knew “the Dean.”

According to Mackay, her own father was a great admirer of Herman Schneider and even dedicated a book to the dean. She explained, “My father was a doctor, and in 1931, he wrote a book called Industrial Hygiene for Engineers and Managers. If you open to the front of the book, the dedication reads: To Herman Schneider, an extender of horizons in engineering education, dean of the College of Engineering and Commerce.”

She added, “Of course, I was just six years old when he wrote that book. We had no idea at the time that my family and the Schneiders would one day be related, but I think it just shows how far Dean Schneider’s influence did reach.”

That influence reached and touched many. For instance, an account written at the time of Herman Schneider’s funeral in 1939 related how – at that funeral – “an old woman came to take a last look at the dean, saying, ‘I want to see the man who educated my son.’”

A fitting epitaph for the dean, but – truth to tell – it’s one that might have surprised the family of the young Herman Schneider. Because, it seems, there was a time during Herman’s youth when the family wondered just how he would turn out. As Ben Schneider tells it, Herman appeared to be almost shiftless after graduating with an engineering degree from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

Ben said, “The summer after Uncle Herman graduated from Lehigh, they say he did absolutely nothing but sit in a rocker on the porch of the family home. Everyone shook their head at that and was asking, ‘What will this guy amount to?’”

Ben has his own theory as to what his great-uncle might have been doing while sitting in that rocker: “I think maybe, even then, he was cogitating about co-op.”

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