Nifty at Ninety – Retrospective on the First 90 Years of George Warren Schomaker


Happy Birthday!!  Born January 27, 1924, Warren Schomaker is a great friend and an amazing man!  His wife Leslie, recently wrote an wonderful tribute detailing all that he has done in his life for others and especially for the World of White Mountain Art AND the town of Jackson, New Hampshire in his role as President of the Historical Society!  We LOVE you Warren!!

Warren 90-6 Warren 90-12

Warren 90-13 Warren 90-20

Roots
Warren is a pioneer born of pioneer stock.

His American great-grandfather, Tsonjes (Henry) Schoomacher, immigrated to the US from Germany through Ellis Island and became a citizen in 1876. His grandfather was a cooper (barrel maker) for Morton Salt in Chicago. He went west for Morton on one of the last wagon trains on the Oregon Trail.

Warren’s father, George Edward Schomaker, was born in 1885 in a covered wagon (his birth was later recorder in Seattle, Washington). He worked as an engineer for Automatic Electric (a maker of automatic telephone equipment) in Chicago. In 1912 he went to Australia to oversee the installation of the first dial telephone system in the southern hemisphere and second in the British Empire. He was the technical advisor for the installation of the Post Office of Australia’s first automatic telephone exchange (at Geelong) and subsequently was responsible for the installation of Sydney’s first automatic exchange in 1914. His obituary states “G.E. Schomaker is widely known as the grandfather of the Telecommunications Industry in Australia”. Besides working in Australia, Warren’s father also went to Cuba and Russia (before Australia) and later South Africa (1930-1931) to oversee telephone installations at a time (pre-airplane) when one traveled by slow boat and went for extended stays.

While working in Sydney, Warren’s father met his mother, Ivy Emma Hill, who was working as a telephone operator. They married  in 1914. She was born in Braidwood, Australia.

warren's parents

Warren was born January 27, 1924 at 7PM at the War Memorial Hospital in Sydney, his address was 247 Birrell Street, Sydney. He was the 4th child born to Ivy.

Warren has regrettably been unable to find any convicts in his Australian heritage, as that is now a badge of honor. His Australian great-grandfather was a Scottish seaman who off-loaded in Australia when his tour was over. His mother’s family settled in Braidwood, near Canberra. His grandfather was an architect and builder with several properties, including a small sheep station.

The Australian years
Warren grew up in Sydney and spent his summers on his grandfather’s sheep station. In his younger years he was responsible for tending to the “potty” lambs whose mothers had died. He attended Scotts College in Sydney. During the war years (WWII) he tried to enlist in both the Australian and American armies, but was rejected by both for health reasons. (In 1939 Warren had diphtheria and scarlet fever and was in a quarantine ward for several weeks. The antitoxin taken affected his kidneys and led to pyelitis.)

Warren left school in 1940 at aged 16 to work for Stromberg Carlson Australia, a company that was manufacturing radio equipment for the war effort. He studied mechanical engineering nights at Sydney Technical College while working for Stromberg.
At that time, to gain American citizenship one had to come to the US by aged 21. Warren sailed from Brisbane in 1945, while the war with Japan was still raging, on a cruise ship that had been converted to a troop ship – along with 6,000 soldiers, 2,000 war brides and six male civilians, one of whom was Warren. Barbed wire separated the troops from the war brides. He had $50 in his pocket.

The Stromberg (USA) years
After 2 weeks at sea, Warren landed in San Francisco and made his way to Rochester, NY, via Chicago, where he visited his American uncle. Arriving at Stromberg’s USA headquarters with an engineering background and letter of introduction to the chairman, Warren found the only work available was on the assembly line. With the war in Europe over, troops were demobilizing and jobs were scarce. He took his place on the factory floor, annoying other union workers because he worked too fast, and lived in a YMCA dormitory. After six months he was moved to the engineering department. Within a year, he became the chief engineer in charge of mechanical development of telephone apparatus. In 1947 Warren was awarded patent 2,607,833 for a telephone ringer that made better use of the internal magnets. Named “inventor” on the patent, Warren received $50 and Stromberg manufactured the equipment.

In 1948 Warren moved to sales and was given the territory of Tennessee, Kentucky and the southern half of Indiana. At that time there were 15,000 small independently owned rural telephone companies. High tech of the day was to convert from a manual switchboard to dial. Warren’s job was to sell telephone equipment. Stromberg had not traveled the territory in years and customers were largely beholden to Kellogg Switchboard & Supply Company of Chicago, a competitor. Warren left Rochester and moved to Seymour, Indiana. Travelling in Appalachia in the 1940′s in an old car on old roads was scary business. He would leave at the crack of dawn in order to return to civilization by dark. Since the natives couldn’t understand Warren’s Australian accent, he had to learn to speak “American”.

While in sales, Warren met Nancy Thompson, whose father managed the telephone company in Petersburg, Indiana and was Warren’s best customer. They married and had three children: Alan, Mary Ann and Chris.

After three years in sales, Warren returned to Rochester to work in Stromberg’s credit department, approving customer credit. After a year, he moved to Stromberg’s Credit Corp, an organization that loaned money to small telephone companies when banks would not. Stromberg sent field engineers to study the systems of companies wanting to borrow (usually to convert to dial) and Warren was the only salesman who could do his own engineering. A company could borrow 75% of their asset value after additions. The Credit Corp charged high interest rates and then sold equipment for full book value plus a premium. After a year as a field engineer, Warren became vice president of the Credit Corp, working for Phil Lucier.

Personal telephone acquisitions while at Stromberg 
In 1955 Warren made his first business investment, buying the telephone system in Melvin Village, NH from Marion Horner Robie, who was also the Post Mistress and owned the general store. The switchboard was in the store and was turned off at 9:00 PM. Warren commuted from Rochester to Melvin Village weekends (a 12 hour journey each way) and converted the system to dial. The bookkeeping and billing was done in his home in Rochester.

After his purchase of the Melvin Village system, Warren went on to buy telephone companies in Soderville, Minnesota, Keystone, South Dakota and Absoarkee, Montana, as well as Custer, South Dakota with other investors.
Utility Services was created with other investors, each of whom put up $200 for $1,000 in capital. They purchased small telephone companies in Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota. These purchases were made using leveraged buyouts long before the term was coined.

The Continental Telephone years
Stromberg was sold to General Dynamics. The new management’s interest was in defense contracts, not telephone operations. While still working for the Stromberg Credit Corp, Warren and Phil Lucier met Charles Wohlstetter in Alaska. Wohlstetter had invested in Trans Alaska Telephone, which was in trouble financially. When Warren and Lucier told Wohlstetter what they had done with Utility Services, Wohlstetter asked them to leave Stromberg to start Continental Telephone, a holding company of small, rural phone systems. Wohlstetter raised $5 million, which was the only capital put into Continental. Initial investors included E. F. Hutton, Allen & Co and Burnham & Co. Warren left Stromberg seven months before his pension was vested and Lucier, who had 11 children, stayed at Stromberg until he was vested. Warren and Lucier transferred the small systems they personally owned for Continental shares.

Warren moved to St Louis, where Continental was headquartered, and became vice president in charge of acquisitions. His first acquisition, the only one purchased for cash, was a mutual company in Millstadt, Illinois. Every phone owner was a shareholder, and he had to acquire the majority of shares. AT&T was also vying to purchase the system. Warren set up a card table on a corner by the local bank on payday. As people came to the bank to deposit their checks, he offered them cash for their telephone shares. When the bank manager saw the new money coming into his bank, he invited Warren to set up his card table inside the bank. In two days, Warren wrested majority ownership from AT&T. Future systems were largely purchased with Continental shares, which had no market value at the time. Within a year, they became viable with 50,000 telephones.

In 1963 Continental was ready to go public, but had to put the offering on hold due to the Cuban missile crisis. Six months later, it went public at $11/share. Continental was one of the youngest companies ever listed on the New York Stock Exchange at the time. It had over 300,000 telephones.

By 1966 Continental had acquired over 500 independent companies and had become the third largest independent telephone company in the US. It also acquired systems in Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, the Bahamas and several in Ontario and Quebec. Warren traveled around the country and the Caribbean in one of the company’s private jets. By 1969 it had 2.5 million telephones.

With personality dissension at top-level management and his marriage failing, Warren left Continental in 1969 with a golden parachute. The company later changed its name to Contel, was acquired by GTE and then by Verizon.

The London years
After leaving Continental, Warren moved to London with Nancy, his second wife and her two children, Teague and Kimberly. These were the high-life years. London was swinging in the ’70′s. Warren bought a 5-story regency house with walled garden off Belgrave Square, with Buckingham Palace just down the street. A Maltese couple lived in as cook and chauffeur of the Rolls Royce. They rented a country home near Kimberly’s horse. Annual trips were made to Australia to visit Warren’s parents, with stops in India, Iran or Afghanistan en route. Lord Mountbatten’s castle in Ireland was rented for holidays. Warren learned to ski at St Moritz. Yachts were chartered in the Mediterranean.

While in London, Nancy II’s father died, leaving her and her siblings an uninhabited sea island off the coast of South Carolina. After the island, Kiawah, was sold to a Kuwaiti investment company for a tidy sum, Nancy left Warren and London and moved to Boston with the man who later became her second husband.

Warren sold the regency house and bought a flat in Lennox Gardens, in Knightsbridge near Harrods. He owned property in London for 20 years. He also rented an apartment on Park Avenue and 59th Street in New York City and shuttled between London and the NY apartment.

Other businesses
In addition to his involvement in Continental, Warren acquired several small gas and water utilities in Virginia and West Virginia. He also acquired some cable TV companies before the days of satellites, when their antennas were needed in mountainous areas for off-air transmissions.

Warren invested in West Indies Securities, a Panamanian company, with others, eventually buying out his partners. They invested in a tree farm in Jamaica, a cattle operation in Australia, Braidwood Beef to process the cattle, several ocean front lots in the Grand Bahamas and St Lucia, and an office building in NYC on Broadway.

In the 1970′s Warren tried to emulate what he had done with rural telephone systems by starting Omni Cable TV. In the very early days of cable TV, the plan was to build systems in small towns and manage them through a holding company. Once built, cable systems are cash cows, however there is no revenue until they are built and they are very capital intensive. Carter was president and interest rates went up to 22%. Financing and system construction became impossible. The venture was a failure and incurred a significant financial loss.

The Kennebunkport years
While still involved in Omni, Warren met Leslie Wiltshire in 1979 on a blind date when she was visiting her parents in New York. After a year of shuttling between NYC and her home in Kennebunkport, Warren bought an old, 300-acre dilapidated farm in Kennebunk. Working together, they converted the house into a guest house and the barn into a baronial home with tapestries and antiques lugged back from London. When it became senseless to have two homes 10 miles apart, Warren sold the farm and moved to Leslie’s 1790′s home in Kennebunkport.

Leslie had owned restaurants with her former husband and was looking for any work other than in the restaurant business. Warren made it possible for her to get her MBA, and she studied finance and accounting. Since she had previously (in the 1960′s) been a computer programmer in the pre- DOS days, she was able to converse with salesmen selling the very earliest PC’s. Warren still owned gas and water utilities in West Virginia, but was unable to get timely financial reports from the local offices, where all bookkeeping was manual. Leslie taught herself how to use the new computers and the limited accounting software available. She computerized 5 water companies, 2 gas companies and 2 cable TV companies and did all their bookkeeping from her home in Kennebunkport. She also wrote the software to do the gas companies’ billing.

After Omni wound down and Warren gave the utilities to his sons, he was retired (again) and Leslie started Wiltshire Computer Management, where she computerized the accounting systems and did custom programming for businesses and non-profit organizations between Portland and Portsmouth and beyond.

With free time, Warren got involved with several local organizations. He was on the board of the Brick Store Museum, the local historical society. When they decided to computerize their books, Warren gave them the money to hire a consultant, ie Leslie. The Brick Store Museum became the first of many clients for Wiltshire Computer Management.

On the board of River Tree Arts, Warren was the first to give seed money to start a music school.

Warren and Leslie were members of the Kennebunk River Club, a tennis and yacht club founded in 1879. Its complex of architecturally interesting buildings was in a serious state of disrepair. Leslie had been treasurer for many years and Warren offered to head up the maintenance committee (of one). He started fixing up the buildings himself. Then he started raising money for a capital campaign to make major renovations. Before he was done, the renovated buildings were an asset to the community. Warren also won the senior men’s doubles championship at the River Club. When leaving Kennebunkport, Warren (and George Bush Sr.) were made honorary life members of the club [side note: - Warren & Leslie attended Bush's inauguration].

Warren’s home in Kennebunkport was on a small street on the edge of the village. When tour buses (sometimes 40 – 50 per day) started coming to Kennebunkport, they used the residentially-zoned street as an ersatz parking lot. Often there would be 50 people standing in the driveway waiting for their bus. The engines ran constantly and were both loud and odiferous. Eventually he gave up fighting the town over the buses and said “between the buses and taxes, let’s move to New Hampshire”. Having no history there, Warren asked a friend, Rick Griffin (who had married Warren and Leslie and had a home in Sugar Hill) where to go, and he suggested Jackson.

The Jackson years
Warren and Leslie moved to Jackson in 1996 with no jobs, no kids in school, not knowing anyone. In short order, Warren became involved in the Jackson Historical Society and soon it became his passion. Under his leadership, the Society attained its first physical space by renting various offices. He gathered together and increased its archival records, put them in a database and created a web site to inform the world what information it had. The Society has grown from 87 to over 500 members under Warren’s leadership.

After coming to New Hampshire, Warren, always a lover of antiques, became interested in 19th century landscapes of the White Mountain School of Art. He began buying paintings for his home, and then made promoting this art his mission. He organized numerous lectures on the subject. He started an annual (11 to date) White Mountain art show and sale which brought collectors and buyers together and helped revive the market in this art. In 2009 the Society obtained a long term lease on the historic Town Hall, which was in a dreadful state of repair. After raising the funds to renovate the building (new roof, new siding, new wiring, second-story fire egress, etc), he converted the upstairs into the Museum of White Mountain Art at Jackson. After completing the renovation in 2012, Warren staged two major shows and published scholarly catalogues for each. He has also increased the Society’s collection of 19th century White Mountain for a permanent collection.

Warren has supported the arts for both contemporary and deceased artists. He has held exhibitions for Jackson artists Veikko Hurme, David Baker, June McLeavy-Weeder and Anne Garland. The Society has commissioned paintings by Erik Koeppel and Stapleton Kearns. He helped establish River Arts for Jackson artists and offered them space in the Town Hall for their own shows. The Society was a major sponsor of the DVD “Brush and Pen, Artists and Writers of the White Mountains”, which was shown on both the New Hampshire and Maine Public Broadcasting stations. He commissioned an additional segment “Art in the Classroom” with art teacher June McLeavey, filmed in the Josiah Bartlett School.

When the Town decided to tear down the historic Trickey Barn to make space for the Whitney Center, Warren sponsored a drive to raise funds to have the barn dismantled and its timbers stored for later re-erection. After the barn had been dismantled, the library began looking for a new location. When their first architectural drawings proved impractical, the Historical Society offered the Trickey Barn timbers to the Library for their use. The Society held several fundraisers and solicited donations from their members, eventually raising $200,000 for the library, including the cost of dismantling the barn.

The projects Warren tackled through the Historical Society (http://www.jacksonhistory.org/), mostly in his eighties, are numerous and diverse. He staged a year-long bicentennial celebration with various activities throughout the year; got 23 structures named to the National Register of Historic Places as “The Jackson Falls Historic District”; published numerous books and a newsletter on Jackson history; paid for paving the old Town Hall and purchased more comfortable chairs for it (when the Town was still using the building); organized speakers on a wide range of topics; erected the Korean War monument; created the Memorial Walk to the Town Offices; restored the old snow roller and partnered with the Conservation Commission on the historic park across from the Wentworth; partnered with the Eastside Walk Foundation to erect a plaque to the first settles near the fire pond; maintained the site of the Free Will Baptist Church for many years (mowing the rough land himself); helped get the old stone Wormley horse trough moved from private property to the Village; had the Northeast Document Center restore the Pinkham Bible, the Carrigan map and a map of the Iron District of Jackson; commissioned a replica of the Town’s Boston Post Cane and had a secure case made for the original, which is mounted in the Town Offices; sponsored a Jackson Grammar School teacher to attend a conference by the National Council for History Education in Saratoga Springs, NY; commissioned a quilt of Trickey Barn pictures painted by the Jackson Grammar School students, which is now hanging in the Whitney Center; published a calendar of pictures of the Trickey Barn made by the Jackson students; worked with the grammar school students to create a time capsule; created a walking tour map of Jackson; sponsored two years of M&D Productions’ summer play series in Jackson, giving profits from the plays to the Jackson Community Association’s scholarship program; raised $6,000 by raffling a donated 19th century painting and gave the proceeds to the Conway Historical Society’s Salyards Museum; donated items to the newly formed Bartlett Historical Society.

Warren has been Treasurer of the Town of Jackson for 9 years. One of the first tasks he undertook was to convert the basically manual bookkeeping system to computer. Although the staff was using QuickBooks, it was only used to write checks and the bank statements were reconciled to a manual register. He also worked with TD Banknorth’s government department to convert the Town’s bank accounts to interest-bearing accounts.

Warren has given half his estate away twice in divorces. He has given several utilities to his children. He has given much away to support the causes he believes in. His life is simpler now, but he continues to work full time for the Historical Society and as the Town Treasurer (although he will retire from his treasurer position in March).

Stay tuned to see what he will accomplish in his 90′s!

2 responses to this post.

  1. If we had more people like Warren the world would be a much better place. Thank you Warren for all that you do and for who you are…

    Reply

  2. Posted by Beth Funicella on January 28, 2014 at 7:36 PM

    What a journey! Warren is an inspiration.

    Reply

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