Eugene Scheffres, 73, longtime social worker, poet, philanthropist

November 26, 2001|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Eugene Scheffres, a social worker in Baltimore for more than 20 years and a composer, poet and philanthropist for the balance of his life, died of thyroid cancer Saturday at his home in Homeland. He was 73.

In addition to being a generous donor to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Peabody Conservatory and City Councilwoman Bea Gaddy's charities, friends and family say, he financially helped many students and others.

"You can't imagine how many he had helped over the many years, from every walk of life, every ethnic group. And he never asked anything in return," said Laurence Rosenfeld of Baltimore, a longtime friend.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Scheffres moved to Washington as a child. After graduating from high school there, he studied piano and composition at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and received a bachelor's degree in music from the Johns Hopkins University.

He turned to a career in social work and earned a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work in 1956.

Even while he was studying music, "he always had a motivation to help the disenfranchised, and the more helpless, and the disadvantaged," said Branch Warfield, a retired social services supervisor in Baltimore.

Mr. Scheffres began his professional career in 1951 with the city Department of Social Services. He later took a position with the state Department of Human Resources. He retired in 1971 to devote more time to music and poetry - and to travel, making more than 50 voyages on the Queen Elizabeth II.

A prolific composer, he wrote and self-published two volumes of romantic "art" songs - often the poetry of Emily Dickinson set to music - plus many piano pieces and chorales in English, German and French.

In 1991, one of his compositions was performed at Baltimore City Community College as part of the Lois J. Wright Concert Series, which he supported. Another was performed by Municipal Opera Company of Baltimore.

A family inheritance helped Mr. Scheffres establish trust funds and scholarships for the children of many friends and acquaintances, and for students at Peabody.

In 1993, he and longtime friend Richard E. Hartt founded the Eugene Scheffres and Richard E. Hartt Scholarship for Composition and Instrumental Music at Peabody.

In 1991, Mr. Scheffres received a governor's citation for "commitment to the people of Maryland."

"He didn't blow his horn very much. He did these things and didn't even tell the family," said a nephew, Stephen R. Turner of Winston-Salem, N.C. "When I was at his house last week, the tables were covered with dozens of greeting cards, [letters of thanks] from people I've never heard of, and I've known him for 58 years."

Mr. Scheffres also wrote poetry about "virtually anything," Mr. Turner said. His verse frequently dealt with simple pleasures, with titles such as "Jumping in Puddles," and "Sleeping Late."

He contributed to New Voices in American Poetry and published several volumes of his own work, including My Time to Rhyme in 1995.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville.

In addition to his nephew and Mr. Hartt, his companion of 53 years, Mr. Scheffres is survived by his sister, Lillian Scheffres Turner of Bethesda; another nephew and a niece.

The family suggested donations to Milton J. Dance Head and Neck Rehabilitation Center at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, 6569 N. Charles St., Suite 200, Baltimore 21204.

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