Rudi Scheidt, philanthropist and businessman, dies at 95

By Updated: April 13, 2020 10:20 AM CT | Published: April 12, 2020 7:52 PM CT

The Memphis arts community lost one of its greatest benefactors with the death Sunday of Rudi E. Scheidt at the age of 95. 

<strong>Rudi Scheidt</strong>

Rudi Scheidt

Scheidt, a retired cotton industry executive who was the former chairman of Hohenberg Brothers, gave millions of dollars along with his wife, Honey Hohenberg Scheidt, to Memphis nonprofits and arts causes.

“Much of the coverage of Rudi refers to him as a philanthropist, businessman, and patron of the arts, but that doesn’t begin to describe him,” Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel said. “Rudi was a true humanitarian.

“I have received dozens of emails, calls, and texts from every corner of the Memphis community – black and white, Christian and Jew, men and women, disadvantaged and privileged – it’s unbelievable how many have called him their 'true mentor and 'dear friend’.” 

In 2000, the Scheidts gave a multimillion-dollar gift to the school of music at the University of Memphis. It was the largest gift in the history of the school, which was then renamed after Scheidt.

The donation helped raise the department to another level, breathing new life into the opera program and helping the school recruit and retain faculty.

In 2007, Scheidt received an honorary doctorate from the university.

“The U of M family has lost a treasured supporter, advocate & beloved friend, Rudi Scheidt,” U of M President David Rudd said in a tweet Sunday. “It is impossible to capture the magnitude of his impact, breadth of his support, wisdom of guidance, joy of his enthusiasm & overwhelming strength of will. He will be deeply missed.”

In addition to the U of M, other local cultural causes benefited from the Scheidts as well. The couple supported production of local films and served on committees and boards for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, the Memphis College of Art, Opera Memphis and the Memphis Arts Festival.

In May 2001, Tennessee awarded them the Governor’s Award for Arts Leadership.

According to The Society of Entrepreneurs at Memphis Pink Palace Museum, which inducted Scheidt as a member in 1992, the Scheidts in 1985 were instrumental in bringing the “Ramesses the Great” exhibition to Memphis.

Rudi Scheidt also was a past president of Temple Israel synagogue.

“Less known about Rudi is that both he and Honey are devout Jews,” Greenstein said. “They would attend Friday evening services in their formal attire before a social event, but never missed a Friday night service.”

Greenstein said Sheidt embodied what it means to lead by example.

“I have letters dating back to 1967 when Rudi was 42 years old which demonstrate that Temple Israel has never had a better or more gracious benefactor. His generosity sets a standard for all who succeed him.”

When Greenstein was being interviewed to come to Memphis as an assistant rabbi in 1991, his most vivid first impression was sitting with Rudi and Honey Scheidt on their back porch overlooking a lake, surrounded by Egyptian and other antique artifacts. 

“Rudi essentially said, 'Micah, I know you have lived in L.A., Boston, and New York, and that your father is an opera singer, but I promise you that after traveling the entire world, Memphis is the place to be.'

“I almost knocked over an artifact from the Ming Dynasty worth more than my savings account but realized then that Memphis has residents like Rudi and Honey who have been everywhere in the world and could live anywhere in the country, but choose Memphis with such deep love and affection,” Greenstein said. “Almost 30 years after that first impression of Memphis, that conversation with Memphis' greatest believer remains my lasting impression.”

The family has not announced arrangements for Scheidt.

Topics

The Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music Rudi Scheidt
Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren  is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis.  She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.


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