Updike Society receives American Family Insurance award

Because of their work preserving The John Updike Childhood Home and turning it into a museum, The John Updike Society was chosen as one of 100 nonprofit organizations to receive a $2500 donation from American Family Insurance and the American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation.

“We selected 100 organizations across the country in support of causes important to those who matter most to us—our customers,” the American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation website stated.

Nearly 10,000 nonprofit organizations were nominated by American Family Insurance customers, and the Updike Society’s work with the Childhood Home stood out as a project worthy of support. The John Updike Society was nominated by a customer of American Family insurance agent John Blumenshine. American Family Insurance is based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Here is a list of the 100 recipients for 2019.

Schiff Family Foundation increases JUS support

Fundraising to mount exhibits at the John Updike Childhood Home just became less of a priority, thanks to a more than generous donation from the Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation.

The Ohio-based foundation, which initially donated the money for the John Updike Society to purchase the house at 117 Philadelphia Ave. in Shillington, and which has supported the society’s ongoing efforts to restore the house and turn it into a literary center and museum, donated $200,000 to the society before the New Year.

That’s something to celebrate, John Updike Society president James Plath said. The donation ensures that once suitable curatorial help is found and a timetable created, the society will be able to take the next step and pay to have someone qualified help construct exhibits.

“This donation is enough to get us to the finish line,” said Plath, who was recently named to the Affiliates Steering Committee of the American Writers Museum in Chicago—a recognition of how far The John Updike Childhood Home has come.

“All of our donors have made a huge difference, but I think it’s safe to say that The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation has been most responsible for the rapid growth of our organization.

The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation was also responsible for seven Schiff Travel Grants that were recently awarded to young scholars to help them get to Serbia for the 5th Biennial John Updike Society Conference at the University of Belgrade.

Pictured are the front parlor/”piano room” and dining room showing recently installed period-authentic roller shades.


President’s challenge: Smile in 2018

John Updike Society president Jim Plath reports that he earned $10.70 for the society just by listing The John Updike Society as the charitable beneficiary on his account. He spent no more money, and did nothing special after the initial sign-up. All he did was bookmark Amazon Smile and the site automatically credited The John Updike Society for any purchases made. $10.70 might not sound like a lot, but if all of the 300 members shopped via Amazon Smile? It adds up. Go to https://smile.amazon.com to get started….

PECO Foundation continues its John Updike Childhood Home support

The PECO Foundation has supported The John Updike Society’s efforts to restore The John Updike Childhood Home in Shillington, Pa., since 2012, and they continue to support the society’s efforts to turn the house at 117 Philadelphia Ave. into a literary landmark and museum with a new $10,000 donation.

Society members who attended the May, 2017 American Literature Society conference in Boston got to meet Roemer and Constance McPhee, who attended the society’s business meeting. At that time they were honored with the society’s Distinguished Service Award in recognition of their continued support.

Through their PECO Foundation, Roemer and Connie have contributed more than $80,000 these past five years to help with the restoration, making them the second largest donor, behind the Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation, whose initial donation enabled the society to purchase the home. This latest donation comes at a time when money is needed to purchase museum cases and to mount exhibits.

Clouds Hill Books lists new Updike items for sale

With their website under construction, Clouds Hill Books of Village Station, N.Y. has emailed their John Updike – Fall 2017 List to people on their mailing list. We post it here as a courtesy to those who collect Updike.

Since we notice that many of the items come from the collection of one of The John Updike Society members, we wanted to remind everyone that the Society has been actively seeking DONATIONS of archival and Updike-related materials. Selling your collection puts items in the hands of individual collectors and deprives the public; donating your collection (or even just some of the more significant or appropriate items) to The John Updike Society for The John Updike Childhood Home makes those items available to researchers and also rotational display at the house, so that future generations can appreciate and benefit from the items you’ve collected. An additional option is to donate items to the archive at Alvernia University that the society began and subsequently donated to Alvernia before the childhood home was purchased and turned into a museum and literary center.

To make arrangements to donate to The John Updike Society, contact James Plath, jplath@iwu.edu.

To make arrangements to donate to The John Updike Collections of the Alvernia University Archives and Special Collections, contact Sharon Neal, sharon.neal@alvernia.edu.

Both organizations are 501 c 3 tax-exempt non-profits, and your donations to either of them are 100 percent tax deductible.

You spent your life collecting Updike; keep your life entwined with Updike by donating your collection so that your name can be forever linked to Updike and the items you donated.

PECO Foundation continues Updike house support

The John Updike Society has just received a $10,000 donation from The PECO Foundation of New York, N.Y. to “help support the John Updike Society’s project to preserve the Updike family house.”

The foundation’s support has been crucial in past years, and this year, as the society tries to bring the interior/exterior restoration to a close, their donation is much needed and much appreciated.

The PECO Foundation provides gifts, grants, or loans to other organizations and has supported The John Updike Society’s house project since 2012.


Schiff Foundation supports Updike Society projects

In the past, The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation had donated the money that enabled The John Updike Society to purchase the home at 117 Philadelphia Ave. in Shillington, where the Pulitzer Prize-winning author spent his first 13 years, and since then the foundation has contributed annually to help cover the costs of repairs, restorations, and maintenance.

This year’s donation provides a substantial increase—$280,000—for continued work on the house restoration, as well as $30,000 to be applied toward annual expenses, $50,000 “untouchable” money to grow an endowment that will help fund annual expenses well into the future ($1.5 million is needed, at bare minimum, to fund annual expenses moving forward), and $20,000 for a new initiative to help fund travel to the Fifth Biennial John Updike Society Conference in Belgrade, Serbia.

Details on the travel grants will be announced in a future post and email to members.

14991788_1813920192153127_8301741406437647514_nThe donation allows work on the house—which had temporarily stopped, due to a lack of funds—to proceed again, and the crew from R.J. Doerr has already begun tearout work in the kitchen and second-floor sleeping porch. Workmen found more marbles that had fallen from their Black Room hiding place under floorboards, and also found the “footprints” of the original cabinets, stove, and sink. Anyone who took a tour of the house and walked onto the second-floor porch and noticed how “spongey” it was will not be surprised to learn that the wood is rotted and that the porch needs to be completely rebuilt, for safety’s sake. That work proceeds now.

The John Updike Childhood Home has been ruled eligible to apply for the national register of historic places, and the application process as well as a separate application for a historic marker are also moving forward.

The society is grateful to The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation for their continued support. Pictured is the restored parlor and living room.

Donors are still sought for other aspects of the complete restoration—which will include planting privet around the perimeter of the property, re-doing and expanding the parking area, and changing the landscaping to incorporate elements from Updike’s childhood—and sponsoring/supporting exhibits to be placed inside the museum. An archivally safe exhibit case costs $2,000 and up, depending on size, and the goal is to place exhibits in cases in every room and on every level. Corporate and foundation sponsors are especially sought to sponsor exhibits. Contact James Plath (jplath@iwu.edu) if interested in helping.


Updike Society receives huge collection of Updike publications

Kevin SchehrKevin Schehr, a charter member of The John Updike Society, has arranged for his extensive Updike collection to be donated to the society. The collection, last appraised at $80,000, includes first editions of all of Updike’s books (many signed, including Franklin Library editions), uncorrected proof copies, broadsides, limited editions, books about Updike, books containing contributions by Updike, and over 1600 periodicals featuring first appearances of writings by Updike or about Updike.

“This is a huge gift to the society,” president James Plath said. “It ensures that visitors to The John Updike Childhood Home at any given time in the future will see a number of first editions, which we’ll rotate in order to minimize their exposure to light. The first appearances in magazines will be especially interesting for Updike fans, because few of us have seen them when they first appeared in print.”

Schehr is currently in his fourth elected term as the Associate Circuit Judge for Morgan County, Missouri. He handles all cases filed in Morgan County, including civil actions, dissolutions of marriage, probate, and all criminal misdemeanor cases, as well as all felonies until the preliminary hearing has been held. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he got his first exposure to Updike at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., when part of his senior year comprehensive exam required him to “explicate the short story ‘A & P.’ I thought I had found the next J.D. Salinger from reading that story,” he said. Then, “When I went to graduate school as a teaching assistant at the University of Missouri I was assigned Updike’s Rabbit, Run in one of my classes for my Master’s Degree. Later, upon joining The Book of the Month Club I used three of my four free selections to obtain the Rabbit books (there were only three then). That led to wanting to get true first editions of the books and my collecting bug took off from there. It started around 1982 and lasted until Updike’s death in 2009.”

Schehr said he initially donated the collection to his alma mater, Wabash College, but when he inquired about it recently he discovered that the materials were not considered a priority. As a result, he asked the college if they would consider re-donating the collection to The John Updike Society, and they were willing. Plath will pick up the exhaustive collection and drive it to Shillington sometime in mid-May 2016.

“I did get to meet Updike once when he was a dinner guest and gave a reading at the University of Missouri,” Schehr said. “I had dinner a few tables away from him, but did not approach him at that time. Later, after the reading, he was signing autographs and I waited my turn. When I got my chance I handed him my first edition copy of his first book to sign. He gave it a puzzled look, as if he were surprised that anyone would have a copy, and then, after asking for my name inscribed it ‘to Kevin, this very old book, cheers, John Updike.’ I left with a big smile on my face.”

The John Updike Society is grateful to Judge Schehr for assembling the collection and to Wabash College for re-gifting it.


Schiff Family Foundation increases support of The John Updike Childhood Home

With the R.J. Doerr Company making great progress on the historic restoration of The John Updike Childhood Home at 117 Philadelphia Ave. in Shillington, Pa., the Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation announced that they will increase their support of The John Updike Society’s efforts to turn the home into a museum. This fiscal year they are upping their donation from $75,000 to $175,000.

“This really gives us some breathing room,” John Updike Society president James Plath said, “and I hope that the Schiff Family Foundation donation spurs others to give to a restoration project that’s really picking up steam.” Plath said that Doerr has come up with a restoration plan that takes into account Updike’s writings about the house, interviews with people who were inside the house during Updike’s time, historic features in similar period architectural dwellings, and “footprints” and other clues found inside the house that identify where architectural features and finishes were located. Restoration plans include replacing modernized radiators with period-style radiators and installing UV-protective surfaces on all windows. Interior walls and ornate archways that had been removed or simplified after the Updikes left will be recreated.

The entire restoration process is expected to cost $300-350,000, and the society is committed to making this museum and literary site a showplace equivalent to such historic American literary venues as the Mark Twain Home & Museum in Hannibal, Mo., and the Hemingway homes in Oak Park, Ill. and Key West, Fla.

The Robert and Adele Schiff Family Foundation is located in Cincinnati and is particularly interested in supporting projects that have to do with education.