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Toni and Albert Roothbert


The Roothbert Fund, Inc. is a small, nearly all-volunteer scholarship fund based in New York City. It was founded in 1958 as a living memorial to the combined idealism of two people: Albert and Toni Roothbert, both of whom emigrated from Germany in the early 20th Century. They met in New York and married in 1937. At the time, he was a retired banker, and she was a retired fashion photographer.

The Roothberts shared a devotion to young people, whose idealism, they believed, was the best defense against a recurrence of the tragedies of the first half of the 20th Century. In the wake of the cataclysmic events of World War II, Albert Roothbert believed that "our young generation will create a new, more enlightened society, which will want to live democratic principles, not merely claim them."

Formation of the Scholarships Program

Persuaded that the best hope for a "regenerated democracy" must be education that brings out the spiritual potentialities in young people, the Roothberts undertook in 1958 to set up a scholarship foundation for that purpose. They dedicated their fortune to the establishment of the Roothbert Fund. The principal aim of the Fund would be to "assist candidates...who consider it their responsibility to fulfill their spirituality in thought and action."

Albert Roothbert served as president for the first five years, starting the Fund on its way. Toni Roothbert served as Vice President, Carl Solberg served as a Director and Fred H. Jorgenson as Secretary-Treasurer.

Defining Spirituality
From the beginning, the Roothberts sought to direct support toward those engaged in pursuits that would manifest the spiritual in everyday life:

"Though spirituality has the connotation of otherworldliness in so far as it is linked with humanity's relationship to God, it is meant to be manifested right here on earth in a variety of ways, particularly by an eagerness to do the things which closeness to God would demand of us, and which imply in essence a readiness to cope with the exacting task of living in the world without being overwhelmed by it.
Scholarships were open to all, with preference going to those prompted by "spiritual motives" and pursuing careers in teaching. As stated in the by-laws:

"The expendable funds of the Corporation are to be used to create and award scholarships and fellowships and to provide other financial aid for education without regard to creed, color, age or national origin to men and women of ability and character within the U.S.A. who need financial aid to extend their formal education or to carry on special studies to which they are creatively dedicated, with preference to those who are considering teaching as their vocation and particularly to those whose daily actions appear to be prompted by spiritual motives."
The by-laws, drawn up by Albert Roothbert, stated the Fund's aims as follows:

"The declared purposes of the Corporation are to be carried on by furthering the concepts of the founders...and donors...which are that the good which has happened on our planet in the past and will happen in the future has its source in the Creator and, conversely that many of the disastrous events which have been and may be spread upon the world's calendar in the future are the result of the willful disregard by a large part of mankind of the substance of the living world's religions, which tend to evoke in their followers a sense of the nearness of the Creator to all human beings..."
"Fortunately there are increasing numbers of people who, conscious of the divine pattern everywhere in the universe, in nature and in our own selves, are convinced that there exists a good deal more of a spiritual dimension in human beings than is readily discernible on the surface. It needs to be reawakened, however, and with that in view, it is encouraging that among those who, like the donors, are deeply concerned with that need, are many young men and women--students, teachers, poets and other gifted souls--who realize that dedication to spiritual concepts, affirmed by example and evocative work, may well range as the most essential requirement of our time."

Shaping the Unique Direction of the Fund
In the years that followed the creation of the Fund, Albert Roothbert faced three main tasks for establishing the Fund's identity: formulating its direction, defining what was meant by the distinctive term "spiritual" and distinguishing "spiritual motives" in candidates. He consulted with officials from the leading universities and scholarship organizations of his day. Though all recognized the basic founding purpose of the Fund as unusual and perhaps unique, the aim of seeking candidates "prompted by spiritual motives" proved difficult to define. Did that mean young people committed to theological careers or seminary study? Or did it mean those whose words and deeds indicated a commitment to help others, whether or not inspired by a belief in God?

In considering how to put their goals into practice, the Fund's Scholarship Committee decided to take advantage of the Fund's small size by having at least one member of the committee try to talk personally with any candidate applying. Personal interviews would permit Fund members to better identify young people who might possess spiritual qualities as evinced by word and deed.

In defining its task, the Fund still adheres to the course Albert Roothbert charted in the following Prologue:

"It is the deep belief of the founders of the Fund that the welfare of our world rests upon a strong spiritual foundation which is God....The word spiritual is not to be confused with mere discontent with materialism, nor vague otherworldliness. And certainly there is no implication of creedal commitment nor correctness of belief. The emphasis would be more upon the direct awareness which the individual has of a spiritual Force or Being in the universe to which he feels responsive. The way in which this responsiveness would be expressed would be of course his own concern.

"Our Fund does not discriminate as to sex, age, color, national or religious background. However, preference will be given to those who can satisfy fairly high scholastic requirements and are considering teaching as a vocation."

The Roothbert Fund Today
By the time of their deaths, Albert Roothbert and Toni Roothbert had set the Fund firmly on course. Since its inception, the Fund has made modest grants to nearly 1000 Fellows.

Seeking Candidates
Fund directors also felt they must seek out potential candidates beyond the obvious, particularly among those lacking the means and opportunity for higher education. For example, in 1960 the Fund reached out to a group of students expelled from Southern University for trying to integrate lunch counters in Baton Rouge, LA. In consultation with William Trent, Jr., head of the United Negro College Fund, Albert Roothbert asked Carl Solberg to travel to Baton Rouge and interview participants in the sit-in. Six students were chosen to receive grants that assisted them to complete their college education at three northern universities. The Fund also actively pursues applicants from urban high schools and urges all its Fellows to seek out and refer potential candidates who appear to reflect the Fund's distinguishing characteristics.

Above: Louisiana's first sit-in students in 1960, including six who received Roothbert Fund scholarships for their college education. Below: The group gathered for a 30th reunion supported by a Roothbert Fund Fellows' Project grant. Photos from the collection of Janette Hoston Harris.

Fostering Fellowship
After the death of her husband in 1965, Toni Roothbert invited Fellows and directors to meet with her at Pendle Hill, a Quaker study center near Wallingford, PA, in which Albert Roothbert had long been interested. Such weekend retreats at Pendle Hill soon became a tradition in the Fund and another aspect that makes it unique.

Those selected for Roothbert grants not only have a personal interview, but are encouraged to meet other recipients or "Fellows" at twice-yearly retreats at Pendle Hill and other gatherings held occasionally in various cities on the East Coast. Until Toni Roothbert's death in 1970, she worked tirelessly to foster fellowship between scholarship recipients, inviting Fellows to her New York apartment and facilitating contacts between Fellows living in different cities.

Fellows' Projects Grants
Fellows formerly on stipend are eligible to apply to the Fund for seed money in the form of small grants for individual or group projects consonant with the aims of the founders. See additional information about Fellows' Projects.

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