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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.
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."
the Scholarships Program
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."
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
From the beginning, the Roothberts sought to direct support
toward those engaged in pursuits that would manifest the spiritual
in everyday life:
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.
open to all, with preference going to those prompted by "spiritual
motives" and pursuing careers in teaching. As stated in the
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:
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..."
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."
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?
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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