Bill and Mary Schnirring met at Hay-Edwards Elementary School in third grade. They married in 1950 and died two weeks apart in January 2020. They were devoted to each other and their family and loved Springfield. Together they had an enormous impact. Bill received the Copley First Citizen award in 1989 and was named Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois in 2012. Bill was quick to acknowledge others. In accepting the Order of Lincoln, Bill said, “Success and achievement are the result of people working together – teamwork.” He referenced his good fortune of serving on a lot of winning teams. His best teammate was his wife, Mary. Grandson Scott Germeraad says Bill and Mary were a power couple before that was a “thing.”
Bill and Mary both graduated from the University of Illinois. Products of Springfield public schools, they believed in public education. They graduated from Springfield High School (SHS) in 1946 and were dedicated supporters of SHS. Bill was inducted into the SHS Hall of Fame in 2013, and the auditorium is named for Bill and Mary.
Daughters Kathy Germeraad and Carolyn Dungan describe their parents as two of the most generous people they have ever met. “They were always looking for ways to help others,” says Germeraad. Dungan fondly recalls holiday meals, where they never knew who would be at their table. It was a tradition to invite an international student at Sangamon State University to join them, and these relationships extended beyond a holiday gathering.
Bill’s and Mary’s generosity showed no bounds, and it came from the heart. They participated in a myriad of business, civic and charitable organizations. They also were quick to help someone they did not know personally but who needed a helping hand. They volunteered their time and talents and were community philanthropists, instilling this spirit of philanthropy in their children and grandchildren.
Bill and Mary Schnirring, Kathy and Randy Germeraad and Carolyn and Dan Dungan are all committed to giving back. Each family has established a donor-advised fund at the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln (CFLL) to direct their giving to causes that matter most to them. In 2013 Bill and Mary surprised their four grandchildren by establishing a donor-advised fund for each of them so they can continue this tradition of giving. This next generation has also learned from their grandparents and parents the value of giving time. “Giving one’s time can only enhance that donation and truly affect organizations and people in need,” said granddaughter Caitlin Dungan Simhauser.
Bill’s long career with Springfield Electric Supply Company began in 1952 when he worked alongside his father, who started this family-owned business. Headquartered in Springfield, Bill grew the company to over 370 employees with branch locations throughout the Midwest, and a third generation is contributing to the company’s success. Kathy and Carolyn are active members of the board, and Randy and Dan are directly involved in key corporate positions.
Mike Barker was a college student when he first met Bill at a career fair. Barker was immediately impressed with Bill’s caring, personal interest. That encounter landed Barker his first job with Springfield Electric. Barker is now chairman of the board and former president/CEO. Bill was both friend and mentor to Barker. For 40 years Barker had a front-row seat to what made Bill so special.
“Bill was the most selfless person I ever met,” says Barker. “I think he was so respected because he was so respectful and considerate of others.” Bill’s philosophy continues to guide the company….do the right thing; be more interested in how things affect people rather than how they affect the company.
Springfield Electric employees were treated like family.
Personable and approachable, Bill was everyone’s role model and mentor to many. Barker also admired Mary, the matriarch of the company, who was an informed participant on the board of directors and gracious host at many company picnics.
Ed Curtis, president and CEO of Memorial Health System, also considers Bill a mentor. He believes he’s a better person and CEO having seen how Bill and Mary lived their lives. Bill served on Memorial’s board of directors for 32 years; Mary volunteered and was an active member of Friends of Memorial Medical Center. “Bill modeled a life of service,” says Curtis. “Some people who have the means to help others believe they ‘have to,’ others ‘want to,’ but for Bill and Mary it was they ‘get to,’” remarked Curtis. “Being mentored by Bill made me want to be a mentor to others.”
Bill was involved in professional and civic organizations, nationally and locally. He encouraged his employees to get involved also. He was often asked to lead capital campaigns, and he served on the boards of organizations too numerous to count.
Bill received the Outstanding Philanthropist award by the National Society of Fundraising Executives, Sertoma Service to Mankind award and the electrical distribution industry’s highest national individual award.
Mary’s community service included the Junior League, P.E.O., King’s Daughters, DAR, Illinois State Museum, Family Service Center and other organizations. Mary was devoted to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and always put others’ needs above her own.
Although Bill and Mary had a big impact on some of Springfield’s most visible community organizations, it was their small acts of kindness to friends as well as strangers, delivered quietly but compassionately, that may best define their spirit of caring and generosity. Barker says Bill’s experience in the Army from 1950-1951 during the Korean Conflict gave him an appreciation for diversity that lasted a lifetime and was manifested in his professional and personal life.
There’s much to be learned from the way Bill and Mary Schnirring led their lives – in their work, community service and with their family. Live a life of service. Acknowledge and appreciate others. Share the credit. Be kind, generous and grateful. Bill and Mary’s legacy of a culture of caring lives on in their family, business and many people they inspired.
Karen Ackerman Witter has long admired the entire Schnirring family. She first met Kathy when they were students at Springfield High School.
Illinois Times has provided readers with independent journalism for almost 50 years, from news and politics to arts and culture.
Your support will help cover the costs of editorial content published each week. Without local news organizations, we would be less informed about the issues that affect our community..
Click here to show your support for community journalism.