by Alan Schuster
I was working for Golf Magazine in 1961 after completing my military service. The editor, Bob Cooke, left soon after to join Schaefer as its Public Relations Director. About three months later, he called and asked if I’d like to come to work for Schaefer doing PR work. I remember asking him “What’s PR?” He answered that “It’s a job that will pay you twice as much as I know you’re making now.” I quickly accepted the offer and went to the publisher’s office and gave him two weeks notice.
A few days later, Cooke called and said there was a change in plans. “Apparently” he said, “I can’t hire you because company rules require you to go through a hiring process which means a resume and interview with the Personnel Director.” When I told him I had already given notice that I was leaving the magazine, his response was something like “Uh, oh. I’ll get back to you.” On his return call, he asked if I could join him and some Schaefer execs for the New York Baseball Writers Dinner a few nights later. “Mr. Schaefer will be there and I’d like you to meet him.” Of course I said yes. I enjoyed the dinner, particularly the time I spent chatting with him.
When my resume was updated, I was invited to Brooklyn headquarters to meet the Personnel Director, Frank Casey. The interview didn’t take long. He glanced at the resume for a brief moment, looked up, smiled, and said that Mr. Schaefer seemed quite pleased to know that I was interested in joining the company. “Welcome to Schaefer,” he said. And thus began my 33 years in the beer business, thanks entirely to the cleverness of Mr. Cooke and the kindness of Mr. Schaefer.
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It didn’t take long to realize that public relations was an important part of the company’s business profile, and that Mr. Schaefer took a close personal interest in its activities. One day, Mr. Cooke came to my office and told me that Mr. Schaefer had a special assignment for me, to oversee the Schaefer exhibit at Freedomland, a large amusement park open during the summer months in the Upper Bronx. This meant an occasional visit to the park two or three times a month, to make sure that everything was in order and that the Schaefer image was properly presented to the public. On one occasion – a Sunday afternoon – Mr. Schaefer came by, accompanied by Mrs. Schaefer. He seemed surprised to see me there, assuming my visits would only be on weekday 9-5 hours. I guess he had a good memory of that day, because less than two years later, I got a call from his secretary Marion Schmidt saying that he wanted to see me. It was another special assignment, this time much bigger – to be the Public Relations Manager for Schaefer Center at the N.Y. World’s Fair.
I spent five or six days a week for two consecutive six-month periods, managing the exhibit and handling guest relations with the press, key distributors and customers, sports stars, celebrities and the general public. And in addition to occasional visits from Mr. Schaefer, I got to know and work for Rudie Schaefer III, better known in company circles as “Rudie the third.” Most of the time, Bill (aka Billy) was managing the Albany plant, but the few times we were together in Brooklyn, both guys were fun to be around.
Regarding Mr. Cooke who had once been the sports editor of the N.Y. Herald Tribune, he was very fond of horse racing and spent much of his idle time at Aqueduct. Unfortunately, too much time. He was a likable fellow, jovial and a great story teller. After a meeting with Mr. Schaefer one afternoon, he returned to the office and told me that he had been let go. I asked why and he half-smiled and then told me what Mr. Schaefer said to him. He said: “Bob, I wish you knew as much about the beer business as you do about horse racing.” It was entirely true, and Bob knew it. A few weeks later, he went to work for NYC’s concessionaire king, Harry M. Stevens. His assignment? Keeping an eye on Stevens’s concession stands – at Aqueduct, Belmont and Roosevelt.
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Once the World’s Fair assignment ended in the fall of 1965, it was back to work in Brooklyn. A few months later, another call from Marion, telling me that Mr. Schaefer would like to see me. At this stage, I still wasn’t certain that any invitation from him to visit his office would mean an assignment. And so – having nothing else to do at the moment! – I arrived quickly and took a seat. He came to the point right away, asking me in these exact words: “Alan, do you like to go sailing?” I didn’t – and I told him so, very carefully. His reply was a bit of a shock: “Good,” he said, “I have a project in mind and I’d like you to oversee it.” He went on to say that he would be building an exact replica of the schooner yacht “America” which won a race in England in 1851, leading to the series now known as the “America’s Cup.” Before I could ask ‘why me?’ he explained that this was a job, not a pleasure cruise, and he wanted someone who would treat it that way.
Shortly after this meeting, he took me to lunch at the New York Yacht Club where we were joined by Olin Stephens, one of the yachting world’s foremost designers, and Everett Morris, a prominent sailing historian. That’s when I realized what an enormous undertaking this would be. Not only would it have the same design and specifications of the “America”, but it would be constructed by using many of the original tools that existed during that time. Of course, below [deck] would be a slightly different story, most notably Mercedes Benz engines and the usual 20th century comforts and conveniences.
I think I made about ten visits to the builders, Goudy & Stevens in E. Boothbay Harbor, Maine, several of which were with Mr. Schaefer who took a keen interest in all phases of its construction, beginning with the laying of the keel. In May, 1967, this magnificent yacht was launched with guests including the governor, Ken Curtis, and a crowd of about 6,000. I was fortunate to be aboard in more ways than one. Weeks earlier, I was in his office as he was going over the list of people who would be on deck for the ceremonies. He handed me the list – and my name was on it. Then he asked me to count how many there were. I told him 13. He took the list back, commenting that 13 was an unlucky number. He crossed out a name, and then returned it to me. My name was still on the list! Lucy and Edmee, as you know, christened it that memorable day.
Things went smoothly on May 3, the date of the evening launch, thanks to good weather and a lot of hard work by the G&S workers, the state and local police, the Coast Guard, caterers and the big crowd who witnessed this historic event. I arrived at the boat yard about four days before the launch with a lengthy checklist of things to do, such as confirming details of hotel reservations for more than 100 invited guests, bus transportation, press interviews, releases, credentials, etc. Two days later, someone asked me “When will the beer arrive?” I contacted our Maine sales manager, Jim Zubrod, who explained that it was against state law for alcoholic beverages to be given away by a brewer at a public event. Having met Governor Curtis a few months earlier when he visited the boat yard – and was now to be a guest speaker at the launch – we pulled some strings (ropes more likely!) and he agreed to a meeting with us to see if there was any way to make it happen. When we arrived in Augusta the following morning before launch day, the governor was already working on a possible solution to the predicament. Although Schaefer could not give away beer, a permit would be granted to Goudy & Stevens to purchase the beer. We were back in Boothbay in time for lunch, permit in hand. In a way, the problem became a public relations boost. First, the news media from Augusta to Boston was releasing stories about a “beer-less” launch party for the “America.” The following day, even more publicity was created when it was announced that there would be free beer after all. This news probably doubled the attendance that day. Good thing someone asked me “When will the beer arrive?”
While nothing could possibly match the thrill of watching the yacht sliding into the harbor, there was a wonderful personal moment for Mr. Schaefer earlier in the day. It occurred during a luncheon party that Mr. Schaefer hosted for the Goudy & Stevens employees and their families at the Holiday Inn in Brunswick. He spoke to them briefly once they were all seated, praising their efforts and high spirits. Then, stepping away from the microphone, he began moving from table to table, shaking every hand of every worker along the way. He spent so much time with them that when he finally got back to our table, they were serving dessert.
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For the next few years, the “America” made public relations visits up and down the east coast, entertaining beer wholesalers and their customers, company employees, the news media and a variety of VIPs. I was aboard mostly for the tours and other special occasions.
If Mr. Schaefer was a patient man, I’m sure I tried that patience a few times when we began the first southern tour a couple of months after the launch. Since the only boats I had ever been on were a few fishing boats along the New Jersey coast, spending a couple of weeks travelling on a 110-foot schooner yacht was quite an adventure. Fortunately, seasickness was never a problem for me, and I was quick to adapt good sea legs. But seafaring talk was different. For the first day or so, Mr. Schaefer listened patiently as I would make comments about seeing another sailboat “off to the left” or “going downstairs to get something” or “the captain’s at the back of the boat.” Finally, he sat me down and taught me things like port and starboard, topside and below, fore and aft. I caught on soon enough, except for “downstairs.” It took a few shouts of “below, below” before I got back on his good side.
Soon after the launch, the “America” began a fall public relations tour of the eastern shore, beginning with a nice welcome by the Naval Academy at Annapolis. As we approached the academy to the sounds of cannon fire, we were surrounded by boats that provided a huge escort to the academy docks. We were warmly received by the superintendent and other dignitaries, after which Mr. Schaefer learned – much to his surprise and mine – that the “America” was challenged to a race by a large academy sail boat. Mr. Schaefer might have been a little hesitant, but he never let it be known. Instead the brief ‘race’ – mostly fun – was held and Mr.Schaefer made sure that our captain, Lester Hollett, followed the opposition across the line!
A day or two later, a weekend visit had been arranged in the Annapolis area with the most significant event being a VIP sail on the Chesapeake. Many of our Schaefer executives – and distributors – arrived for the occasion since one of the guests was to be the governor, Spiro Agnew. He was easily singled out, being the only one dressed completely in white from head-to-foot. Mr. Schaefer whispered to me as he approached something to the affect that my only responsibility that day would be to show him around the boat, stay close, and make sure his glass was filled. A year or so later, he became Vice-President of the United States!
CharlestonSC was the next stop, only this time not to a state where Schaefer Beer was sold. Neither was Georgia when we made a memorable port-of-call to Savannah.This came about as the result of a letter Mr. Schaefer received from one of the state’s most prominent and influential figures, Mills Lane, the president of Citizens and Southern Bank, inviting Mr. Schaefer to make a stopover in Savannah. Not only did Mr. Schaefer accept the invitation but he also had me make an advance visit to meet Lane and coordinate the details of the event.
Another flotilla greeted us as we were sailing up the Savannah River, along with a large crowd waiting on the dock. As lines were about to be tossed, I pointed out Lane to Mr. Schaefer and they exchanged waves. When the gangplank was set, Lane was not only the first person to come aboard, but the only one. They greeted each other, and then Mr. Schaefer took him on a short deck tour.Tagging along behind, I noticed that there were a couple of parked police cars close by with lights flashing. When I called this to their attention, Lane looked toward the dock and said “Oh, I forgot about him” Then he called out “Lester, get yerself over here.” When the guest came aboard, Lane introduced him. “Rudy, this here’s our governor Lester Maddox.” Lane had kept him waiting for about five minutes! As Mr. Schaefer and the governor were chatting, Lane took me aside and said: “Alan, do me a big favor and keep ‘ole’ Lester happy while Mr. Schaefer and I are having a nice little chat.” And so, in the span of one week, my assignment was to occupy and entertain two governors, one of whom would later become the Vice-President.
I think my most enjoyable day aboard the “America” came the following summer. Mr. Schaefer called and asked me to join him for lunch the following day for a cruise up and down Manhattan’s Hudson River with Walter Cronkite. No press, no business, and no other guests. Just a great day with two great gentlemen!
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I’ll finish with a closing anecdote, involving Mr.Schaefer and my wife, Yvonne, with me as a bystander. He had met Yvonne on a few occasions at Schaefer Center, but they never had what might be called a conversation – until a dinner during a management conference at a NYC hotel. We were at a table of eight with one vacant seat. Yvonne was sitting across from Mr. Schaefer and before dinner began, a bucket of Schaefer Beer was placed on the table. Others opened their bottles and poured – but Yvonne did not. Mr. Schaefer noticed this and passed an open bottle to her. “No thank you” she said, “I don’t like the taste of beer.” My instant reaction was something like “Oh, boy, that’s not good.” But within a second or two, he patted on the empty seat next to him and said: “Come here missy, sit next to me. I like a woman who speaks her mind.” That was the real Mr. Schaefer.
My father died when I was 10 years old, and I was an only child. I had a few memories of him, but not many. But there would be certain times when I was with Mr. Schaefer that I thought about not having a father as I grew up, and how nice it would have been if I could have had someone like the man I was now talking with. I’m sincerely pleased to have this opportunity to write about Mr. Schaefer to people who cared so much about him. I did too!
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ABOUT THE BLOGGER – Mr. Alan Schuster:
Schaefer Brewing Company
- Public Relations Manager, Schaefer Center, N.Y. World’s Fair 1964-65
- Director of Public Relations (not sure about the years, but approx. 1967-1974)
- Schaefer Brand Marketing Director (again not sure, but maybe 1975-1982)
In addition to managing special projects like Schaefer Center and America, also the Schaefer Music Festival in Central Park, the Schaefer Circle of Sports / LeRoy Neiman MVP Awards; and the Schaefer 500 at Pocono.
Stroh’s / Schaefer
- Director of Marketing Services
- Director of International Marketing and Sales
- Living on Dataw Island, SC.
- Wife Yvonne, two daughters (Donna, Jill), two grandchildren (Rachel, Matthew).