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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

The evidence: He was born in Clay County!

Friday, March 28, 2003

Attorney Amos Thomas argues his case against allegations that Rotary International founder and first president Sylvester Schiele wasn't born near Clay City. Thomas has documentation proving Schiele indeed had Clay County roots.

You'd better be able to back up the evidence if you want to convince Brazil lawyer Amos Thomas to change his mind about something.

A Rotarian for 45 years, Thomas joined Rotary International during his senior year at Rockville High School. Fresh from law school, he moved to Brazil in 1956. He quickly became involved with the local Rotary chapter and remembers the older Rotarian Club members, often discussing its founders back then, especially Sylvester Schiele, one of the original five members in 1905. It was interesting to Thomas and many of his fellow Rotarians that Schiele, first president of the club, had Clay County roots.

Lately though, some difference of opinion has surfaced on the Internet, stirring up quite a debate regarding Schiele's birthplace. For example, a Mormon Website, the International Geneological Index, claims Schiele was born in Germantown, Pa., rather than Clay City, Ind. But Thomas, 72, quickly pointed out that the Web site's information doesn't add up simply because it fails to cite any sources.

"To me, that says it's not backed up," Thomas said, holding out a printout of the Web site from his office desk.

Paul Harris, another Rotary founder and best friend of Schiele's, was aware of his colleague's Clay City heritage and wrote accounts of his friend's memories.

"Not only was he the first Rotary president, but he really lived a humanitarian life," Thomas said about Schiele.

He was drawn into the debate last July, when another Rotarian, Basil Lewis, of England, wrote to the Brazil Rotary president, Mike Feller, asking for help determining Schiele's birthplace for the Rotary Web site. Feller turned the investigation over to Thomas.

Taking the matter seriously, he wants to set the service club's history straight.

Lewis mentioned sources claiming Pennsylvania as Schiele's birthplace and wanted to know if someone could check out some Clay County records for him. Working on the Rotary Global History project, he was compiling Rotary International history information for a Rotary history Web site.

Because about 20,000 people log on each month, it's important to get the facts straight.

The search was on, and it wouldn't be an easy one.

Before moving to Chicago in his 40s, Schiele didn't leave much of a trail from his Hoosier hometown. A successful coal dealer, he died December 17, 1945.

He and his wife, Jessie Schiele, didn't have children. He remained in Illinois until his death.

The son of Michael and Elizabeth (Krieble) Schiele, he was born June 29, 1870. There is some speculation that Schiele's mother had returned to Pennsylvania to give birth to the baby, where the family had lived prior to moving to Indiana about 1862. Although it's a slight possibility, Thomas said that it's very unlikely.

He thinks part of the confusion comes from the fact that Michael Schiele was married twice. During his first marriage (to Mary), they lived in Pennsylvania and Ohio when their children were born.

He married Sylvester Schiele's mother after moving to Indiana. They then had seven other children, including Sylvester.

"I want to prove Sylvester Schiele came from our home county," Thomas said. He has discovered documentation since his initial correspondence with Lewis and has also spoken with living sources, a great-niece and a widow of a great-nephew living in Clay City who affirm Schiele's Clay County origins. He obtained an original copy of a 1946 issue of The Rotarian Magazine from one of the family members. Unfortunately, much other memorabilia was destroyed in a relative's house fire.

General secretary of Rotary International at the time, and a personal friend of Schiele's, Philip Lovejoy wrote a tribute to Schiele soon after his passing in that particular magazine. In the article, he refers to the Clay County birth: "Sylvester is what many like to think of as a typical American. He was born of German parentage in Clay City, Ind., in 1870. He slept in the attic while snow crept in the chinks between the logs," Lovejoy wrote, convincing Thomas he'd heard Schiele's memories firsthand.

"He was a longtime friend of Sylvester's -- he wouldn't make that up!," Thomas said, adding that it only gets more obvious from there. He's discovered other evidence. A 9-year-old Sylvester appears on the 1880 Clay County Census, assuming the birthplace in this county.

Thomas thinks that's the most reliable information he has found yet, since official birth records for the time are missing.

He's also found local newspaper obituaries from December 1945 citing Schiele's Clay County heritage.

The Brazil Times explains that the former resident died suddenly of a heart attack. "Mr. Schiele was born and reared in Clay County," according to The Times obituary. A Clay City News obituary shows Schiele's birthplace in Harrison Township in Clay County.

Thomas sent the information to Lewis, who has yet to rule out the Pennsylvania birth, but he's beginning to think Clay City was more likely after all.

In any case, Thomas is still bothered that inaccuracies of one of his mentor's history remain on the Net.

"It's not cleared up yet on the Internet," Thomas said, adding, "and I'm not giving up until it is."

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