Lawrence A. Schei, a prominent lawyer and civic leader who was a driving force in philanthropic groups and institutions, including a Shriners hospital and language center for children, died Aug. 25 at 99, his family said.
A Sacramento resident for nearly a century, Mr. Schei (pronounced SHAY) belonged to a generation who served their country in World War II and developed a sense of duty to help others. He recalled popular pastimes that connected local people in all walks of life during simpler times, including the minor league Solons baseball team.
“I remember going to a lot of games at Edmonds Field (now a Target store at Riverside Boulevard and Broadway),” he told The Sacramento Bee in 1999. “We lived next door to one of the Moering brothers, who owned the team at the time. … I vividly remember my dad taking me to see an exhibition game (in 1927) where Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played.”
A graduate of Boalt Hall law school at UC Berkeley, Mr. Schei established himself as a pillar of the legal profession. He practiced law for almost 50 years and served on the executive committee of the State Bar of California. He won a 6-3 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1956 case related to life insurance premiums for service members.
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He was president or a board member of well-known civic groups, including the 20-30 Club, the Boy Scouts and the United Crusade. An ardent volunteer with the Los Niños Service League and the Sacramento Children’s Home, he worked with his first wife, Janet, in planning and starting the Casa de los Niños restaurant to support the home.
Active most of his life in Masonic groups, he served as potentate of the Ben Ali Temple and was instrumental in establishing the Sacramento Scottish Rite Childhood Language Center in 1987. He worked with other Shriner leaders to relocate Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California from San Francisco to Sacramento.
“You have to have an ability as a leader to create and communicate a vision to get others to follow you, and that was something that Larry had,” Sacramento Masonic leader Mario Balbiani said. “He had a great drive and vision in trying to lead and better the community.”
Born in 1915 in Long Beach, Mr. Schei moved as a toddler with his parents to Sacramento, where his father was active in real estate. He graduated from Sacramento High School and earned an economics degree from UC Berkeley. He received a law degree in 1940 and was a partner for many years at a firm formerly known as White, Harber & Schei.
He was classified unfit for military service because his feet were too long and narrow to fit in Army boots, his daughter, Judy Dunn, said. He was assigned instead to work at the state Selective Service headquarters in Sacramento during World War II.
Mr. Schei believed strongly in service to others, his daughter said. He served on boards of a variety of groups, including the Visiting Nurse Association, the Sacramento Pioneer Association and the Marguerite Home, a charitable trust founded by Margaret Crocker in 1884 to assist elderly single women.
“Every time he talked to one of his grandkids, he reminded them that your gifts in life are gifts from God that must be used to serve others,” his daughter said. “He wasn’t a deeply religious person, but he believed that we are all here to help others.”
Mr. Schei was married for 55 years to the former Janet Barrows Hall, until her death in 1996. They had two daughters. He is survived by his wife of 13 years, Betty McCurry Schei.
In addition to his wife and his daughter Judy Dunn, he is survived by another daughter, Barbara Thayer; two stepchildren, Betty Crandall and Chris McCurry; five grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.
A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. Sunday at Casa Garden Restaurant, 2760 Sutterville Road, Sacramento. Memorial donations may be made to the Sacramento Children’s Home; the Janet and Lawrence Schei endowed research fund at UC Davis Foundation; Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California; or Sacramento Scottish Rite Childhood Language Center.