Buffalo ‘Homebody’ Leaves $2 Million to Colleges, Friends

Two colleges and five friends in Buffalo, New York, will receive more than $2 million from the estate of a reclusive Eggertsville woman, the Buffalo News reports.

Ruth J. Schwendler, an only child who never married and did not have children, worked in insurance offices and lived for many years in a small house that her parents purchased in the 1950s. Intensely private, Schwendler kept a low profile and enjoyed a simple life as a secretary and bookkeeper. She sometimes played bridge with a small group of friends, and she enjoyed tending to the gardens around her home. So it came as a surprise after Schwendler died last May at the age of 92 that she had saved and left behind millions.

Most of the money was set aside for scholarships for students "who would be judged otherwise unable to afford the cost" at Canisius College and D'Youville College. According to the terms of Schwendler's will, the colleges are to split about $2 million, with two-thirds going to Canisius and a third to D'Youville. At Canisius, the new Ruth J. Schwendler Scholarship in Memory of Henry and Clara Schwendler — Schwendler's parents — will provide as much as $50,000 a year in financial aid to students.

Schwendler had little personal involvement with either institution, and administrators were surprised by the bequests. However, her cousin, Francis J. Walter, taught history at Canisius for forty-four years. When he died in 2002, he left Schwendler "a couple hundred thousand" dollars, according to her attorney.

"We get gifts all the time unexpectedly," said William M. Collins, vice president for institutional advancement at Canisius. "In this case, this is an unusually large gift from someone who didn't appear to have a direct connection to the college. We couldn't go into our database and find out anything about her because she wasn't in it."

In her will, Schwendler also left money to five friends. "I was dumbfounded when I saw what she had just gradually, slowly accumulated," said Dolores Hufnagel, a longtime friend of Schwendler's and executor of her estate. Schwendler lived frugally, and she "believed in savings bonds," added Hufnagel, who had known Schwendler since they grew up together on Buffalo's East Side. "She didn't spend money. She didn't go traveling. She was a homebody."