After 24 years in the area, Sally Schule is a community leader dedicated to helping newcomers find philanthropy.
Sally Schule calls herself a conduit and connector.
She’s a believer in connecting people and lending a helping hand.
“I’m proud to say I’ve had — more young women than men — come to me and say, ‘So I’m new to town, what charity should I join or what would be good for me to do?’” says Schule, 59.
She always responds with, “What are you passionate about?”
Schule worked at Saks Fifth Avenue throughout her college years, working her way up in the company while attending Northern Illinois University and studying fashion merchandising. She started in clerical and cosmetics, stocking the shelves.
After six years with the company, her next Saks job offer would have taken her to New York City. Instead, Schule chose love over her career and married Bradd Schule. The two met in college while she took a second job at Bradd Schule dad’s country club in DeKalb, Ill.
Schule, her husband and their children Tyler and Kaylea moved in 1994 from Illinois to the Suncoast.
Once in the area, Schule turned her career to the furniture business, training salespeople in selling techniques and giving insight on how to develop relationships with clients. She then started working at Jacob’s, a family-owned department store formerly on St. Armands Circle.
Back to Saks
In 1996, Schule received a call from her previous Saks general manager, with whom she had kept in touch. There was always talk of a Saks opening in Sarasota while Schule had been with the company, and now the company was ready.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Schule says. “It was like everything aligned and here I was in Sarasota. I had kind of established myself a little bit and Saks was opening. It was so cool.”
Schule was offered the public relations manager post at the new Saks, a position she used to jump into the world of philanthropy. It’s something she didn’t get to do working with her previous jobs at Saks.
The Sarasota Saks location was committed to local philanthropic work from the day the store opened. Thousands of people showed up for the grand opening, for which five charities were invited to participate. Every charity was encouraged to bring in shoppers, and in turn, each organization received a grant of $5,000.
“It’s just a unique marketplace,” Schule says of Sarasota. “Even Saks corporate couldn’t believe the amount of events and charities that people supported in this community. It’s really different here.”
The opening celebration kicked off the first of many charitable events at the local Saks location — a Goodwill fashion show, a dog tea party with the Animal Rescue Coalition and Key to the Cure, the evening of shopping, performances and entertainment benefiting the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation that has become one of Sarasota’s most popular fundraisers.
Hosting these events is where Schule first met regular shoppers, such as Margaret Wise, who soon turned into friends. Schule’s role at Saks was to build relationships with the people who shopped at the store, and in return, support those shoppers’ favorite causes.
“I may not be the person who writes the check, but I had the power to go through Saks Fifth Avenue and align Saks Fifth Avenue to a local charity,” Schule says. “That was a great combination.”
Some of Schule’s fondest memories come from that time. As a dog lover, she remembers the tea parties with the Animal Rescue Coalition with a smile. The event was always right around her birthday, so one year they turned it into a birthday party, complete with a cake and rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Another year, two dogs were married at the event by two judges.
“People still say to me, ‘I wish Saks or somebody else would do that again’ because there’s not a whole lot of events you can get dressed up and bring your dog,” Schule says.
In 2014, Saks moved to The Mall at University Town Center. By that time, Schule had been promoted to general manager. But that wasn’t her strong suit. That’s marketing, she says. So she returned to her passion. But Saks wasn’t ready to give up, yet. The high-end retailer wanted her to take over the store in Naples. Schule knew that wouldn’t work, but she wasn’t ready to give up her career.
A natural transition, she says, was capitalizing on her connection with Key to the Cure, and the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation.
“They were on my list and lucky for me, I was on their list too,” she says.
As the director of community engagement for SMHF, Schule works to promote the SMHF story and show the community the return on its investment in the foundation.
Schule says she was attracted to SMHF because its “mission is to improve the health care offered in the community we live in.”
“It is what makes it possible for us all to enjoy all the wonderful reasons we choose to live in Sarasota,” she says.
And while Schule is busy promoting the SMHF mission, you will still see her at myriad events throughout season. Last year, the foundation employees attended 72 events, 90% of which Schule says she attended. Orchid Ball, Firefly Gala, the Southeastern Guide Dog walks and the Girls Inc. Celebration Luncheon were a few of her favorites.
“It (the Girls Inc. luncheon) makes me cry every time,” Schule says. “Being a past honoree, it’s special in my heart to know what it’s like to get up on that stage and have those little girls give you so much confidence.”
Being a familiar face in the community allows Schule to get to know the charities in Sarasota and do what she does best: build relationships with community members and relay knowledge about local philanthropies.
After being here for 24 years, Schule calls Sarasota a one-of-a-kind city full of real people who are true to themselves, disproving the stereotype of charity gala regulars being pretentious or fake.
“People are comfortable being in black tie and then going to a dog walk,” she says. “People are willing to give up their time, their knowledge, their money. They are willing to do what it takes to make their community better. You don’t find that everywhere.”