The Schiele Museum goes way back… to 1961! It was then that Rudolph “Bud” Schiele was able to work with the community of Gastonia to establish a building for him to house his vast collection of animal specimens collected from his years spent exploring the natural world. Bud Schiele was 67 years old when he founded the Gaston County Museum of Natural History, today known as the Schiele Museum. The museum’s opening was a culmination of a lifetime devoted to studying, cataloging and preserving nature. To understand The Schiele Museum’s beginning is to understand this self-styled naturalist and botanist who refused to stop working in a profession that he loved so much. Rudolph Melchoir Schiele was born in Philadelphia on April 2, 1893. He developed a keen interest in nature at an early age and, as a young man, worked as an apprentice curator at the Philadelphia Commercial Museum. Though only 17, Schiele began to dream of having his own sanctuary to display his nature collection.
Schiele served as a Second Lieutenant in the 87th Infantry Division of the United States Army after which he declined a job offer to be the only wildlife official in the Territory of Alaska. Instead, Schiele took the job as Scout Executive with the Boy Scouts of America. It was around this time that he married Lily Hobbs, who became his lifelong companion, naturalist and collector.
The Schieles came to Gaston County in 1924 where he remained with the Piedmont Scout Council until 1958. Under his leadership, the Schiele Scout reservation at Tryon was built and became the home for thousands of scouts every summer until it was closed in 1981. For 38 years, Schiele collected wildlife, rocks and minerals, which he displayed at the scout office in Gastonia and at his home. After he was forced to leave scouting because of mandatory retirement age limits, Schiele applied to be a ranger-naturalist for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Before leaving Gastonia, however, Schiele proposed to a group of community leaders: “If you can persuade the county to build a place to house it, I will offer my entire collection of animals and minerals and give my services for free.”
When the Schieles returned to their Gaston County home, plans were already in the works to find a sanctuary for the collection of birds, mammals, rocks, minerals and photographs. The original museum was dedicated in 1961 and, in 1965, the name of the museum was changed to The Schiele Museum of Natural History to honor its founder and benefactor. Today it’s called The Schiele Museum of Natural History and Planetarium.
Bud Schiele continued to be active in Museum affairs until he died in 1974. He was able to pass on some of his vast knowledge of the outdoors to his successor, Alan Stout, who retired in 1995. Stout, who spent nine years under Schiele’s tutelage, says he wouldn’t trade the experience for “two or three Ph.D.s.” Over the years, Bud Schiele received several commendations for his endeavors as a naturalist, historian and community servant. In 1930, he was awarded honorary membership in Alpha Phi Omega at UNC-Chapel Hill. In 1967, he was cited by the Gastonia Chamber of Commerce for outstanding service. In 1968, he received an honorary doctor of law degree from Belmont Abbey College. And each year, the museum observes the first week in April and the month of February as Founder’s Week and Founder’s Month, respectively, in his honor. Bud Schiele’s legacy lives on — not only in the exhibits, but in the spirit of education and conservation engendered at The Schiele Museum.