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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

Our neighbor: Perdita Sheirich

by Claudia Pearce

Perdita Sheirich has been a key member of The Rembrandt Club for more than half a century. Always engaging, delightfully droll, and full of life; she is just fun. And her track record is incredible—she doesn’t just get things done, she gets them done well and with flair. But let’s begin at the beginning.

Her story is uniquely accomplished for a woman of her era and explains how she came to be such a treasured club leader and resource.

Ms. Sheirich, then named Perdita Loomis, was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on Easter Sunday, April 20, 1930. Her father was working on a degree in comparative literature at Harvard, and chose her name from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. When she was 11, her father finished his PhD and accepted a position as professor of German at University of California, Berkeley, so the family moved from Cambridge to California.

She attended public schools, and enrolled at UC Berkeley. When asked to explain a photo of an extracurricular college activity that her stepson Paul sent, Ms. Sheirich replies, “Heavens, where did Paul find that? It takes me back! At the time, I was fashion show director for the Pelican Magazine, UC Berkeley’s humor publication. This was a publicity shot taken in the lobby of the Grand Theater in Oakland. The fashion show featured garments from stores that advertised in the Pelican. We put it on during intermission between features. I remember that dress, I made it.”

After graduating in 1952 with a decorative arts degree and a minor in art, Ms. Sheirich entered the wholesale fabric trade.

“I moved to New York City in 1956, because my then boyfriend (read serious) had transferred to the main office of Time, Inc.” she says. “He had already been there a year, and I arrived too late. Time, Inc. was the place all the girls from Smith, Radcliffe, and Skidmore went to work.”

But that disappointment didn’t deter her from accepting a plum job at Stroheim & Romann, a high-end decorative fabrics and upholstery company. She did a great job for them, and they promoted her to be the manager of their San Francisco Bay Area site.

In 1959, before she began her new assignment, she took three-months to sightsee and visit friends in Madrid, Rome, and Oslo. She chose to go by ship for the first part of her journey via the Olympia to Lisbon.

In 1960, she was managing Stroheim & Romann’s San Francisco office and reconnecting with Berkeley friends and family. At one of her father’s German department parties, her mother introduced her to “this most attractive young man I want you to meet,” a German instructor by the name of Dick Sheirich. Although Perdita was skeptical at first, their rapport was immediate, and they were married in 1962.

Appropriately, Ms. Sheirich made her wedding dress with damask brocade and silk lining left over from one of the large jobs at her firm. The couple thrived in Berkeley, spending summers in Cambridge.

“Dick had finished his PhD requirements by the time he began teaching at UC Berkeley,” says Ms. Sheirich. “But he had to go back to defend his thesis before the committee at Harvard. We usually stayed with old family friends on the same street where I learned to roller skate,” she continues. “While Dick was in the Harvard library, I roamed my old haunts. But his thesis committee decided his first chapter should be the last chapter! What a blow! It meant having to have it retyped, three carbon copies! I didn’t do it. Like ironing his white shirts, I declined. Today’s scholars have it so easy. All they have to do is cut and paste!”

Mr. Sheirich accepted a position as professor of German language and literature at Pomona College in 1965. “When Dick was hired, I was also flown down for the interview ‘to see if I liked Claremont!’” says Ms. Sheirich. “We weren’t fooled. That was the way things were done in those days.” The Pomona College President Mr. E. Wilson Lyon and his wife Carolyn Lyon, were among those who interviewed the couple.

After they were settled in Claremont, Ms. Sheirich took part-time jobs at Pomona College and joined The Rembrandt Club. Soon Ms. Lyon, clearly an excellent judge of talent and character, prevailed upon Ms. Sheirich to become vice president of programming for the club. After Ms. Sheirich was appointed, the board members told her she’d be great, and everyone left for the summer.

With no guidance or list of duties, Ms. Sheirich was at a loss at how to proceed. But she did come up with the first speaker, an art professor from Sonoma State University, Vernon Nye. Then, when everyone returned, she found out the board had expected her to have arranged all the speakers for that program year.

Always resourceful, Ms. Sheirich managed, but, she says, “I don’t remember how the rest of the year went. We were so new to Claremont and I really didn’t know about the rich art heritage of the region. I do remember that there were many wonderful women to support the club.” 

Ms. Sheirich has been on the club board every year since, serving in many capacities, including president from 1968-70 and 1974-76, and co-president from 2000-01. She gave official lectures and instituted a number of new traditions. She has always made sure the holiday decorations were dazzling and elegant, buying ornaments, Della Robbia wreaths, and poinsettias.

Ms. Sheirich has not only been instrumental in much of the club’s history, she has also kept notes. And, in the early 1970s, she took a part-time job at Pomona College doing class notes for its alumni association, so she became a historian of sorts for the College as well. She was always The Rembrandt Club’s official connection to the college, especially when events were held in the Seaver House or the President’s House.

A popular couple, Mr. and Ms. Sheirich would often walk together on campus or around the Claremont Village. They enjoyed trips and sabbaticals in Germany and Austria, often calling Vienna their second home.

When Mr. Sheirich passed away at age 84 in 2011, Ms. Sheirich found comfort in her Rembrandt Club friends and duties, her class notes work, her family in the Bay Area, and her friends in Vienna, who she continued to visit most summers. She only recently retired from her college job, and remains an active Rembrandt board member.

Since presiding over the Club’s 100th anniversary celebration, Ms. Sheirich has desired to publish a history of The Rembrandt Club. She began the research, and did much of the preliminary writing. Last year, she encouraged the club to finish it and volunteered to pay for the book’s publishing.

The Club formed a committee to take it on with the hope of getting it out in time for Ms. Sheirich’s 90th birthday on April 20, 2020. They didn’t quite make the deadline, because the world-wide covid-19 pandemic intervened, but came close.

“The Rembrandt Club members gratefully and enthusiastically dedicate the [Rembrandt History] book to our good friend, well-loved patron, board member, mentor, ideal lunch companion and more,” club members shared.

Founded in 1905, the Rembrandt Club of Pomona College sponsors monthly lectures and teas, excursions to area museums and collections and a variety of events, supporting the museum through funding for publications and programs.

For information, call (909) 621-8283, visit pomona.edu/museum/about/rembrandt_club or email  museuminfo@pomona.edu.

 

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