Eddie Bieber, whose shirtless appearance outside The Schenley residence hall earned him the nickname ‘Old Man Schenley’, died May 31 at GW Hospital. He was 96.
Bieber spent nearly one month in the hospital due to complications from a hip injury before his death. A native Washingtonian, Bieber lived in the same apartment in The Schenley for more than 60 years, paying $203 in rent each month. As he aged, Bieber saw hundreds of student residents come and go from his long-time home.
“He had so many simple pleasures,” said Anu Shah, a junior and former resident of The Schenley. “Any chance he had he would just sit outside.”
Heavily tanned, Bieber greeted residents of the residence hall as they came and went. Always with a smile on his face, his presence on campus has been a sign of spring and the onset of warm weather for years.
“Sometimes you could judge the weather by whether or not he was sitting outside with his shirt off,” said junior Matt Coolidge, who lived in The Schenley this past academic year.
But for the people who sat down and listened to his tales, Bieber was more than just a novelty figure on campus. He was a friendly, familiar face with a bounty of stories to share with whoever had a moment to sit down and listen.
“He was always ready with a smile when someone said ‘Hi.’ He was excited to have people around to talk to him,” said junior Elizabeth Drellich, another student who shared her residence hall with Bieber.
A renowned cyclist, he said he holds the record for biking from the U.S. Capitol to downtown Baltimore. Though Bieber stopped riding years ago, he still kept his bike in the basement of The Schenley. Shah said Bieber talked with his doctor about the possibility of cycling once his health improved, though both knew the chances of him getting back on his bike were slim.
“He always had this idea that he (might) be able to ride again,” Shah said.
Rita Champagne, a Foggy Bottom resident, said she first met Bieber about 15 years ago when she encountered him sitting on a bench by the Georgetown waterfront with a large scrapbook filled with photos of his cycling races. She said over the years Bieber told her many stories about the races he won on his precious bicycle, one he called his Stradivarius.
“He was just very down to Earth,” she said. “A very kind man – he would just go about his business.”
Bieber told The Hatchet in the past he competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin as a member of the American cycling team. At the games, he said he saw Hitler drive by in a stretch limo. Bieber was in the Navy for six years and then became a welder for the National Security Agency.
“He kind of brought history alive,” Coolidge said.
In November, residents of The Schenley celebrated Bieber’s 96th birthday with a big cake and a picture of Bieber on his bicycle that was hung up on the wall.
Annette Eliasberg, a Foggy Bottom resident, also spoke of how Bieber loved telling people about where he was when history was happening. She remembered Bieber telling her that on Dec. 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, he was watching a game of the Washington Redskins vs. the Chicago Bears.
She and Bieber were both members of a breakfast group of students and community members who ate and chatted at Au Bon Pain regularly. Eliasberg described Bieber’s optimism and passion for ordinary things.
“He loved life,” she said. “He loved being around people. He was appreciative of everything he had. I don’t remember a day when he was ever angry. He loved every single day. He was never bored.”