James Schnabel, a native of the Lehigh Valley, came from a family of Lehigh University graduates. His father, William Russell Schnabel, graduated in 1905 with a degree in civil engineering, and his brother, William Heller Schnabel, graduated in 1939 with a degree in chemical engineering as well. William Schnabel also provided for Lehigh in his estate.
On October 1, 1952 Schnabel married Grace Modene Swift in Bronxville, New York. A native of North Carolina, she graduated in 1932 from the Lebanon Hospital Training School for Nurses in New York City and received her certification as a registered nurse in 1933. She worked as a registered nurse for AT&T for many years, moving to the rank of Supervising Nurse. The Schnabels resided in Connecticut for some years. After her husband died in 1962, Mrs. Schnabel moved to Jupiter, Fla. She remained in close touch with Lehigh through the years until her death in 1998 at the age of 89.
Mrs. Schnabel left a bequest of more than $1 million to establish the James and Grace Schnabel Memorial Endowment at Lehigh University. It was their wish that the endowment be used in the acquisition of library materials.