Ten years ago I wrote the following column, in remembrance and gratitude of my father-in-law, Junior Schultz, who had recently passed away from pancreatic cancer. In continued gratitude, humility, sympathy to those who continue to feel the loss, and abiding hope that the message expressed possesses some staying power, I present it again.
Requiem for a Heavyweight
I stare out my office window every work day at a majestic oak tree framed perfectly by the edifices of the University of Dayton undergraduate library and the law school. Based on its height and girth I would judge it to be seventy or eighty years old. During that span it has offered its shade, protection, and beauty silently and steadfastly, without fanfare.
An oak of a man from Darke County passed away last week. Junior Schultz, my father-in-law, loved his Lord, his wife, his daughters, his family, his friends and coworkers, his car business, his community and his pets with dedication and intensity. He cherished his classmates from GHS (class of ’51), though he wasn’t the best or most committed student (when asked what his favorite part of school was, he deadpanned “graduation.”). He appreciated his time in the Navy as a member of the Construction Battalion (“Seabees”) during the Korean War, an experience which reinforced his love of country and his obsessive-compulsive tendencies. He was born in 1933, the only child to Leonard Schultz, Sr. and Carrie (Oda) Schultz and lived his entire life here. His father started a business during the depression selling used cars and service, made a success of it, and got his son hooked on it. Junior took the reins in the late ’60’s and made it an even greater success.
Junior was an anachronism. His way of doing business and of seeing the world was probably more in vogue during the Truman or Eisenhower administrations than it is now, sad to say. With his burr haircut, his neatly starched and ironed short-sleeve shirts, and his confident gait around the car lot, he practically strode straight off the canvas of a Norman Rockwell painting. His jib, as they say, was always cut straight and true. In an age when being a successful businessman—particularly a used car salesman—often means shafting others for personal gain, Junior stood for honesty and generosity. In a culture dominated by those who favor style over substance, he was a model of simplicity, integrity, and virtue. At a moment when what you appear to be carries greater worth than what you really are, Junior rejected the superficial and short-term, and held fast to what lasts. He treated others as he wanted to be treated, and executed the golden rule as naturally and as frequently as he breathed.
If you’re a member of Generation Why, and had never crossed paths directly with Junior Schultz, you may wonder “what has any of this to do with me?” Plenty, my friend. Plenty.
Hundreds of friends and family members stood in line for hours at his visitation last week in order to pay their respects to his wife, Rosalie, and his daughters, Lisa and Krista. One of the oft-repeated laments I heard that evening was, “He was different…a dying breed. They don’t make ’em like that any more.” I fear it’s true. He was a rock-solid mentor and surrogate father to dozens of young men who worked at his business over the past forty years, ready and willing to teach them all about the enduring value of hard work and character, traits he emphasized should be expressed in every task you take on, large and small. He was an enormous advocate to scores of young people involved in FFA and 4H. A fixture at every livestock sale at the Darke County Fair for many years, he invested hundreds of thousands of dollars purchasing sheep, cows, and pigs from the young people who raised them. He believed it was money well spent because he wanted to support the youths whose work ethic and commitment mirrored his own. He sponsored other events at the Fair, too, including the “Little Miss/Little Mr.” contest, underwrote numerous Darke Counter Center for the Arts events, backed Library programs, and gave regularly to more civic causes than I can remember or have the space to catalog here. And he provided his philanthropy while maintaining his sturdy, dependable, oak-like stature: satisfied to benefit the community and young people he adored, standing quietly in the background with an easy smile on his face and a tooth-pick in his mouth.
His departure, while blessedly painless and peaceful, still constitutes a crushing blow to those of us who knew him well and it leaves a huge void in our community. Whether you were aware of it or not, somewhere along the line you benefited from his largesse. He backed an event or a program that you or your children participated in and learned from. He may have taught you something on the job at Schultz Motors, or your cousin, or your buddy, or your buddy’s buddy…thereby making Darke County (directly and derivatively) a better place to live. If you’re a young person reading this, I plead with you to find someone like Junior to learn from and model yourself after. This will be difficult, for as I mentioned the ranks of his ilk are depleting. I guarantee you, though, that it will be worth the effort. If you’re middle-aged (or beyond), I beg you to help fill the gaping hole left by Junior’s passing. Darke County, and its youth in particular, needs us now more than ever. I call on you to honor Junior by ensuring that the branches of his influence continue to extend high and wide. Together let’s grant Junior’s endangered species extended life by offering his brand of guidance, support, and protection for generations of Darke Countians to come.
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.