Howard Schumann

At the opposite end of the school hallway, I spy his unmistakable silhouette against a flash of sunlight - the big solid frame, arms slightly akimbo.
Howard Schumann

Not for the first time do I choke down the lump in my throat. Howard Schumann is leaving us. After 45 years. After two generations of kids. After a lifetime of service to the school he loves.

Shu seems to have come with the building, familiar as the worn tile in the lobby or the iconic circle drive. Mike Rohweder, our former student turned school business manager, swears to God he can still smell Mr. Kayl's popcorn every time he sees Shu surveying his kingdom from the doorway of the old gym - now officially renamed the Grand Island Central Catholic Howard Schumann Gymnasium.

"They used to just call it the Old Gym," Howard laughs. "Now they'll call it the Old Howard Schumann Gym."

I guess everybody figures if we name things after him, we don't really lose him. In fact, since he's announced his retirement, we've bestowed Howard Schumann's name on the circle drive, our big GICC track meet, and even the Central Nebraska High Jump event. In this way, we attempt to keep him close. It seems everybody except Shu is in denial over his departure.

"I'll still be around," he says. But isn't that what everybody says? He'll become absorbed in his farm, make new friends, start hanging out at the Peacock Lounge. And forget all about us.

Except he won't, he promises.

"How could I forget 45 years?" he assures us.

He does, in fact, remember much about these four and a half decades. Shu may have started out as a biology teacher, however he was quickly recruited not only as the GICC athletic director but also as a track, wrestling and basketball coach. Coaching girls basketball with Tom Wetzel back in 1979, Shu vividly recalls a trip home in a blizzard from a Chadron basketball tourney that traumatized every girl on the team. Schumann's station wagon, upon reaching Broken Bow, hit a patch of ice on the highway, riveted completely around in a 360 degree spin, and came to rest at the very edge of the road next to a steep ditch. After paralyzed silence, every girl in the vehicle erupted into wailing sobs.

Shu, 1979
"You're crying now?" Shu snapped. "The time to cry was in the middle of that 360!"

Deb Brown Durning, a 1979 basketball player, remembers that night. Even after Shu calmed everybody down and started slowly down the highway again, the station wagon gave out altogether. Shu and all the girls waited for a second car full of girls and piled in with them for a cold and miserable ride home. "I can't remember how many of us were squished in that second vehicle, sitting on each other's laps," she laughs now, but she remembers her teammates Karen Rork and Dee Dee Schmitz rallying each other. "We knew Shu would get us home," Deb recalls. "He was very calm and caring, just so dad-like."

Colleen Chapman Childers from the class of '80 remembers that while the girls shivered in the cold, Shu stayed warm in a pair of ancient overalls.  "We made fun of him for those awful overalls," she laughs, "until we got stranded in the middle of a blizzard and were freezing to death. Then we all wanted them!"

Even in a crisis, every kid knew he could count on Mr. Schumann. Shu remembers how much he was looking forward to the big football game with rival St. Paul on a Friday night back in the 70's. It was a bite-your-nails kind of game with a final score of 7-6. GICC's narrow win elicited Super Bowl enthusiasm. Sadly, Shu only heard about it. A Central Catholic cheerleader, ecstatic that her parents were out of town, decided to enjoy the drive to St. Paul with some good friends and a stash of beer. It never occurred to her she'd get caught.

"Mr. Schumann!" she sobbed over the phone from the police station. "I'm in jail!"

Schumann spent the rest of the evening at the police station simultaneously scolding and comforting the repentant cheerleader as they waited together for her parents to pick her up.

"Yeah," he sighs regretfully three decades later, "I missed a heck of a game."

He wouldn't trade any of those times, however - even when he wanted to pound a few kids: like the time 1980 grad Jerry Dunn tossed an eight pound shot put put through the backboard and shattered it. Or the time Rocky Newman wrestled with another classmate in the hallway until Shu pinned him to the floor by planting his huge foot on Rocky's chest. At last chastised, Rocky rose from the floor and dusted himself off. "Whoa, Mr. Schumann, what the heck shoe size do you wear?" he curiously asked.

Shu remembers the early years of girls' basketball as he and head coach Tom Wetzel divided the girls on either end of the gym to practice the press breaker. The next day when the girls switched sides, one of the players pitifully explained to Shu why she couldn't execute the press.

"I practiced yesterday on that end of the gym," she said with grave logic. "I can't do it at this end."

Schumann credits his parents for helping him to become a fair and patient administrator. Growing up on the family farm north of Grand Island, Howard and his brother Glen attended a one room school house during their early years of elementary school. It seems unthinkable now, but Howard occasionally engaged in a little trouble. One day, in fourth grade, he successfully conned a bully and his friends into the school outhouse and locked them in. The teacher, who'd watched the entire scenario play out from the schoolhouse, whacked the surprised Howard over the head with a book as soon as he smugly entered the classroom.

"I didn't tell my parents," Schumann laughs, "because it would have meant a second whack when I got home."

His gentle mother, he recalls, was the psychologist in the family. When she learned Howard had sneaked smokes with a few older boys from grade school, she calmly gave permission.

"It's fine if you want to smoke," she said to her astonished son, "but you understand you'll have to do it outside after dinner. While the rest of us eat pie."  It didn't take long for Howard to give up the alluring idea of smoking. He'd die before he passed up his mom's pie.

"Dad, on the other hand," Schumann recalls, "was more the 'spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child' kind of parent." Shu still recalls the time he and his brother Glen were told to pull tobacco weeds from a ditch.

"Get 'em out by the roots!" their father instructed.

Bored by the task, Howard spied an old beer bottle in the weeds and decided to have some fun with Glen who was picking a few yards ahead. Hurling the bottle at his brother's foot, Howard screamed, "Grenade!"

The hastily thrown bottle slammed Glen in the arm instead of landing at his feet, and when Glen spied blood dripping from his arm, he ran into the farmhouse crying at the top of his lungs.

"I was crying, too," Schumann shakes his head, "because I was about to be hurt."

As Glen tearfully explained to his father the manner in which his little brother had so recklessly injured him, Howard stationed himself strategically on the other side of the kitchen table and fearfully watched his father's face. When his dad went after him, a chase ensued around and around the table.

"Finally, my dad stopped until I ran right into him," Howard remembers.
Graduate Grace Tynan from Schumann's very last
class at Central Catholic, the class of 2018.

Schumann is grateful to his parents who always demanded integrity from their sons. "They gave us everything we needed," he says about his mom and dad, "and they taught us to be good people."

At the end of their lives, Shu cared for them in return. Both his parents succumbed to Parkinson's Disease, and even after they were required to live in a nursing home, Howard visited them every day and cared for both until they died. As his mother became more and more frail and refused to eat, Howard was the only one who could coax her to take nourishment. Every day, he patiently and tenderly fed his mom at the nursing home.

Here's the truth of it: everybody depends on Howard Schumann. And now he has the audacity to leave us.

It's the same sick feeling you get as a kid when you lose your dad in the store. Not a single teacher, staff member or student in the building for the last 45 years remembers a day without Mr. Schumann at the helm.

This summer at the all school reunion on July 28th, we will say goodbye. Shu will be surrounded by kids from the last four decades who will attempt to convey what he's meant to them in their lives. Maybe those basketball girls who spun out of control on a Broken Bow highway will gather together in the old gym. Perhaps Jerry Dunn, who worked hundreds of hours at school to pay off the backboard he destroyed, will be there. Surely Rocky Newman will come to tease Howard about the size 15 shoe he planted on Rocky's chest. Those kids are in their 50's now. Heck, Rocky Newman must be 60. But young graduates will be there, too.

Grace Tynan from the newly graduated class of 2018, Schumann's last class at GICC, has known Mr. Schumann since she was eight-years-old. As soon as her older brothers Jack and Sam started school at Central, her parents, Jerry and Sue, became regular volunteers, especially with the Athletic Booster Club.

"We call Mr. Schumann a walking saint," Grace says. "Even though I saw more of the bench than anything else in high school and was never a starter or a star, he was one of the most encouraging and supportive people I ever knew. I don't know if there's any AD in the entire state who cares as much about kids as Howard Schumann."

Grace is right. Shu is a walking saint. But even saints deserve a rest.

So we'll let him go. That's right - we'll suck it up and let him go. But we'll never forget him. Howard Schumann has become part of every kid and teacher and hallway and molecule in the place. You don't ever really lose a guy like that. You simply savor the memories.

Thanks for everything, Shu. Don't ever be a stranger.

We'll leave the light on for you.


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