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Blues For Peace


Can You Use A Volunteer?

By Jesse Garza, Milwaukee Journal Sentinal

Devastated by divorce in 1959, North Fond du Lac native Earl Scholl found salvation in a group of ragtag kids on Milwaukee's lower east side. The divorce left a void in the mechanical engineer's life he hoped to fill by volunteering to work with youth in what was then one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city.

But what Scholl thought he was giving - by practicing delinquency prevention from his Volkswagen microbus - he was actually receiving. And while he was trying to save kids from the streets, he says, they actually rescued him from his own despair.

"I don't think we really know ourselves, but when we see ourselves in others we learn something," said Scholl, now 75. "Seeing them make mistakes helped me realize my own mistakes. "I grew up with them." Friday, some of the kids he used to drive around in his microbus honored him with a dinner at the United Community Center.

They had intended to ferry him downtown in a limousine, but that's not his style. He waved off the free ride and drove his VW Beetle to the fete. "He was just this kind, warm-hearted person who always went out of his way to help kids," said Lito Zabala, assistant Milwaukee Rampage soccer coach and former Milwaukee Wave player.

Zabala, now 41, was scooped up in Scholl's van as a 7-year-old while kicking a volleyball against his house on N. Jefferson St. A former teacher at Bruce Guadalupe Community School, Zabala credits Scholl, known as "Mr. Schultz" among the kids who never quite got his name straight, with inspiring them to develop the talents he told them they all possessed.

"He always told us to work hard but at the same time have fun," Zabala said. "Having fun was important to him." Scholl earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison before moving to Milwaukee, where he worked for General Motors and then Delco Electronics. He married in the mid-1950s and had a son and a daughter, but divorce divided him from his family by 1959.

"It was kind of rough. I was very upset," Scholl recalled. "I had a lot of time on my hands and I needed something to do. And I'm not the kind of person to sit around in a tavern." A friend told him about a guy at the old Boys Club on Franklin Place who had been trying to work with a group of hard-to-reach kids, Scholl said. The young man was leaving to attend college, so Scholl thought of replacing him.

"I walked in and said, 'Can you use a volunteer?,' " Scholl remembered. But the boys Scholl wanted to work with would not come to the Boys Club. So he went to find them. He found Alex DeLeon hanging out in front of Tilly's grocery store. "He brought all this baseball equipment out of his van and asked us if we liked to play," said DeLeon, now 48 and a labor coordinator with the State Bureau of Apprenticeships.

DeLeon and his friends were taken aback by the tall, imposing figure in gray dress slacks, loafers and Ban-Lon shirt. "While he was talking to us, he said some of the guys could use (the equipment) for a while," DeLeon said. "They didn't bring it back." Undaunted, Scholl continued his outreach efforts, and the equipment eventually was returned, DeLeon said. But the kids still would not go to the club.

"I decided to work with them on my own," Scholl said. But not entirely on his own, he added. He got help from Father John Endejan, then a young priest at Old St. Mary's Church on N. Broadway and now pastor of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Endejan was involved in Catholic Youth Organization athletic leagues; soon, after work, Scholl began rounding up kids in his van to play soccer for St. Mary's.

"He was a friend to the kids and attempted to help get them into activities that would bring them more into the mainstream," Endejan said. "He wanted them to feel accepted." "He was just so for real," said Emilio Lopez, 48, now associate director of health and athletics at the United Community Center. "He'd pile about 20 of us into a van built for maybe seven or eight."

Scholl would usually pick up kids from the corner of N. Jackson and W. Lyon streets, then cruise around the area looking for more. "He'd drive around, beeping his horn, picking us up," Lopez said. Scholl had "his" kids playing soccer and baseball, took them to eat pizza and burgers, "and just shot the breeze with us for hours," Lopez said. He fielded such a successful soccer team that Old St. Mary's won seven championship trophies.

"Being in a room crowded with parents and having your name announced made you feel so proud," Zabala recalled. "It made you feel like you can accomplish anything." "You didn't see Mr. Schultz there one day a week like you see some volunteer mentors today," said Lopez. "He was there every day."

But Scholl wasn't just there during the good times, said DeLeon. He'd be there when one of the guys had to tell his girlfriend's parents that they, too, were going to be parents. He'd be there when the guys would get into "rumbles," pulling them out of the conflicts into the safety of his van. He'd be there when families needed rides to visit loved ones in prison, or when one of the guys got into trouble in school.

"I was learning from them, growing up and maturing myself, every day," said Scholl, who moved back to North Fond du Lac to help take care of his mother in 1975. "They became my family. It was the greatest experience of my life." Earl Scholl was a volunteer before volunteering became fashionable, said Lopez, who now spends most of his time working with kids, and with DeLeon in the Felix Mantilla baseball Little League.

"Nowadays the need is even greater for quality adult role models like Mr. Schultz," Lopez said. "The issues faced by today's kids are much more complex, violent and too often deadly." But, to "Mr. Schultz," lending a hand to others can also help lift one's self. "I tell people if you want to really feel good about yourself, go out and volunteer but expect nothing in return," he said. "Do it because you want to help."

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on June 26, 1999.
 © Copyright 1999, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. All rights reserved

© 1998-2009 Blues for Peace Corporation. All rights reserved.

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