Morning Sun
  • TRUE STORIES: Fred R. Schiefelbein

  • Anyone who regularly reads the editorial page of this newspaper will recognize the name Fred R. Schiefelbein as one of its most colorful and insightful contributors in the form of letters to the editor.

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  • Anyone who regularly reads the editorial page of this newspaper will recognize the name Fred R. Schiefelbein as one of its most colorful and insightful contributors in the form of letters to the editor.
    Fred, who died last week at age 94, regularly gave his take on everything from political “fat cats” and “Tea Partiers” to religious zealots to all manner of national, state and local civic issues.
    In every one, his wry sense of humor, penchant for satire, and considerable intelligence came through, as in this excerpt from his missive a while back on the proposed closing of Joplin street where it passes through PSU: “Perhaps I am doddering in my senility, but I find it a tad confusing that at one end of the town we are proposing to close a main artery to provide safe passageway for a group of supposedly agile young people while in the center of the city we are declaring “open season” on older pedestrians and drivers who wish to shop on the other side of Broadway, so that other drivers can get to the mall or Walmart a little faster.”
    He was also a deeply reflective man. At his funeral Saturday, Fr. McElwee shared parts of a letter of advice he wrote to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Here’s some excerpts:
    The deepest joy in life is to do for others. • It is possible to be both meek and courageous. • Revenge is not sweet. • Most of us get what we deserve. • You will realize one day that most of what you worry about doesn’t matter.
    This last one about worry was, more or less, exactly what Fred said to me the last time I talked to him. About a year ago he phoned me very concerned that I might be severely depressed and feeling hopeless after I’d written a rather gloomy column about the fine line between “acceptance” and “screw it all.”
    Such behavior was not out of character for Fred. He expressed a passionate concern others, his country and community his entire life. This was evident not only in his belief in the fair treatment of everyone — no matter their social or financial standing — but also in his work with organizations such as Our Lady of Lourdes, The United Way, and the Little League, just to name a few.
    Fr. McElwee also mentioned that part of his fondness for Fred was that he never shied away from an argument: “He was the only one around who would argue politics and religion with me.” Indeed. I felt the same way as I was raised on such predilections in the Republic of Frontenac.
    I kick myself for not sitting down with him with a tape recorder or video camera and capturing his considerable knowledge of southeast Kansas history. He regularly called — or wrote a longhand letter to me — to expand upon some historical reference he’d seen in my writing.
    Page 2 of 3 - For instance, when I wrote about the old 69 Speedway on north Broadway, he said it brought him memories of breathing all the dust the racing cars kicked up (likely laden with zinc since the track was located on land formerly occupied by a zinc smelter) at what he called the “Dust Bowl”. He reported that none other than Joplin jeweler “Bunny” Newton raced there alongside “Big John” Kojak. He also shared some Pittsburg history I was totally unaware of – that there was once a horse racing track and baseball field with a huge grandstand located where Walmart now stands.
    Over the years he worked for the Kansas City Southern Railroad, Hull and Dillon Packing Co. and the Pittsburg Headlight and Sun.
    Speaking of the Sun, after a typo in this paper a couple years ago, Fred wrote a letter about a mistake when he was employed there that he figured resulted in the most-read advertisement in the publication’s history. “The typesetter who created an ad for Coulter McGuire, a local clothing store, selected a large type that they have in reserve for the second coming of Christ. The ad featured a sale of ‘Essley Shirts.’ The typesetter and the proofreader both overlooked that the letter ‘R’ had been omitted in the word shirts. Needless to say, the omission was the conversation piece of hundreds of readers. I don’t know how many shirts were sold, but the clothing store owners gave the ‘red-faced’ printer a new shirt. Old ‘Brink’ may have initially blown his top. But I think one of his infrequent smiles appeared later.”
    Fred was an avid fisherman, woodworker and golfer. A regular figure at the Four Oaks Golf Course, he scored 14 holes-in-one over the years. McElwee quipped (in Schiefelbein fashion) that Fred played everyday … so all those holes-in-one aren’t such a big deal given the law of averages!
    Speaking of golf, Pete Onelio, one of his daily Four Oaks partners, once related a story about the day Fred, who was an inveterate pipe smoker, thought he’d cleaned his pipe out and placed it casually in his back pocket before lining up a tee shot — only to begin dancing a little jig as smoke rolled out of his pants, much to the glee of his golf mates. (At Pete’s funeral, his grandson read a heartfelt letter from a liquid-eyed Fred, who was sitting a few rows back from the family, about the importance of Pete’s friendship, which was made even more priceless by his support and understanding after Fred lost his wife, Minnie.
    At my dad’s rosary at Sacred Heart, Fred, who played fast pitch softball with and against my him in the 1940s and 1950s, walked with me to the casket, looked down at him and said, “Your dad was one of the best centerfielders I ever saw. If it wasn’t out of the park … he caught it.” Knowing how competitive and proud my dad was, I was surprised the comment didn’t bring him back to life.
    Page 3 of 3 - Speaking of softball, I received this e-mail from Paul Hutsey Saturday morning: “Fred’s passing reminds me of how ‘big’ softball was in this area in the late 1940s and 1950s. Your dad and Fred had lots of battles as a hitter and a pitcher. Pittsburg had its own softball league — with teams like McNally’s, Bowlus School Supply, Joe Smith Tobacco, Berry’s Clothier, and Johnson Tires. Frontenac and Weir American Legion had a team. P&M Coal Co. from Mineral had a great team. There were some great pitchers like Fred, Hank Goodman from Frontenac, Joe Keller and Ed Scott from Pitt State to name a few.”
    I found the following comments in the section below Fred’s Morning Sun online obituary (written by someone I can only identify by their online moniker yates33333) that spoke, among other things, to his integrity and ability as a ref in local high school games. “Fred Schiefelbein was the type of person you learn to admire over time, so God Bless You and Keep You Mr. Schiefelbein, and may The Light Perpetual shine upon You. May you rest in peace and rise in Glory.”
    I like to think that Fred’s is again with his beloved Minnie and the softball, fishing, and golfing buddies who’ve gone before him. But wherever he is, those around him best be careful about what they say.
    For as Fr. McElwee said in his homily, Fred did not suffer fools gladly. Which is to say, saints and sinners alike, if you get into a spirited discussion with Fred R. Schiefelbein you’d better be able to back up your position with knowledge of the subject and a good grasp of logic — or there will be hell to pay.
    J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net

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