PESOTUM — A Pesotum farmer is being remembered as a man who used his gift of gab for diplomacy.
Melvin Schroeder, a former Champaign County Farm Bureau president and a member of several civic boards, died Saturday at his Pesotum home. He was 84.
“He could talk to an empty trenchcoat,” his decades-long friend John Fisher of Tolono said with a laugh. “He was very diplomatic. He could smooth things over if they needed smoothing.”
Mr. Schroeder (pronounced SHRAY-der) endured different bouts of cancer and dementia over the last several years, according to the second of his three sons, Randy Schroeder, but was “happy to the end.”
"My brother said that Dad would get on an elevator and, by the third floor, everyone was his friend,” Randy Schroeder said. He was very friendly and always wanted to meet people. If you do that, you find out how small the world is. He would always reach out his hand and start talking; it didn’t matter who.”
After retiring from an agriculture-related career at Illinois State University, Randy Schroeder returned to Pesotum to help his mother, Shirley, a retired Unit 7 teacher, care for his father about eight years ago.
It was ISU that brought his parents together in the 1950s.
“At that time, they only had a two-year agriculture course. He met Mom there. She was a physical education major doing four years,” Randy Schroeder said.
The couple married in 1957. Melvin Schroeder grew up on the family farm and worked with his father, Ernest, in the Pesotum area. Ernest Schroeder had dairy cattle, but Melvin shed that responsibility when his father died and stuck with corn and beans for much of his career, his son said. His chosen profession influenced all three of his sons.
Jon Schroeder of Sadorus is now taking care of the family farm. Another son, Chris Schroeder, lives and farms in the El Paso area, and has his own goats, sheep, pigs and beef cattle, said his brother.
“I’m retired. I sit back and laugh a lot,” said Randy Schroeder of the ribbing that he gives his brothers.
His dad wasn’t a “coffee klatch” kind of farmer.
“He was always working on the farm, doing the books, doing whatever it took to get the farming done,” his son said. “He knew everybody, but he didn’t really hang out. When they had free time, he and Shirley went traveling quite a bit.”
Fisher and wife Jan were often their traveling companions.
Also a farmer, Fisher said their off-season trips included Las Vegas, New Orleans and Branson, Mo. When the Fishers’ three children were young, the families also camped together.
“In Las Vegas, Melvin was lucky and one day he won two different jackpots. One was good-sized. Poor Melvin almost had a heart attack when that happened” Fisher said. “He bought lunch.”
He also chuckled at the memory of their return train trip from New Orleans in the ’80s, a time when their children were old enough to be alone.
“Our house was close enough to the railroad tracks that when we came home that Sunday morning, there were 30 cars around our house. By the time we got home, everybody was gone. The Schroeder boys were part of that with our daughters,” he said.
Randy Schroeder said he and his brothers enjoyed it when their parents traveled.
“There’s still stories they don’t know about, and that’s good,” he said.
Both his parents were active as 4-H leaders in the Pesotum area.
Mr. Schroeder also did stints on the Champaign County Regional School Board, the Champaign County Mental Health Board and the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals.
Given his father’s affinity for reaching out to all kinds of folks, he wasn’t surprised at his level of public service.
“Maybe somebody else didn’t want to do it and he stepped up,” said Randy Schroeder.
Fisher, who was unable to attend his friend’s graveside service Wednesday because of crowd considerations during the coronavirus pandemic, had an another thought.
“He enjoyed being in leadership. He was very outgoing and he could talk to anybody,” he said. “They could have been from Timbuktu and he could still talk to them.”