BROOKINGS — Through three generations, members of the Herbert J. Schulte family have held high their loyalty to South Dakota State University, and now they’re being honored as the SDSU Family of the Year.
On Feb. 18 at the women’s basketball game against Omaha, the Schultes will be honored as the SDSU Family of the Year by the SDSU Alumni Association. In addition to being honored during the basketball game, the Schultes will be the guests of honor at a luncheon that day with SDSU President Barry Dunn at the SDSU Alumni Center.
The list of SDSU Schulte graduates begins with Herbert Schulte in 1933 and continues through three of his grandchildren, the most recent graduate being Jill (VanDerWerff) Johnson in 2006.
All told, four of the five children of Herbert and Roberta Schulte graduated from SDSU, as did two of their spouses. Also, three of their grandchildren’s spouses are SDSU graduates.
Herbert Schulte was a Frankfort farm boy who enjoyed playing basketball with his brothers in the Catholic school gym while his father cleaned the school. After high school, he enrolled at Columbus College in Sioux Falls and played basketball. But the school closed after a year, and its basketball coach went to South Dakota State College.
Coach Red Threlfall invited the stout Schulte to join him in Brookings. He did. While there, he was an Argus Leader all-conference selection for the Jacks in basketball, and started at both offense and defense for the Jacks in football. That set a tradition for future Schultes, according to son Robert Schulte.
Early days of electric power
Herbert Schulte enrolled in electrical engineering, which was an emerging field in 1929. He got out of college in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression. The demand for electrical engineers was not high, Robert Schulte related. Herbert Schulte took a job in Wagner with Northwestern Public Service as a lineman, meter reader and billing clerk.
He was a bit like the dog catcher. When some people saw him coming, they would turn and run. But rather than trying to round up their loose hound, they had another reason for evasion.
“It was common that people would jumper their electric meters. Meters were in the upper floors. The wives would sometimes tackle him trying to go upstairs” because the husbands were upstairs trying to undo the illegal connection, Robert Schulte shared.
From there, Herbert Schulte went into business for himself in Clark, wiring farmhouses and selling appliances. “He put a coin box on the washing machines and dryers. People made their payments when they used the machines. Every couple of weeks, he would go around collect those quarters,” Robert Schulte said.
An icon at NorthWestern Energy
In 1950, Northwestern Public Service asked Herbert Schulte to become head of its electrical department in Huron, and he subsequently became a pioneer in the state’s electric industry.
He retired from that position in 1974. During his tenure at what is now NorthWestern Energy, much of the electric transmission and distribution systems from Aberdeen to Yankton were built. In retirement, he operated Schulte Engineers consulting firm and was named South Dakota Man of the Year by the South Dakota Electric Council in 1978.
During their nearly four decades in Huron, the Schultes were members of the Beadle County SDSU Alumni Chapter, responsible for operating the chapter’s SDSU fundraising food booth at the South Dakota State Fair every year. All of the many gallons of sloppy joe “tavern” sandwich mix sold at the booth during those years was made in the basement of the Schultes’ home.
Robert Schulte notes the family still makes the same recipe every Hobo Day for tailgating before the football game.
Following Dad’s footsteps
Herbert Schulte’s influence can be seen in his children’s career choices. All three sons are in the electric utility field.
Eldest child Richard, now of Northfield, Minn., earned his electrical engineering degree in 1962 and followed that up with a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1964). He worked on classified projects at White Sands Missile Range and helped start the Electric Power Research Institute as well as heading the American Gas Association’s appliance certification lab.
His spouse, ReJean (Bowar) Schulte of Faulkton, earned a degree in early childhood education in 1962 as well as serving as Miss South Dakota in 1961-62.
Middle son John, now of Huron and Lenexa, Kan., was an Army officer, a lineman, a dispatcher and owned his own transmission line and substation construction business.
Youngest son Robert, now of Raleigh, North Carolina, earned his degree in electrical engineering in 1975, earned his master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Missouri-Columbia, spent five years as a commissioned Air Force officer and 16 years with Northern States Power in Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, and for the past 27 years has operated Schulte Associates doing resource planning for utilities.
“When the three Schulte boys are together, there seems to be a 60-cycle hum in the room”, Robert Schulte joked. “That came from Dad too.”
His first wife, Bonnie (Heimlich) Schulte of Brookings, was the daughter of SDSU grads Richard and Lavonne Heimlich, the latter of whom was Hobo Day queen in 1947.
Robert and Bonnie’s daughter, Nicole (Schulte) Brower, is a 2000 graduate in advertising and is the art director for the Brookings Register. She is married to 2000 ag economics graduate Tony Brower, of Volga, who owns Brower Construction and Roofing.
Four generations in the making
Daughter Dr. Barbara (Schulte) Helton, now of Raleigh, graduated in 1963 with a chemistry degree. She graduated from the University of South Dakota Medical School in 1965 and was one of only three female graduates from Georgetown University medical school in 1967. She went on to serve as a pediatrician in Minneapolis and then raised two children.
Daughter Mary (Schulte) VanDerWerff, now of Armour, earned a degree in health, physical education and recreation in 1971 as well as lettering in volleyball and field hockey.
Her spouse, Gail, is a 1971 ag economics graduate. They have farmed north of Armour for more than 40 years. During that time, Gail VanDerWerff served on the Armour School Board and was an emergency medical technician.
Both of their daughters are SDSU grads. Emily (VanDerWerff) St. James, now of Los Angeles, majored in journalism, English and theater, graduating in 2004. She served as editor of the SDSU Collegian and is now a leading motion picture and TV critic in Hollywood.
Jill (VanDerWerff) Johnson, now of Sioux Falls, graduated in 2006 with an economics degree and was a member of the Pride of the Dakotas Marching Band. Her spouse, Trent, is a 2007 mechanical engineering graduate, works at Raven Industries in Sioux Falls, and presents industry seminars for students and faculty in the SDSU precision agriculture program.
Another generation of Schulte graduates may be forthcoming. Rachel Wieber, a granddaughter of Richard Schulte, enrolled in the nursing program this month.
SDSU values remain solid
The Schulte name will continue to be heard in the engineering quarters as Richard and Robert Schulte formed the H.J. Schulte Scholarship in Power Engineering in 2017 to honor their late father.
Robert Schulte also served on the SDSU Foundation Council of Trustees from 2014 to 2020.
A lot has changed since Herbert Schulte was studying how power was produced in the early ’30s. But Robert Schulte said the intrinsic values of the school have not.
“The ethics, the loyalty, the commitment to right and wrong, to doing the right thing, to serving the state and community, that hasn’t changed,” he said. “The enthusiasm for the Jackrabbit teams, all the teams, men’s and women’s, is stronger than ever. The loyalty to being a Jackrabbit hasn’t changed.”