From sewer maintenance to forestry, Schulte did tree-mendous work

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 18, 2015


GROSSE POINTE CITY — As someone who grew up in the Pointes, employment in Grosse Pointe City’s Department of Public Works wasn’t just a job — it was personal for Frank Schulte.

After more than 35 years, Schulte — currently the public service supervisor — will retire Nov. 20. 

Schulte, 55, grew up in Grosse Pointe Park and graduated from Grosse Pointe South High School in 1979. After high school, he was hired as a laborer for the City, driving the old Cushman vehicles. Schulte worked his way up the ranks, becoming a truck driver, foreman, and then, in 2001, supervisor of public service. He said he’s always enjoyed working outdoors and driving equipment, so this job was a good fit for him.

“I’m a hands-on guy,” Schulte said. “I decided I wanted to be a truck driver and fell into this position (with the City) and never really left.”

Over the years, Schulte’s job has entailed a wide range of responsibilities, from forestry to code enforcement to sewer and pump station maintenance.

Among the many sad to see Schulte retire is his boss, Public Service Director Gary Huvaere. Huvaere said they were classmates and friends at South, and both started working for the City at the same time, along with two other classmates. While the other two classmates went on to other jobs, Huvaere and Schulte continued to work together.

“It’s been great,” Huvaere said of working with his high school buddy. “He was a great asset to the community. We both grew up in Grosse Pointe, so we both cared about the community.”

Schulte is younger than the typical retiree today, but this has been his goal all along.

“I’ve planned all my life, through negotiations and savings, to retire at (age) 55,” he said.

And although he won’t be working full time anymore, Schulte will still be working. He has been coaching soccer for the Eastside FC — formerly the Grosse Pointe Soccer Association — for about 12 years now, and he said he plans to continue doing this. A veteran forester for the City, Schulte’s been tapped by Grosse Pointe Woods to work part time there as well, where he’ll be handling forestry duties and helping the Department of Public Works supervisor.

Schulte and his wife of 32 years, Betsy Schulte — the director of volunteers for Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe — live in Grosse Pointe Farms. They’re the parents of two young adult children: Anna, a University of Michigan graduate who works as a photo editor for a major clothing retailer, and Jack, a senior sociology major at the University of Michigan who’s scheduled to graduate in May. 

“Grosse Pointe’s a great community, with the (mature) trees and the homes and the school system,” Schulte said. “It’s a great place to raise a family.”

As a retiree, Schulte said he hopes to travel more — he and his son are going to New Zealand after his son graduates from college — and spend more time boating and hunting, two of his favorite pastimes. He said he’d also like to visit his daughter — who now lives in Ohio — more frequently.

Schulte won’t miss the often odd hours associated with the job — like the phone calls in the middle of the night about needing to plow or salt winter roads, or calls after hours about problems at the pump station or a fallen tree. One year, he said, he spent all of Christmas Day working because a sewer backed up.

“It’s never really been a 9-to-5 job,” Schulte said.

Still, he’s not complaining. Maintaining operations and providing good service have always been a priority for him.

“I’ve always tried to do a really good job for the City of Grosse Pointe,” Schulte said.

He’s sad to be leaving his colleagues behind.

“All of the employees I’ve worked with — I’ll miss them,” Schulte said. “We’re all pretty close. We’re like a family.”

Schulte has been involved in some major projects for the City over his career, including a recently completed $5 million sewer restoration effort and a $1 million improvement to the Neff Pump Station circa 2008-09 in which the City received about a $700,000 reimbursement from the federal government.

But some of his proudest moments are the ones that residents would never be aware of because he and his colleagues helped avert a disaster. During a massive power outage in Michigan in 2003, Schulte and his co-workers worked 36 hours straight to keep the sewer pumps working so they wouldn’t back up into the basements of residents. He said they had to set up diesel pumps to keep the Neff Pump Station running. Schulte personally drove to Pontiac at night — at a time when there were no working traffic signals or streetlights — to pick up and bring back a diesel pump. The City has since installed a generator to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

A record snowstorm in the winter of 1996 with 40 mph wind gusts that created enormous snow drifts caused all of metro Detroit to come to a standstill, but Schulte — the first City employee to respond to the storm — worked through the night with his colleagues to clear the roads and keep them open for residents and emergency responders. And when violent straight-line winds ripped through the Pointes in 1997, downing towering trees and power lines alike, Schulte said he was once again the first City employee on the scene. He said he and his co-workers worked through the night to clear debris and trees from roadways and driveways.

“We always put the City first,” Schulte said.

It’s that work ethic and dedication that City leaders say has made Schulte such a valued member of the team.

“He is an excellent employee,” City Manager Pete Dame said. “He will be hard to replace.”

As part of the consent agenda, the Grosse Pointe City Council voted unanimously Oct. 19 in favor of a resolution expressing gratitude to Schulte for all he’s done for the community during his career.

“I commend Frank for all his years of service to the City,” City Councilman Christopher Walsh said.

Councilman Andrew Turnbull praised Schulte for his “tireless service,” and Councilman Donald Parthum Jr. said he would “be missed.”

Huvaere echoed those sentiments.

“He’s always been caring,” he said of Schulte. “He’s always been available. He took pride in his work. He’s going to be missed by a lot of us in the City and (by) the residents, for sure. He always did his best to help.”