Faces in the Crowd Wendell Schwab

December 14, 2017

By Aaron Michell

There’s a house up there on Broadway Street that will let you know when Christmas is near. It’s Wendell and Tonia Schwab’s house; the house that, when all lit up – with Santa, and snowmen, and a working mini-ski-lift – will bring a little joy to your holiday season. Because that’s what Wendell Schwab does; he brings joy to people. Known by many in the Marion area as the local handyman, he’s the guy who can fix anything, build anything, and help whenever and wherever help is needed.
Wendell Schwab grew up in a home with no running water, working on a farm and sawmill in Middle Branch township, just south of Marion. The third of twelve children, his family didn’t have much growing up, but they had each other, and they had Wendell. From an early age, he learned about work ethic, toughness, and perseverance.
Wendell and his wife Tonia have since passed down those values to their six kids and thirteen grandchildren.
These days, you can find the Schwab family out volunteering in the Marion community throughout the year; you can find them giving back to the school; you can find them helping neighbors in need. You can find them at their house, all lit up with those Christmas lights and decorations. That’s where we found Wendell. That’s where we found out he’s more than just another face in the crowd.

Marion Press: Where did you grow up?
Wendell: We grew up in Marion, down on Gormer Road. Down there by Fankhauser’s and Moomey’s place near M-115 and 20th Avenue. I grew up with seven brothers and four sisters. I was the third oldest; I had an older brother and an older sister.

MP: What did you like to do as a kid?
Wendell: I liked fishing and working on the sawmill and farm work. We had an old sawmill; it was all manual. I was working from about ten years old. We learned how to work the sawmill, and then we learned how to run the old farm equipment. We had the old hay rakes where you’d sit on the back of it, bench style – where you’d pull the lever to drop the rake, and then the same with mowing hay – you’d have to pull the lever to drop the blade down to cut the hay. We had an old John Deere A tractor.
We never had running water; it was all hand pump. We had to go outside and get our own water and pump it and everything.

Wendell Schwab

Wendell Schwab

MP: Have you lived in Marion your whole life?
Wendell: I left in ’91 for about twenty years. I went to Gladwin for about six years and then I went to Houghton Lake. I run a big business over there – Shay’s Lakefront Lodge. They [Shay’s] were like parents to me; they took me under their wing. All my kids ran the snack shack there. The Detroit Tigers came to visit; some big profile actors came up there for vacation. We worked there for about 10 years, helping them run the resort.

MP: Where did you learn your work ethic?
Wendell: A lot of it is from my grandpa, Cecil Bell. Everything was hands-on. He taught us from an early age. I learned how to make cement blocks because that’s what he did; make it as you can. Same with plumbing, everything was hands-on. He taught me, when you get into something, you look at it and just figure it out. Take it apart if you can’t figure it out; take it apart and put it back together. And that’s where I learned everything, basically from my grandpa, Cecil Bell. it’s been hands-on ever since.
I did work on the oil rigs for a few years, so I did get some trade out of that. I was a motor hand, working on the motors and the generators and the power plants.
I was in Gladwin for a bit, I worked in construction there also – for Goodin and Bigelow Construction. At that time, we were doing construction for schools. I helped build the new addition for the elementary school here in Marion.
We moved back to Marion in 2009. We bought our house in March of 2009.

MP: What made you start decorating your house every Christmas?
Wendell: Well, any place that we lived – even when we lived out in the country in Houghton Lake over by Dead Stream Swamp – it’s just something I did for my kids. We lit it up over there too, in no man’s land. You wouldn’t believe it, the neighbors – everybody started lighting up their houses as soon as we started – the neighbors on that whole road out there started doing it, and it just progressed from there. And it was the kids who kept us going.
We had so many people stopping to look at our house, every place that we’ve lived. And it was mainly the kids stopping to get out and look at our house. And when we started here, we had a lot of old-timers stopping here, and we’d get people from all over stopping by. We had a Mr. and Mrs. Clause and a little house out front, and people would stop and sit on the bench and get pictures. And we had a big box of candy canes and the kids could take whatever candy canes they wanted. And it progressed from there. This year we’re just way behind, but I started again tonight; I’ve got a few arches up tonight. By the weekend we’ll have quite a bit up. I’ve got a super idea that we’re going to do on the roof, but I’m not going to tell you until you see it.

MP: And when will the roof be done?
Wendell: Saturday.

MP: So you’re kind of known as the village handyman, the guy who can do it all. What keeps you busy these days?
Wendell: I don’t do too much of the construction, really. I do trees, brush; I’ll haul anything. I do some construction, but not the major stuff. I build a lot of doors. They’re barn style doors, but I can make ‘em any style you want – driftwood, ponderosa pine, whatever you want.

MP: And I know you give back to the community a lot. Where did that come from?
Wendell: I got that because I know my parents didn’t have a whole lot and I know that they got a lot of help from other people and probably from the state. So I believe that I should repay the same help back; I believe I should, in return, help others. So that’s my mindset. If I see somebody that needs something, I’ll give back.
We volunteer a lot. Me and my wife have funded the field trips for the preschools for the last few years; we’ve helped fund the kindergarten, first, second, and third grade field trips; pizza parties in the high school. We’ve bought basketballs and hula hoops for the kids at the elementary school. We have no problem giving back to the school whatsoever.

MP: And you have three kids in the military? You must be pretty proud of them.
Wendell: Oh yes. Very, very proud. Some of the things we do, I’ll call my boys and they’ll come down and give me a hand. I’m sure they had other things to do, but because dad called and asked they’ll come give me a hand – whether it’s to volunteer to clean the park, or help put something up. They know what I think of the community.
I enjoy it, I enjoy it a lot. Some days I wish I could do more. Some days I get tired, and some days I just don’t feel like it. The one weekend just before the fair, I should’ve weed-whacked a spot down by the park, but I ended up going up north to the U.P. and I thought about it the whole time I was gone. It shouldn’t have bothered me, but it did.

MP: Tell us about your family.
Wendell: Tonia and I were married on August 29th, 2004. We were together for ten years prior. We have six kids. Most of ‘em are into sports. Three of them were in the military. They were all in the military during Iraq and that’s why our whole yard had flags the one year. Daniel, he’s a computer whiz; Calvin, he’s into small engines. Nathan passed away.
I have a daughter, Amy Hayes, she’s the manager for Dublin General Store. All three of her kids work there. We have a granddaughter, Crista, who just graduated last year and she’s going to college and she got full tuition at West Shore. She could’ve got full tuition from Alma, but she decided to stay close to home and continue to work at the store while going to school. I have a stepdaughter, Shannon, she’s a hairstylist. She goes to Jamaica quite often; her husband’s Jamaican and they travel back and forth. Calvin’s daughter, Akeelah, she stays with us and goes to Marion. She has Mrs. Robinson as a teacher.

MP: What does the Schwab family like to do for fun?
Wendell: We go to the U.P. This summer was our best summer. This summer we went to several museums and stuff. We love just getting in the car, taking off on a Friday and not coming back until Sunday. That’s what we did this summer and it was awesome. Just to get away and see different things. I like to just get out and see the country and see new things. One night we just jumped in the car and ended up in Wawa, Canada, about 150 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie.

MP: What do you like most about Marion?
Wendell: I love the atmosphere in Marion. I love the Mill Pond and the park area tremendously; I just love the setting. For the last five or six years, I do the lineup for the Old-Fashioned Days’ parade – I’m the one with the last vehicle with the flashing lights and the sirens and everything. I really enjoy that.

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One Response to Faces in the Crowd Wendell Schwab

  1. Roger Mayle Reply

    December 15, 2017 at 12:10 am

    Wendell Schwab is a real gentleman and will go out of his way to help you. I have used him several times for handyman jobs and he always takes the side of caution in the work that he does. He also will say something if he sees it needs attention which is another asset of his. I even had him see that I needed help with something when he was pulling into a driveway next door to me to work for them and he came right over to assist me. Just knowing his story shows you what a person can do if they are willing to put their mind to it. He has demonstrated tremendous ability in raising his family through the difficulties they faced. My kudos go out to Wendell and his wife Tonia.

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