The name Schleter is recognized by many people who buy produce in Jackson County, but what many don’t know is that Don Schleter is growing his garden on property that has been in his family for around two centuries.
“I was born on this property in the next house over and my parents farmed,” the 89-year-old Schleter said. “Their names were Edwin and Gertrude and my Aunt Minnie was the one who really raised me, but dad lived to be 86.”
He said when he was a kid , they had a produce farm and raised watermelons, cantaloupes, sweet corn and tomatoes. As truck farmers, they took truckloads of sweet corn and tomatoes to markets in Indianapolis, Louisville and Cincinnati.
For about two years the Schleters raised cabbage and took it to the Morgan Packing Co.
“They had a machine where you unload your truck and the cabbage would go through a washer and then into a machine that shredded it and an elevator took it up into a big wooden silo,” he said. “These guys up there with white boots and coats was walking on the sauerkraut, tamping it down and another guy was taking a 50 pound bag of salt around and sprinkling it on the kraut.”
Today, Schleter and his family make their own sauerkraut — 10 gallons a year — to can and keep for use throughout the year.
He said as a child he and his siblings, Lois and Bob, went to Kasting School, which is where Freeman Field Municipal Airport sits now, and they would walk to school together.
“It was a nice one-room schoolhouse with all eight grades in one room and in my first grade there were four kids counting me, Martha Browning, Bill Nicholson and Clayton Nicholson,” Schleter said. “Clayton was the same age as me and was my uncle and the four of us went all the way up to fourth grade together and that’s when they tore the school down, because it was where the Freeman Airfield was built in 1942.”
Then he and his siblings had to go to Carter School, over where the Pines Evergreen Room is now, on U.S. 31.
“Out there we had what you call a school hack. It wasn’t a bus, but a wooden-body on a truck frame and you got in from the back,” he said. “In the mornings we’d ride the hack to school, then in the evenings we’d walk home because the hack was going the opposite direction and it would’ve taken a couple hours to ride home.”
Schleter went on to become a 1949 graduate of Shields High School in Seymour.
After high school he went to work for the telephone company as a lineman, then joined the Air Force. He would serve from 1951 to 1955
“I was a drill instructor for awhile then worked on the firing range for about six months then I went to school in Wyoming and that was the main reason I joined the Air Force, was to get to that school,” he said. “It was a communication school and I went with the intention of maybe going to work for the telephone company again, but that didn’t work out.”
Another important event in Schleter’s life also took place the same year he joined the service. On April 29, 1951, he married the love of his life, Mary Huber, who he met when he was a junior in high school.
“It was after football season and I got a job down at the JayC Store, which is where the hospital is now, on the corner of Brown Street and Walnut (Street),” he said, “There was another grocery store, Botkins Grocery, owned by a family about three blocks west, down Brown Street. I got off work at 6 o’clock weekdays and would walk down Brown Street every night to go home.”
Schleter said there was a girl named Mary that worked at Botkins, and he’d see her come out of the store and walk about a half block and cross the street to walk home.
“One night I got there just as she came out and I talked to her and we walked about half a block together, then we crossed the street and I walked another half block with her and she went on up to her house which was one door up on Oak Street,” Schleter said. “This went on for quite awhile, then I’d find myself hurrying down Brown Street to catch up with her and she was the nicest girl.”
Schleter played football and Huber was a cheerleader in high school, but he never paid much attention to her until their walks together on Brown Street, when they talked and got to know one another.
Mary and Don were in the same grade at school and began dating their senior year and then married. He took her with him everywhere he was stationed in the Air Force so they were never separated for very long and their three sons were born while he was in the service. One was born in Texas, one in Washington and one in Maryland.
Don and Mary’s children were Donald Schleter Jr., Paul (Debi) Schleter and Michael (Teri) Schleter. Donald Jr. passed away Dec. 22, 2020, and Mary passed away Nov. 26, 2019, at Covered Bridge Health Campus. Don and Mary were married for 67 years.
After serving in the military, Schleter and his wife came back to Seymour and he worked as a lineman for a contractor that did work for the power company, then he was hired by the Public Service Indiana, which is now Duke Energy, and worked for them as lineman.
“I was a lineman for a long time, climbing the poles because back then they didn’t have bucket trucks. After awhile I became a foreman and from there I was a district superintendent,” he said.
Schleter went on to say the family is still in the produce business.
“Amber is married to Paul and Debi’s son, Greg, and they have a market stand out here and grow produce on about seven acres. They do the work and I just watch,” he said, laughing.
Altogether Don Schleter has seven grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and a great-great grandchild.
Don and Mary were instrumental in starting the Farmer’s Market in downtown Seymour.
“Back when Bill Bailey was the mayor, he came out here and asked me to start a farmer’s market in Seymour and we told him we would,” Schleter said. “The first farmer’s market was at the intersection of Second Street and the railroad, where the old (Lynn) hotel used to be and that’s where the market started. Then is got bigger and we moved down to the Robertson Parking Lot and then it was moved across the street to where it still is today.”
Through the years, Schleter has enjoyed fishing with his wife, duck hunting with his sons and turtle trapping and fishing with his good friend, Steve Wills, who worked at the PSI with Schleter.
Nearing the age of 90, Schleter said he is no stranger to quarantines. When he was in third grade, his family was quarantined because of diphtheria.
“I didn’t get it but my brother and sister both had it and the sheriff or someone came and put a big red sign on our door that said ‘quarantined’ and we were out of school for about two weeks, so I went rabbit hunting a lot,” he said. “When I was in third and fourth grade, my brother was two years ahead of me, we would actually take a shotgun to school with us on the first day of rabbit season for the school hunt.”
He said they would hunt rabbits back in the fields on their walk home in the evening and there were two other boys in the upper classes that did the same thing. So on the first day of rabbit season, there’d be three or four shotguns leaning up against the wall in the school.
Schleter and his wife were both long time members of Trinity United Methodist Church.
“You had to be 12 years old to join the church so I’ve been a member there since around 1943 and Mary joined the church in 1955,” he said. “We spent a lot of time there over the years and took the youth group places and we sang in the choir.”
He said he now does his own cooking at home, although his two daughter-in-laws, Debi and Teri, bring him a lot of meals.
“I fry hamburgers and I make chili and vegetable soup and I have bacon and eggs about every morning,” he said. “I grind my own corn meal and flour and make my own cornbread in a cast iron skillet.”
In the summer time he goes out to plow the open garden to grow produce and in the fall he collects walnuts and hickory nuts, which he sells.
“I used to build porch swings. I can’t do that anymore but over the years I’ve built 17 six-foot-long porch swings and gave some to family, kept one and sold the rest. I made them out of pecan wood, walnut, hickory, sassafras,” he said.
On turning 90 years old, Schleter attributes his good health to a lot of time spent outdoors.
“I’ve never worked indoors, I’ve always been out, even in the cold weather and now I’ve got asparagus that I need to cover up outside and I plant a lot of garlic that I take care of in the winter,” he said. “Around February I’ll be spraying the apple and peach trees.”
He and his family make about 10 gallons of sauerkraut every year and can it, plus they also make their own salsa and ketchup.
Something else he enjoys doing is going to the American Legion everyday to talk to old friends and have a beer.
Whether he’s outside in the garden or cracking hickory nuts out in the shed, he has a constant companion, his Australian shepherd.
“I’ve always had a dog and one time somebody dropped a pup off out here, so I took it and named it Patches and had her for 16 years, then my granddaughter brought me a pup and I named it Missy and I had her for 16 years, too,” Schleter said. “The one I have now is a really good dog and my granddaughter in Crothersville had the mother dog and it had a litter of pups the same night my wife passed away and I said I wanted one of them, so I got her when she was six weeks old and named her Angel.”
Debi Schleter said Don has been a pretty big promoter of the community by growing food and putting up electric lines.
“Don has been a big part of this town for so many years, I believe he needs to be celebrated,” Amber said.
In honor of Schleter’s 90th birthday on Monday, his family is having an open house for him from 1 to 3 p.m. this Sunday at the American Legion Post 89, 402 W. Second St., Seymour.