Arlen Schroeder is not from Great Bend. But after thousands of volunteer hours over the past 17 years, he knows his adopted home as well as any lifelong resident.
Last December, Schroeder was recognized for 1,000 volunteer hours at the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce. He is also a regular volunteer at the Barton County Historical Society Museum and has served many other entities over the years. Schroeder is also an active member of Trinity United Methodist Church and the Great Bend Kiwanis Club.
“I just think it’s important that you know what’s going on. Some people don’t, but I do,” Schroeder said. “My mom always said if you were going to be involved in something, you should be involved.” And through his community service, he said, “I’ve met a lot of people.”
He is originally from Leavenworth, but Schroeder married Gwen Glenn, who was born and raised in Ellinwood.
“She said I said when we both retire we’ll come back here,” he said. “I don’t remember saying that, but I also know that I was married for 48 years because I learned two magic words, ‘Yes honey.'”
He has two daughters, Loretta Schroeder and Gabe Ravenstein, both of Great Bend, and a son Adam who lives in Boston, Mass. There are seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, then two more younger grandchildren.
He has two dogs that come from the Golden Belt Humane Society – one is part Yorkshire terrier and the other part sheltie and part pom.
Schroeder graduated from the University of Kansas in 1960. He was drafted and served two years in the military during the Vietnam era. (Last year, he was able to visit Washington, D.C., on an honor flight for veterans.)
He married Gwen Glenn on August 6, 1966 in Kansas City. His father, Martin Glenn, was the owner and editor of the Chief of Ellinwood.
He just celebrated 50 years of sobriety. About 10 years ago his wallet was lost or stolen. In it, he said, “I had two things that could never be replaced. One was the ticket I received the night I finally joined AA the next day. And the other was my 12 step program card that I had for all these years.
Schroeder was a managing engineer for Grainger, a major industrial supplies company, until his retirement in 2001. Gwen retired at the end of 2004 and they moved to Barton County in 2005.
They failed to buy a house in Ellinwood but found one in Great Bend.
It didn’t take them long to get involved in the community.
“When I came out, there was a lady at the church by the name of Evelyn Smith, who was a former great Bendenite,” Schroeder said. “Straight away, she decided that I should volunteer. She sent me to RSVP and I was chair of the RSVP advisory board for about 14 years.
“At first I was doing medical transport for people – there were a lot of interesting stories there,” he said. “I worked for the Barton County Food Bank, sometimes three or four days a week, filling orders in the afternoons.”
He did this until 2011 when his wife was diagnosed with leukemia.
“Basically at that point most of my volunteering stopped because I was taking him to the hospital and doctor’s appointments,” he said. He continued to be active in the church and provided medical transport until Gwen’s death in 2014, but reduced most of his volunteer work.
But, “After Gwen died, I knew I had to go back. I’m not someone who likes to be alone.”
Needing something else to do, he called Linn Hogg of Volunteers in Action (formerly RSVP). “A few days later she called back and asked if I knew Megan Barfield at the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce,” he said.
Indeed, he had known Barfield since they both served on the RSVP advisory board. They had a lot of fun working together.
“We’re like, you don’t put us next to each other because one is brooding the other.”
in the room
Barfield had just made the transition to the position of executive director of the Chamber.
“I went up there with no idea what I was going to do,” Schroeder said. “Megan spoke to me for about 20 minutes, gave me a key and told me I would open (the office) the next morning.”
Her job includes preparing ‘Chamber Bucks’ gift vouchers, which sell out in the hundreds around Christmas, and managing reception when paid staff are at lunch.
“You can answer most calls you get in the House – and there’s a plethora of calls,” he said. “You have no idea. A woman wanted to know, ‘How can I write a grant so my husband can get a driver for our van? I said, ‘I don’t know, but I know a lady who writes grants and she’s really good at it. So why don’t you call Linn Hogg? And that kind of stuff.
At Christmas, in recognition of his 1,000 hours of service, the House presented Schroeder with a hat that read, “No. 1. Voluntary.
“The hat doesn’t say it, but the fact is, I’m the only volunteer,” he said.
Lee Ann June worked with Schroeder in the Chamber until her recent move to Great Bend Economic Development Inc, where she is director of communications.
“Arlen has been a grassroots and steadfast volunteer in the chamber,” June said. “He happily helps stuff envelopes, covers phones, creates gift certificates and generally keeps the girls in the bedroom on their toes. I always look forward to an anecdote from him about his days at Sears or his other professional background. His story, his humor and his heart make him a lovely colleague, and I miss seeing him for his weekly volunteer hours! »
At the Barton County Historical Society, Schroeder regularly volunteers as a greeter, taking entrance money and counting people as they enter.
One of his latest projects has been to go through ornate old albums to remove the photos as they are not recorded on acid-free paper. “I put them in an acid-free paper envelope, then I go back and number where they were removed from the album.”
He likes to talk to people who come in. However, like the people he speaks to in the House, he does not always have answers to their questions.
There are all sorts of weird things people used to use in the past, but today he doesn’t know what they were used for, he said. “I just keep the seat warm and give them weird information.”
Schroeder had COVID-19 in January and ended up in an intensive care unit in northeastern Kansas for 13 days.
“Hays was full of people from western Kansas and Wichita was full of people from Oklahoma,” he said. “Great Bend didn’t have an intensive care unit. The next place that was within the University of Kansas healthcare system was KU itself. When I got up there, each nurse had two patients. I was never on a ventilator, but I was on 90% oxygen for a day, then 80 then 70.”
After moving from intensive care to general population, he was finally released. Dave and Ginny Tinkler from Great Bend came to visit their grandchildren in Overland Park and they took him home.
After recovering from COVID, Schroeder is busier than ever, mostly at the historical museum and the chamber.
He is also a certified lay speaker for The United Methodist Church. He served as a preacher at Trinity UMC in Great Bend and at First UMC in Hoisington.
“I know a lot of people,” he said. Along with knowing what’s going on in the community, this has been a plus for volunteering.