Korean War veteran Fred Schutz, who turns 80 today, has dedicated his life to assisting the downtrodden.
The “Sergeant Major” — Fred Schutz — has always maintained it is the working class men and women, not those in the limelight, who deserve the credit. Through the years, it has been his fellow military veterans and those living on “the other side of the tracks” — Canandaigua’s south side — who have captured his attention and gained his affection.
“They all love him here,” said Richie Egan, a veteran who has worked for Schutz for years at the bar Schutz owns on Phoenix Street.
“Homeless people, people from all walks of life” who need a boost, those are the ones Schutz helps, said Linda Tiffany, another longtime employee.
Whether it is money to pay a heating bill or assistance in connecting with staff at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center, Schutz has “always been there to help,” said Egan.
“Fred is a wonderful person, a giving person,” added friend Lynn Wood.
John Barkley, a Vietnam veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, said Schutz has given him and many others facing struggles “a lot of support.”
“He is the father of our community,” said Barkley.
Yesterday those who know and love Schutz packed his tavern, Canandaigua Brew Company at 14 Phoenix St., to honor the man who today reaches a milestone — his 80th birthday.
The birthday is bittersweet. Schutz is under hospice care at the Canandaigua VA after a long battle with cancer. But the date is nonetheless an appropriate time to recall the accomplishments and celebrate the philosophy of the Buffalo native who moved to Canandaigua as a kid and chose the Chosen Spot as home.
Answering a calling
Years before Schutz became a military man, he became involved in the lives of those who have served their country. As a youngster living in Grand View Park, a neighborhood near the Canandaigua VA on Fort Hill Avenue, Schutz was among the those who hauled drinking water to the bricklayers of the massive structure, which opened its doors to patients on Feb. 6, 1933. Schutz recalled veterans in those early years arriving in Canandaigua by train and “marching up East Street at dusk” to the VA.
“It was like it was yesterday,” Schutz recalled last fall during an interview in which he also stressed the importance of crediting ordinary people with bringing the VA to Canandaigua. People should know that it was members of the American Legion, local business owners like Timothy Lynch, and others who convinced congressmen and those with similar clout to build a VA in Canandaigua, he said.
In 2003, when the Canandaigua VA was threatened with closure, Schutz joined others in a massive campaign that resulted in convincing power-holders in Washington to keep the facility open.
Barkley said that a few years earlier, in 1999, Schutz was also instrumental in bringing the replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or moving wall, to Canandaigua.
“What can I say? He was a super guy to veterans,” said Barkley.
The moving wall was one of the greatest things ever to take place in Canandaigua for veterans, said Barkley. Some 15,000 visited the wall during the three days it was at the American Legion on Route 332. One veteran left his own ribbon and medal of honor at the wall in honor of the fallen soldiers, said Barkley. The ribbon and medal have become part of a Vietnam war exhibit in Washington, D.C., he said.
‘Stubby pencils and a lot of erasers’
As for his own experience in the military, Schutz is the first to admit he wasn’t a war hero. He never stormed a position or took a hill on his tour of duty during the Korean War. Schutz was part of the “combat support” stationed near Tokyo, serving as a company clerk.
Schutz landed at Johnson Air Force Base in Japan on Memorial Day, 1948. The base had been a training ground for Japanese pilots during World War II.
In 2000, Schutz talked about his war experience for a Messenger report commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Korean conflict. A self-described “clerk of the works” during his tour, Schutz had the task of keeping track of material with “stubby pencils and a lot of erasers.” Many planes on the base still used propellers to get around. “Props were conventional,” Schutz said. The U.S. Air Force was still relatively new, he said, as the new service branch broke off from the U.S. Army in 1947.
Another sign of the times: “It was the first war we fought with an integrated service,” said Schutz. President Harry Truman had decreed minorities should be allowed to serve their country alongside white soldiers.
Among other memories Schutz has: Lucky Strike cigarettes and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
In all, Schutz spent 11 years on active duty in the U.S. Army, after beginning his military career in the U.S. Naval Reserve and then serving in the U.S. Air Force Security Service in the Far East and, later, in Europe. At age 54, Schutz earned the rank of sergeant major while serving in the Army Reserve.
On the homefront
In 1994, the Sergeant Major told the Messenger he planned to commission a history book about the other side of the tracks — Canandaigua’s south side. He wanted people to know about the men and women who built the foundation of the community with their hands and sweat, he said. They were the working class men and women lived on streets like Phoenix, Bemis and Niagara. They worked swing shifts in the factories like G.W. Lisk and Garlock.
Linda Tiffany, a longtime friend of Schutz who has worked for him for some 18 years, said she doesn’t recall the book ever coming to fruition. But she remembers the many stories Schutz told — “about his veteran days (and) his fireman days” as a volunteer firefighter in Canandaigua.
Schutz said he became interested in his neighborhood’s history when he began wondering about the heritage of his Phoenix Street bar. Talking with patrons and others, he learned some interesting tidbits. For instance, the place had once been a speak-easy, the horseshoe-shaped bar is made from Honduran mahogany and Larry Cardella poured the bar’s first draft beer back the in the 1930s.
Schutz first went into the bar business in 1988 with John “Big John” Haight, opening Big John’s and Sergeant Major’s Bar and Grill. Haight, a fellow volunteer firefighter, was declared in 1981 “world champion doughnut eater” by Guinness Superlatives Ltd. — the company that publishes the Guinness Book of World Records.
But it wasn’t Big John’s doughnut eating — consuming 52 ounces of Bavarian cream doughnuts in 361.5 seconds — that fueled his bond with the Sergeant Major. Tiffany said friends many times recounted the story of how Big John had saved the Sergeant Major from falling through a burning floor as the two helped put out a blaze years ago at another pub — The Farmers Inn in the city. Big John had pulled his lighter-weight counterpart out of danger with just one arm, so the story goes.
The pair remained close until Big John died in 1994. After that, Schutz changed the name of the bar to the Phoenix Street Tavern. A few years ago, he revised the name again, to the Canandaigua Brew Company.
Why the latest name?
“He just wanted to change it,” said Tiffany. “You’d never know what he was thinking or what he was up to.”
Schutz is spontaneous. That is one of the things people like about him, she said, recalling the time she spotted a tiffany mirror in a shop on Main Street and mentioned it in front of the Sergeant Major. Next thing she knew, he headed down Main Street, came back with it and hung it in the bar’s ladies’ room.
“He’s quite a guy,” she said.
Julie Sherwood can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 263, or at email@example.com.