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Piano man in tune with life

Like many people, Jerry Schroeder is a man in love with his job. Hes been at it for more than 30 years, and has enjoyed almost every minute of it.

But, when you talk with Jerry Schroeder, you see that the Horace man has a passion that goes beyond that.

He simply loves life.

Schroeder, who moved with his wife, Kathy, from Harwood to Horace a couple of years ago, has a house that backs up to the Sheyenne River. He loves to sit in his kitchen and watch the birds fly from feeder to feeder, seeing woodpeckers, finches, cardinals and much more.

And he lively chases off the occasional squirrel.

In his basement, he and friends have been known to brew their own beer. He also has a passion, like most men his age, for the cars that were around when he was growing up. He dreams of vintage Chevrolets.

Since Schroeder was a young man, he has been one to work with his hands. A machinist major at the North Dakota State College of Science back in the late 1960s, Schroeder was hired before he even graduated from school by the Fargo Forum, working in the press room as a machinist with hot type.

I was paired up with Al Nordhaugen, and immediately enjoyed the work. I was union, and was put in line for seniority, so I worked the night shift for about five years. When they switched from hot type to cold, with the arrival of computers, I kind of saw that this wasnt going to work, Schroeder said.

The reasons to leave were stacking up. His wife, Kathy, had just started working days at Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Often, he wouldnt see her until after midnight, when he came home from work. And since he was second in line to move to the day shift, he couldnt see sticking around.

The gentleman who was working days, in front of me, is still there. Id be working the night shift to this day, he said.

And thirdly, he didnt like computers, which are the key component in any successful press, these days.

Im not even comfortable turning one on, he said.

Fortunately, Schroeders background in music had given him options. Through his involvement in the National Guard, Schroeder was playing banjo and guitar with a group that fooled around at houses and played some local gigs. By playing and hanging out with that group, he met one Doug Lindemann, who had started working in the area as a piano tuner.

Ive been into music since I was about 4-years-old, Schreoder said. Doug was going around to these houses and place with pianos, and I just kind of went along on some appointments to give him an extra set of hands. After a while, I could pick up the tone just by listening to him work on the piano.

When Lindemann discovered that Schroeder could pick up the correct pitch of the note, he adopted Schroeder as his apprentice. By 1973, Schroeder had retired from the Forum and was out on his own, tuning and actually rebuilding pianos with Lindemann. He started Schroeder Piano Tuning later, after he and Lindemann decided to go their separate ways on a business level.

We were still good friends, but we didnt have the same approach to doing business, so we decided that if we wanted to remain friends, we better split up. There was plenty of work for both of us, Schroeder said.

There still is plenty of work. There are only a handful of piano tuners in the Valley, and they have full schedules thanks to schools, churches, residences and musical facilities that have pianos galore. Schroeder will travel throughout the southeastern part of North Dakota, northeastern South Dakota and northwest Minnesota fixing pianos and rebuilding old upright keys.

I try to limit it, but word gets around, he said. It came to the point where I got a truck and put the shop on wheels, so I bring the repair service to them. Its much more economical and practical than the old system of bringing pianos into the shop and working on them there, Schroeder said. Its much lighter, too.

While advancements have been made, including digital tuners and other tricks of the trade, Schroeder still trusts his musical ear to make his adjustments, and it has worked every time. Thats why, as long as he can hear well, hell stick with it.

That natural sound is something that I would trust every time, Schroeder said. As long as I have my hearing, and its still good, Ill be doing this. I dont see me leaving (this line of work) for at least 10 years, according to my financial planner. And thats all right by me because I really love what I do.

As a Pileated Woodpecker flies to the back porch and distracts us from our interview, Schroeder is tickled. He enjoys living near Horace with a dense forest in his backyard.

I think the most wed get in Harwood is a goldfinch or two, he said with a smile. This is just neat to see one up close like that.

He shared that he recently had a family of deer come through the backyard, and a group of turkeys often makes their way along the riverbank, as well.

It sure is different, he said. Ive never been able to see wildlife like this.

Its obvious that the Schroeders enjoy making Horace their new home. The couple welcomed friends and family to the house Friday night for a special gathering (Kathys Irish) and future get-togethers are planned for the summer.

Meanwhile, Schroeder gets ready to load up. Another customer, a piano hitting a sour note waits, and the rolling workshop is on its way.