Cornerstone Homes Presents an Interview with Carl Schiller, age 90
By Deborah Garrett
Star athlete, exceptional coach and beloved husband and father are just a few of the legacies Carl Schiller has left on the lives he has touched over the past 90 years.
Born in 1923, Carl grew up in the south side of Chicago during the time Al Capone was head of the southern Chicago Mafia. Although the neighborhood was rough, Carl’s father Charles was respected and very well liked. Everyone trusted Charlie and it was common knowledge around the area that “you don’t rob Charlie” because he was such a good guy. He sold life insurance for Metropolitan Life during the depression…not a small feat! Part of his success was because he spoke 5 languages. Charlie was German-Croation, and in addition to English, he spoke Yugoslavian, Polish, German and Czech. He genuinely cared about the people around him and believed that having an insurance policy would bring them peace of mind. He would say to the man of the family: “What would happen to your wife and kids if something happened to you?” Then he would help them make the first payment. When families couldn’t pay their premiums, he would cover it and tell them “just pay me back when you can”… and they did. Carl learned the value of building relationships based on mutual trust and respect from his father.
Charlie was a very good driver and also drove a taxi during his working years. He was very well liked and had regular customers who preferred him because he was reliable and on time. He even drove Al Capone a couple of times!
Carl’s parents divorced when he was nine and his mother took his sister while Carl stayed with his father. During his father’s travels as an insurance salesman, he met a sweet Croatian farm girl named Anna, who later became Carl’s step-mother. Carl has very fond memories of Anna, who was a wonderful mother to him and the two subsequent children she and Charlie had.
In 1933, The World’s Fair was held in Chicago. Carl was ten years old, and he participated in one of the Croatian folk dancing exhibitions during the fair. He was also an extra on the set of an Ester Williams movie.
When Carl showed skill as an athlete, his father moved the family into another school district so Carl could attend Lindblom High School. Lindblom High was known for an excellent sports program and Carl did well in baseball, track & field and football. His high school football coach, E.L. Moore, was a major influence in Carl’s life, education and future career. Coach Moore made sure that all his players were enrolled in college prep courses. In Carl’s senior year, Lindblom won the City Championship and nearly every player received college scholarship offers, thanks to Coach Moore. Carl received multiple offers and the following year went to the University of Montana on a full tuition scholarship. There he played frosh football and one season of Pacific Coast Conference ball before transferring to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.
In 1944, Carl enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He was part of the 5th Marine Division, nicknamed “The Spearhead,” activated at Camp Pendleton under the command of highly decorated Major General Keller E. Rockey. The Major General’s welcome to new marines set the standard for conduct and was well-matched to the code Carl already had learned from his father and coach:
"To Officers and Men of the Fifth Division!
You are now members of a division that is destined to play an important role in winning the war. To wear the 5th Marine Division insignia on the sleeve of your uniform is an honor.
This insignia means:
That you will conduct yourselves with dignity at all times.
That you are well disciplined… that you know only discipline will win a war.
That, if you disgrace yourself you are disgracing YOUR division."
The 5th Marine Division soldiers were one of the first troops sent to Japan. In late 1944, the Fifth received combat orders to assault Iwo Jima. While part of his division was sent to Iwo Jima, Carl’s unit landed near Sasabo, Japan. He considers himself fortunate not to have been part of the devastating battle of Iwo Jima. After the surrender of Japan, Carl’s unit was part of the occupation in Sasebo, charged to secure the area. He says the Japanese soldiers they encountered peacefully surrendered their samurais to the US troops. The American soldiers were commended for their behavior and the following quote from Marine Lieutenant Edwin L. Neville illustrates what Carl remembers from that time:
Gradually young children would appear as scouts to see what the American were up to. Tremendous propaganda by the Japanese government about the treacherous Americans who would kill, mutilate, torture and rape the Japanese population if they ever won the war had instilled fear in the Japanese, who were petrified. What happened blew away these fears. The Marines gave the kids candy, chewing gum, food, whatever they had instantly at hand. They showered them with love and attention. The kids went back and told their folks that these were the good guys. Gradually, the citizens of Sasebo returned from the countryside or from behind the shutters of their houses that still stood. . . . Moreover, many Japanese were starving, and the Marines fed them and gave them food to prepare at home. The change in attitude in a short period of time was startling.
After the war, Carl returned to WMU where he became a star football player. Number 89, he was an end and wide receiver. In 1947, his senior year, he caught a school-record 47 passes to help Western win a 5-4 season and was named on the WMU All-Century team.
It was at WMU that Carl met his wife, Marilyn or “Lyn” as she was known. Lyn was at WMU getting a degree in Occupational Therapy. She worked part-time at the soda fountain in the student union. Carl went to the Student Union one day for lunch and afterward decided to have an ice cream cone. He went to the soda counter and Lyn said “Can I help you?” His first thought was “Boy, can you ever!!” It was love at first sight. He ordered his ice cream and afterward asked when she was free. They met in the Student Union after her shift. He was smitten. He asked if he could date her and she said “well….okay.”
They only dated for a month before Carl asked Lyn to marry him. When he proposed he gave her an old ring promising it was only temporary until he could get a real one. He jokes that all the girls at WMU wore black the next week, mourning the fact that he was taken! Carl and Lyn married in 1948 shortly after their graduation.
Family has always been paramount to Carl and Lyn. When Lyn became pregnant with their first child, she gave up her career as an Occupational Therapist to become a full time mother. Carl had been offered several contracts to play professional football after college. He almost accepted the contract from the Baltimore Colts, but when he found out they wanted to try him out on a farm team first he had second thoughts. Between the reduced pay and the fact he would have be away from home so much, he decided coaching was a better option. His first football coaching job was at Lakeview High in Battle Creek, Michigan. The following year he was hired as head coach at Dacatur High, then in 1950 he became head coach at East Grand Rapids where he coached for the next five years. His team won 25 games and lost only 12, and in ’53 and ’54 they were co-champions of state. During his coaching at East Grand Rapids, he went back to school, and earned a master’s degree from WMU in 1953.
A friend from the Marines suggested that coaching opportunities might be better in California. Subsequently, in 1957 the family moved to California and Carl started a coaching position at Pacific High School in San Bernardino. The following year, Carl was named head football coach at San Bernardino High School where he created winning teams over the next seven years. He was honored with a position at a new high school in San Bernardino – San Gorgonio High – in 1965. Carl was chosen over more than two dozen worthy applicants. Nearly every team he coached throughout his career won city titles. He loved being a coach especially when he had a good team and almost every student would get scholarships to college. His teams won many championships which “put a lot of boys into college.”
While Carl was making a profound difference in the lives of high school football players, Lyn was managing the household and their five children. While he was coaching in San Bernardino, a friend invited Carl and Lyn to accompany he and his wife on a trip to Las Vegas. They stayed at the Sahara on a “pay one night, get one night free” deal. Carl made friends with the managers and workers at the Sahara who would help get him free tickets to the shows. He and Lyn saw Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Elvis and Robert Goulet among others. They would always agree ahead of time on a certain amount they would gamble and then they would stop.
Carl and Lyn’s relationship was built on mutual love and respect. They were married 65 years when Lynn passed away in April of 2013. Carl speaks of her with such love and admiration. “She was a wonderful girl, woman, wife and mother.” She had a good sense of humor and a quick wit and loved her family immensely. She and Carl would make decisions together and their goal was to try to make each other happy. Carl always respected what a wonderful mother she was and gives thanks to God for meeting his wife. They were devout Catholics and relied on prayer. Carl still prays every evening before going to sleep.
Truly his life has been blessed, and the legacy of how he has been a blessing to all those around him lives on.
-- Deborah Garrett is a professional singer and owner of Flashback Music Memories. Her company provides memory-enhancing music and activities to the elderly. Deborah is proud to partner with Cornerstone Homes to give their residents weekly activity sessions at all three locations. Learn more at www.flashbackmusicmemories.com.