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A mentor to thousands: St. Ambrose teacher inspires communications students
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A mentor to thousands: St. Ambrose teacher inspires communications students

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DAVENPORT — As he neared the completion of the ACT college admissions test on that early 1970s summer day, Donald "Duke'' Schneider noticed he had one more "send to'' space available at the top of his test booklet.

"Why not?'' Schneider said over breakfast recently. "I paid for it (the ACT), and I was going to fill that space. I had Southeastern (Community College) and Northeast Missouri State (now Truman State) on there, so I looked up the code for St. Ambrose (College, now University) and wrote it down in that last space.''

Before he knew it, St. Ambrose was in pursuit of the Aquinas High School graduate. He of the strong academic background and experience working at the local radio station and newspaper in Fort Madison, Iowa.

"I was awarded a Presidential Scholarship, made a visit, and my dad crunched the numbers,'' Schneider said of how he made St. Ambrose his higher education destination. "He thought we could swing it.''

In 1972, "Duke'' Schneider became a Bee. He remains a Bee. He will always be a Bee.

Mind you, there were stints at radio stations KBKB in Burlington and KRVR  in the Quad-Cities, but they only paved the way for Schneider's true calling.

The opportunity to teach under the guidance of Rev. Charles Shepler, the force behind the St. Ambrose communications program, motivated Schneider to go back to the school he loved.

The place where he belonged.

"I enjoyed my job at KRVR,'' Schneider said. "It was the perfect landing spot. I was doing news at KBKB — there were three of us — and one day the station manager called us in and told us there would be no more news. It was hard telling people I lost my job, but I was still living at home. The other two guys had apartments and expenses. But things worked out.''

"Worked out'' might be the understatement of all time.

If ever a person was placed in the right spot to educate, mentor and befriend communications hopefuls, Schneider is that person. Few connect with young and old the way he does. Even fewer have the drive, the patience and the foresight on how to send radio, TV and print wannabes into the world.

Schneider's title is SAU-TV operations manager/instructor. He shares an assortment of duties with a communications teaching staff that stacks up with any at the collegiate level.

Schneider, though, has always been more. His phone is filled with messages from former students sharing news about a new job, a journalistic award or a shift in jobs or fields.

He has a 16-page spreadsheet on his home computer of friends he has gathered during his four decades of making a difference in thousands of lives. The next person to stay something bad about "Duke'' Schneider will be the first.

"There's no one who influenced me more to enter, and stick with, the field of communication more than Duke Schneider,'' said David Baker, the operations manager at KALA, the campus-based and student-operated radio station at St. Ambrose.
 
Baker said he met Schneider through the hobby of amateur ham radio in the Quad-Cities, and Schneider would became one of Baker's mentors and instructors at St. Ambrose.
 
"Duke has inspired thousands to enter the field of communication and journalism,'' Baker added. "His 40-plus years at St. Ambrose are treasured by all of his students and colleagues."
 
In addition to his St. Ambrose duties, Schneider does freelance production for Mediacom's MC22, the sports arm of the cable entity. 
 
"It's an amazing opportunity for me and for students to get hands-on experience,'' Schneider said of MC22. "It's also allowed me to form some amazing friendships through the the years.''
 
When the word "busy'' is mentioned, Schneider scoffs at his 24/7 schedule. He said his wife, Gail, is the one with the full plate.
 
"She assists the choirs at Augustana College and Davenport Central High School,'' he said. "She leads the music side and plays the organ at Asbury Methodist Church in Bettendorf. I've got nothing on Gail and her seven-day-a-week schedule.''
 
Schneider will turn 66 in a few days, but he said age is but a number. He loves what he does and speaks glowingly about the leadership and the future of St. Ambrose University. Stepping away from teaching is never much on his mind.
 
"Sure, I have friends that are traveling, who spend time in warm places and play pickleball every day,'' he said. "But I truly enjoy the young people I come in contact with. They are motivated and want to be here (St. Ambrose). The best thing I can do with them is to open the door and get out of the way. They are going to find greatness.''
 
Not before they get a helping hand from one of the greats.
 

Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.

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