Life on the Schaub Farm: Cocktail memories

Photo: Otto and Cecilia Schaub and children (Edie standing in front, third from left).

By Rebecca Gearing Carlson

Sun contributor

Part two of our Leelanau Farming Family Series. Click here to read Carlson’s previous installment, “Where are Herman’s trees?”

It’s Friday night and I am invited to join my neighbors, Marv and Edie, for date night: dinner and cards. I love spending time with Marv and Edie, so I am in. The usual haunts for their date night dinners are VI Grill, Dick’s Pour House, Boone’s Prime Time Pub, or Knot Just a Bar. It’s fish night at VI, so that’s our destination. A mean game of Euchre will follow at Marv and Edie’s home. If partnered with Marv, he did not suffer fools or those of us who wasted a potential trick in Euchre. First there was the eyeroll, and then he would demand, “Are you playing for the other team?” Sweet, soft-spoken Edie would call out “Marv, it’s just a game.”  But do not be fooled; Edie could be as ruthless as Marv, only she did it with a smile.

A spear for catching sturgeon.

Marvin and Edith Schaub’s love story begins more than 70 years ago at St. Mary School in Lake Leelanau. Both from Lake Leelanau farming families, they met at school. Marv, a star basketball player, and Edie, a cheerleader, were high school sweethearts. Marv, one of seven siblings and the son of Lawrence and Della Schaub, grew up on a farm outside of Lake Leelanau located on French Road. Edie, one of eight siblings and the daughter of Otto and Cecilia Schaub, grew up on a farm located along Duck Lake Road. Both family farms and outbuildings still exist. However, both farms no longer remain in either Marv or Edie’s families.

The Schaub name begins to appear on plat maps for Leelanau County in 1881. In these early years, the name Schaub appeared along south Lake Leelanau, Provemont, near what is now the Narrows. More Schaubs move into the area, as the 1900 Leelanau plat map shows. According to relatives of Marv and Edie, the Schaubs arrived from Germany landing at either the Fox or Manitou Islands before moving to the Leelanau Peninsula. These immigrants worked the lumber camps on these islands, made money and then proceeded on to the peninsula. The Homestead Act of 1862 opened the opportunity for these immigrants to own land, prosper, and raise their families. A family member stated the early Schaub settlers brought grapevines with them to plant for their first crops; later, potatoes and cherry trees were added to the farm produce. These items were then sold to the Chicago markets. Currently, the Schaub name is prevalent throughout the Leelanau Peninsula and associated with various businesses including farming.

For both Marv and Edie, growing up during the years prior to and during World War II brought difficulties. While their family farms were self-sustaining in many ways, there was no money. Both Marv and Edie explained how anything and everything created and produced on the farm had to be sold in town in order to feed their families and survive. Money for the farm came from chickens, beef, pork, dairy, vegetable, and fruit products. In his early teenage years, Marv was angry that his family could not keep any of the meat (aside from salted pork and fish) produced on the farm for the family. Deciding to take matters into his own hands, Marv positioned himself in an apple tree to kill a deer that fed the family for months. Understanding the venison could have been sold, Marv chose punishment from his father as an acceptable choice rather than going without the meat.

As for Edie, she shared the story of her parents’ heartbreaking decision to send the two eldest daughters to families in Southern Michigan so they could earn money and send it back home. If anyone needed medical or dental care, it had to be taken care of on the farm. Edie needed dental work for a cavity. As there was no money for a dentist, her father, Otto, took her out to the barn and pulled the problem tooth. It makes my gut wrench to think of the pain and suffering she experienced. Edie shared the story without any facial expression and explained, “My father didn’t have a choice.”

Marv and Edie were the consummate hosts. From May until September, the four o’clock hour meant cocktails, gossip, and stories on the deck. The large deck overlooked a lush garden created and lovingly tended by both Marv and Edie. The garden produced enough food to be canned and enjoyed through a year. Although cocktails on the deck were weather-dependent, if the sun was shining, everyone was invited. Neighbors and family would join Marv and Edie for wine, gin & tonics, or whatever someone wished to drink. Cocktails on the deck was the perfect venue for Marv’s storytelling. If a story became too big, Edie’s face would give it away.

Marv, a seasoned fisherman and consummate story-teller, could weave stories like a professional. Many of the stories he shared were wonderful snapshots of history; others seemed to be larger-than-life fish tales. Aside from his wife and four sons, Marv’s passion was fishing. His stories varied from run-ins with muskies, ‘pitchforking’ sturgeon, and even saving a man’s life on West Bay for which he was given an award. The stories about the muskies and saving a man’s life had witnesses, so they are fact—but the sturgeon story seemed wild. Marv explained that his family would join other families and fish sturgeon at Good Harbor Bay in the fall. His father and brothers would take their clapboard wagon to the bay. They would ‘pitchfork’ (Marv’s words) two 100lb-plus sturgeon from the dock where they came in to spawn. It took several people to land these huge fish. Preserving the fish through smoking and salting would feed his family of nine for the whole winter. My response was, “No way!” However, my disbelief was corrected by a visit to the Leelanau Historical Society and a conversation with historian Kim Kelderhouse. She and the amazing brain-trust team at the museum showed me an actual spear and confirm that spearing sturgeon happened in the area.

Sadly, we lost Marv and his wonderful sense of humor and stories in 2019. Edie continued hosting cocktails on the deck for neighbors and family. Friday date-night turned into Friday lunches and drives around the Leelanau Peninsula. Edie was incredibly generous in sharing her time with me. On gorgeous summer and fall days, we drove around to her and Marv’s family farms as well as Lake Leelanau, and Edie shared more stories. We would follow these drives with lunch at a restaurant of Edie’s choice.

One of the last lunches we shared was spent at Harrington’s. Edie did not eat much, but she loved whitefish. While we shared a lunch, she noticed warm French bread with butter on the starter menu and immediately asked, “Can we order that?” My response was, “Of course.” When the bread and butter arrived, Edie daintily took a small piece of warm bread, but then uncharacteristically slathered it in butter. As Edie raised the bread with butter to her mouth, she said with a huge smile, “I love butter!” It caught me off-guard and made me laugh. When Edie finished chewing, she told me how her family made butter on the farm; she became very animated acting out the arm-work for the churning. Edie further explained how churning cream for three-plus hours created a homemade creamy butter that was worth all the work. Sadly, the butter was a luxury item for the farm and had to be sold. So, Edie added, “Any extra butter was a delicacy for the family.”

When Edie passed away in 2021 and joined her high school sweetheart Marv, I lost two amazing friends, neighbors, and mentors. Losing both Marv and Edie underscores my belief that there is a need to capture the history and memories of these amazing farming families before the stories disappear.

The version of this story which ran in our June 1 print edition misspelled the last name of Kim Kelderhouse, executive director of the Leelanau Historical Society. We regret the error.