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Published: 12/29/2006

Plumber volunteered at nursing home in area

Howard C. Schumaker, 84, a master plumber and business owner who went out at any hour and on any holiday to fix balky furnaces and pipes, died from complications of kidney failure Sunday in the Oregon home of his daughter Cheryl Fleitz.

He developed an infection while recovering from shoulder replacement surgery, and the infection affected his kidneys, his daughter said.

Mr. Schumaker of Oregon was the founder and owner of the former Schumaker Plumbing & Heating, which he ran out of the family home in Northwood. He retired in 1980, and his son James took over, operating the business until the late 1980s.

Mr. Schumaker did both commercial and residential work.

"He was a real fair and honest guy," his daughter said. "He was a very compassionate person. He would do the work, and if the people didn't have the money, he would take whatever they could give him or wouldn't make them pay."

To the dismay of his children, he answered the phone when it rang late at night, on weekends, and on holidays.

"There were times on Christmas Eve when he would get called out, and he would always go," his daughter said. "He never left anyone stranded."

Mr. Schumaker was putting in ductwork, 18 feet up, at a warehouse in 1967 when the special chair he used gave way.

"He fell out of it and hit frozen ground," his daughter said. "He broke all his ribs. They didn't think he was going to make it. He was in a coma."

His eldest son, James, was in the Navy then. Because Mr. Schumaker wasn't able to support the family during his recovery, James was discharged and ran the business during the six months of his father's recovery.

Double vision lingered for years after the fall and led Mr. Schumaker to take a disability retirement in 1980.

He got his start in the late 1940s by working for Schmidlin Bros. Heating. He began his own business in 1959. He was a former president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association of Northwestern Ohio.

He formerly worked for the Libbey-Owens-Ford Co.

Mr. Schumaker grew up on a Corduroy Road farm in what was then Oregon Township. He was a graduate of Clay High School.

He was in the Army during World War II. He was a chaplain's assistant stateside. Sent to the European Theater, he drove a Jeep in France, Germany, and Czechoslovakia.

He was a member of the Christ Dunberger American Legion Post and the VFW.

He married the former Virginia "Betty" Ehrsam Sept. 13, 1946. In 1991, she developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - best known as Lou Gehrig's disease - and he cared for her in their home. She died April 23, 1994.

Afterward, while visiting his sister-in-law Josie Schumaker at Orchard Villa nursing home, he noted that some residents couldn't feed themselves. He made a point to arrive every day in time for the evening meal and, voluntarily, to feed those who couldn't manage on their own.

He spent recent winters in Phoenix, but "he always felt guilty about leaving the people" at Orchard Villa, daughter Cheryl said.

During retirement, he rebuilt boiler parts for one-time customers. He grew tomatoes, peppers, and onions and had a yard full of fruit and nut trees.

At the Fleitz Pumpkin Farm, run by daughter Cheryl and her husband, Paul, he volunteered and became the main washer of the thousands of pumpkins harvested annually.

He had a particular way of washing the pumpkins and, as with many things, "if you didn't do it right, he would tell you," daughter Cheryl said. "He was a real character. With losing him, we've lost a lot of knowledge."

Surviving are his sons, James, Gary, and Donald Schumaker; daughters, Kathy Baker, Susan Gunter, and Cheryl Fleitz; sisters, Edith Schuffenecker and Kate Hohenbrink; brother, Henry Schumaker; 13 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

There will be no visitation. Services will be at 10:30 tomorrow at First St. John Lutheran Church, Toledo, of which he was a member. Arrangements are by the Eggleston Meinert Pavley Funeral Home, Oregon. The family suggests tributes to the church or Hospice of Northwest Ohio.



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