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‘He was the best’ — Family keeps dad’s memory alive

When Anthony "Tony" Schuh Sr. died in 1996, he left behind his wife Dorothy and five children. The photos, submitted by the Schuh family, show Tony with his young kids and also the children as they grew up. In the bottom left, you can see middle child, Ken Schuh, pictured in a similar pose as his father, Tony. That pair of photos won first place in the Pioneer’s Like Father, Like Son (or daughter) Look-Alike Contest. Greta Lund | Bemidji Pioneer graphic

KELLIHER — Tiny footprints and small handprints border Anthony Schuh Sr.’s gravestone.

Schuh was 35 years old when he died, leaving behind his wife, Dorothy, and five children, ranging in age from his 8-year-old daughter to 8-month-old twin sons.

"I was always by his side. I was his sidekick," said his daughter, Krystina (Schuh) Rice. "I remember always being in the garage with him, him smelling like grease, his clothes, everything smelling like grease from working on cars. Under his fingernails, it was always dirty."

The family, led by Dorothy, tried to keep his memory alive throughout the last 17 years. When Krystina married last August, for example, her mother offered her a unique "something blue."

"I took the pocket of his old jean jacket, had it embroidered, and sewed it on the inside of her wedding dress, shaped like a heart," Dorothy said.

The family also occasionally had birthday cake on Tony’s birthday and often talked about him, sharing their memories.

"He was a very caring person, very generous, very kind," Dorothy said. "Just someone who had a lot of friends and was always there for anyone that needed him"

A grad gift from dad

The winner of the Pioneer’s Like Father, Like Son (or daughter) Look-Alike Contest was Tony’s third-born child, his son Kenneth.

Ken, who recently graduated from Kelliher High School and is working with his older brother, Anthony "Tony" Jr. in North Dakota, was informed of his contest entry after his mother already submitted it.

"I thought it was pretty cool," Ken said by phone last week.

He said he long has been told that he shares a remarkable resemblance with his late father. He said he often hears there is a certain way that he tilts his face, with a specific expression, that is nearly identical to his dad.

"Someone said something to me about me keeping the money if he won ($75), but I said no, it would be a graduation gift from his dad," Dorothy said.

‘A lot of memories’

On Nov. 9, 1996, Tony committed suicide in the garage. Dorothy said it was a shock.

"Sometimes they just really believe, they really think, that it’s the best thing for everyone, that everyone will be better off without (them)," she said. "In their right mind, they know that’s not true, but when it comes to depression, when it comes to mental illness, it’s not that easy."

Earlier this month, she and her kids hosted an event in Tony’s memory. The first "Stepping Toward Hope" Kelliher 5K walk/run was held June 1, drawing about 200 people who walked to raise money for suicide prevention.

"I really didn’t think it would take off the way it has," Dorothy said. "But there’s been a lot of loss like this in this community."

The event raised more than $3,200 for the Beltrami Area Suicide Prevention Program through Evergreen Youth & Family Services.

"It was to bring people together, to just support each other because there’s been so much (loss) here, and to hopefully raise a few dollars along the way," Dorothy said. "When we hit $2,200 before the walk, I was just amazed. And then the money, it just kept coming."

She hopes the money will be used to continue educating people about suicide prevention.

"Stephanie (Downey, suicide prevention coordinator with Evergreen) has been to Kelliher, she has come into the schools and churches," Dorothy said. "Just the fact that she drove the hour up here to walk with us was really neat, really special."

Teams were formed so participants could opt to walk in honor of a loved one. Krystina formed Team Tony.

"I think there was a lot of memories going on that day," Dorothy said. "I think for a lot of people, it was a healing thing."

‘A wonderful dad’

The younger children were too little to retain memories of their dad as they grew up, but relatives helped them get to know him and living in a smaller community helped as well.

"A lot of people around town, they would tell me a lot of stories about him, about what he did, about what he was like," Ken said.

Krystina was 8 when her dad died, Tony Jr. was 4, Ken was 2 and Doug and Derrick were 8 months old.

"He was a wonderful dad," Dorothy said. "He was the best."

Krystina said she and Tony Jr. both were old enough to retain some memories of their dad.

"My brothers and I, we’re close. I think (losing our dad) made us all closer," she said. "Anthony and I, for sure, we have a lot of memories and we’re a lot closer. I’m not sure if that’s because we share those memories, but we’ve always been close."

Tony, in fact, walked Krystina down the aisle on her wedding day, while all her brothers took turns dancing with her during what is traditionally the father-daughter dance.

Contemplating Father’s Day, Krystina — now expecting her first child this fall — said she and her brothers were fortunate to have their mother, and her love and support, throughout the years.

"My mom has been the best ‘dad’ and mom that she could be for all of us kids," Krystina said.