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By B. Scott Mohr
The entrepreneurial spirit enjoyed by members of the Dant and Schoettle families comes honestly: Great-grandparents Christian and Caroline Schoettle were Near-Southside bar owners in the 1870s, and grandfather Fred Schoettle owned a confectionery before operating a grocery store from 1912 until his death in 1935, at which point his family ran it until the mid-1950s.
The building that housed the confectionery at 634 Virginia Ave. still stands and serves as a distillery.
Cousins Greg Dant and Jeff Schoettle discussed their families’ business backgrounds during a recent visit to The Southside Voice.
Both gentlemen come from large families: Dant has 12 siblings, Schoettle, 15. Dant was born near Holy Rosary Catholic Church and grew up near St. Jude Catholic Church, of which he is still a member. Schoettle lived on East Dudley Avenue before moving into the house that his parents built at Meridian Street and Banta Road.
“Between my mother and five of her siblings, there are 59 children,” Dant said.
Schoettle’s father, Harold Schoettle, was a milkman prior to launching United Life Home Insurance in 1948, which Farm Bureau bought in 1997; the named was retained.
Jeff, whose wife is Liz, has been in the insurance business most of his life. He was with UHL Agency before it merged with Dant Insurance, which is owned by Dant’s brother Chris. Dant Insurance boasts five full-time agents and sells every type of insurance imaginable.
Jeff’s brothers Mike, David and Ned are self-employed. Mike owns Gotta Have It Courier; David owns Enhanced Communications, and Ned, while retired, owns a painting and landscaping business, which his son runs.
Coming from a large family has its blessings, said Greg, whose brother Fred owned a tavern and Dant Enterprises. “Everywhere you go you have family. I run into relatives when I am 400 miles from home. When you go somewhere and the people there find out you are family, you are always welcome. My dad’s parents lived in another state where bootlegging was common 80 or 90 years ago. Those people didn’t care much for outsiders. The locals are still a bit that way until they find out that you are family.”
When Jeff’s daughters, Andrea and twins Sara and Alanna, started school at Roncalli, they said, “Dad, I think we are related to half of the people there.”
“I didn’t get new stuff very often,” said Greg, whose mom had 13 children from 1951-64. “I was the seventh boy, so the clothes I got were the worst of the worst. The boys that came after me were lucky because they got new clothes.”
Beside the usual lessons learned at home, Greg said his parents always stressed the importance of respecting the elderly. His dad, Joe Dant, was the night chef at the Key West Shrimp House during the 1960s and ’70s.
Since money wasn’t readily available to pay for an education at Roncalli, Greg delivered newspapers – or rather chucked them onto porches – while riding on the handlebars of his brother’s bicycle. He was delivering papers before he was old enough to attend grade school. “I paid my way through high school,” he said.
Jeff attended Roncalli but graduated from Southport. One of his siblings was 19 years older than him, so it seemed like two or three different families resided in their household. The older ones always helped to care for the younger children.
Jeff and Greg remember that there was always plenty to eat ... although it might not have been what they wanted.
Jeff grew up in what many Southsiders referred to as the “Schoettle mansion.” Sitting on a well-manicured rolling lawn, the colossal house – no longer visible from Meridian Street due to the development of Forest Commons II – featured seven large bedrooms, five bathrooms, a library, a full basement with a bar and the “biggest dining room you have ever seen,” said Dant.
There were also about 10 horses, and the home was the venue for many parties, wedding receptions and baptisms.
The home was situated on 20 acres, and boasted another 40 acres on the south side of Banta. Upkeep of the property and caring for the horses was how Jeff earned his money as a youth.
Many people will remember the apple stand set up on the property every fall. That was operated by Bob Schoettle, Jeff’s cousin, who owned an orchard.
Jeff and Greg enjoy the insurance business because they meet so many people and every day is different.
“If you treat people well, your business will grow,” said Greg, who with wife Liz have four children – Joseph IV, Greg Jr., Evan and Mary.
“If there’s a disaster we want to know about it immediately so we can offer advice and assistance. My clients can call me anytime. Our Catholic faith plays a big part of who we are as a family and a business.”
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