“Mr. Schulte was a really great man, and his understanding of his God-given talents and his willingness to humbly and with great excellence pursue and challenge and share that with other people—that was the vehicle through which many people came to know themselves and their own talents and their own gifts, whether that was the creativity in the arts or his teaching math,” said President David Laughlin.
Born on Oct. 5, 1937, Joe Schulte graduated from SLUH in 1954, and spent a total of 66 years of his life connected to the school through teaching, directing, connecting with alumni, and acting as a figurehead for the community. He taught mathematics on the freshman and senior levels (both algebra and calculus), directed an incredible number of plays, traveled all over the United States to visit alumni, yet still found a way to connect with the students here at St. Louis U. High.
Theatre productions do not happen with a wave of a wand, though Schulte may have made it look that way with his directing and knowledge of every aspect that goes into a SLUH production.
“I always knew that I could be creative in my programming because I knew there would be somebody who would appreciate the level of artistry to which I aspired with my kids because he aspired to that same artistry and was an inspiration in his patience,” said former chorus teacher Joe Koestner. “And impatience. He had a lifelong reputation for losing his temper and throwing chairs around. Mostly, he would get mad at the kids, but mostly, it was a reflection of how mad he got at himself at his inability to maybe communicate exactly the way he wanted things.”
Improv teacher Kevin McKernan took Schulte’s improv class in 1999, and “he influenced everything I did thereafter,” McKernan said. Schulte encouraged McKernan to take improv with him wherever he went: to college at Indiana University, to Chicago, and back to St. Louis, where McKernan started his own improv theatre that he runs to this day.
“He profoundly loved St. Louis U. High, and more than anything, I think he stayed at St. Louis U. High because he absolutely loved to help people, and he absolutely loved to turn people onto this passion of his—theatre or math,” McKernan said. “He turned people onto something that they didn’t know was a part of them.”
Theatre director Kathryn Whitaker had a special relationship with Schulte, as they shared neighboring offices for her 20 years at SLUH. They would work on everything together in a seamless fashion, though they both drove each other crazy at times.
“It was like an ongoing dialogue for us. We’ve just kind of lived here together,” Whitaker said.
His directing style changed over time, switching from the act of throwing chairs at those who missed his vision to precisely communicating what he wanted on stage with a fierce passion. Though he also used to physically move people around on stage in the way he wanted, his style changed.
“He could sit there in a chair and communicate—just by talking—exactly what he wanted, and that was always a real inspiration to me that he could get his passion across—what he wanted—just by saying it,” said Koestner.
“Anybody that commits himself to that many years of doing something and doing it really well and doing it passionately and committedly is a hero,” said McKernan. “It’s incredible to dedicate your life to something you believe in so passionately.”
Though Schulte was a director for the theatre, he never missed a chance to promote the wonders of all of the fine arts, from the musical talent in the chorus to the vibrant dancing down the hall from his upstairs office. He constantly encouraged students to mold their talents in the fine arts each day.
“If we were going to have top-notch musical theatre, we needed to have top-notch everything in the arts, so he was constantly promoting all the arts, not just theatre,” Koestner said.
Dance teacher Simonie Anzalone worked with Schulte for the 11 years she has been at SLUH, though she also worked with him as a student at Nerinx Hall, doing three years of musicals during that time.
“He instilled a lot of confidence in his actors; I think he brought out the best in people and really made you feel loved and like he believed in you. And for a high school student, that’s huge.”
During her first year here, she remembered how he bought the entire written choreography for Fiddler on the Roof. Though “it was like reading a different language” to her, she researched it and deciphered the challenge in order to impress him.
Because he was so well-versed in theatre, he usually had seen multiple productions of the same show, so he always had a picture in his head of what he wanted the students to do.
Schulte impacted the lives of many as a theatre director and fine arts extraordinaré, but his contributions to SLUH’s math department also shaped his career here. Schulte was head of the math department for a time and actually interviewed the current Assistant Principal for Academics Tom Becvar. The two shared the office for a long time, as Schulte was part-time math and part-time theatre back then.
“He was a really good mathematician, and he loved teaching math because he prided himself in the ability to convey information and open doors for people, and he considered teaching math one of the ways he could open doors to people who found math befuddling,” said Koestner.
Schulte taught calculus to seniors at first, which gave him an opportunity to show his prowess on the highest battlefield of mathematics.
“One of the things he always said, which I thought is a wonderful way of thinking about teaching is, ‘Enthusiasm for your subject is caught, not taught,’ and he is totally right. If you’re not going to be enthusiastic or energetic about something, you can’t expect the students to be as involved and interested as much as they would be because if you’re enthusiastic, then they come with you,” said Becvar.
As he mentored Becvar, Schulte gradually moved out of the mathematics scene, as his theater calling compelled him to spend more and more time away from the classroom. Becvar even remembers how Schulte had a sewing machine in the office to make costumes for the theatre after school. Schulte later taught algebra and some geometry, as the underclassman courses would allow him to dedicate more time to the theatre.
“He had this unbelievable way of finding that compromised student in a classroom—finding that student who was not the most comfortable, or who was hurting in some way—and he would reach out and bring those kids out, and it was really a beautiful thing to watch over the years,” Whitaker said.
Becvar took over the chair position and Schulte’s calculus classes in 1983, when Schulte semi-retired. That’s when he started tutoring. Schulte, after his days of teaching mathematics, would tutor day in and day out kids from SLUH, grade schoolers, and girls from high schools around St. Louis. He would even make the long trips to SLUH in order to assist a grade schooler or a kid from another school in the St. Louis area.
Schulte also was a man who loved his family and was deeply committed to them. Each of his four children—Joe, Michael, Kate, and Dan—eulogized him at his funeral. He had ten grandchildren and constantly updated faculty and staff on his family and trips he’d taken with his grandkids.
“He lived in those gifts to do the same for others, and he was a man who was extremely committed to his family,” said Laughlin. “Those kinds of priorities are the reason that he impacted so many lives for good.”
Schulte was recognized as the St. Louis Arts Educator of the Year by the Arts & Education Council in 2006, received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Rep Theatre, and was bestowed with the honor of Backer Award winner in 2010. He was the first winner of the Kevin Kline award in 2012, which honors excellence in St. Louis professional theatre. The F. Joseph Schulte Theatre was dedicated in 2005, and the F. Joseph Schulte Dramatics Award was also named in his honor.
“Typically, you don’t dedicate a building or anything to someone who’s still living—you wait till they’re dead,” said Koestner. “In this case, so much of it was centered around Joe and Joe’s ability to keep in contact with his alumni.”
Laughlin noted how Schulte was constantly grateful to spend time traveling to cities around the country to see alumni because it was something that allowed him to reconnect with many people that he knew from teaching, shows, or other SLUH events.
Director of Communications Ben DuMont '92 said, “Joe was a personification of the dedication and the passion of all of our faculty and staff. He was somebody that everybody could relate to, and I think that people could see inside our faculty and staff through Joe—through that lens—and because he was somebody who was so positive and optimistic, he was very relatable.”
Laughlin remembered a moment when he and Schulte went to a Broadway play called Sister Act because Schulte knew an actress there who had attended Cor Jesu and performed in SLUH plays. While they were standing outside waiting to see some of the actors, one actor ran up and yelled, “Joe Schulte!” After reconnecting with him, the actor ran to the other cast members and then brought Laughlin and Schulte up to meet everyone, which included the technical caller of the play, who was a SLUH alum. Laughlin was just “standing there in awe of it all,” he said.
In all of his years at SLUH, Joe Schulte was characterized by many in one way: his cackling laugh.
“There was a spirit that was Mr. Schulte—that is Mr. Schulte. You know, we characterize it in his laugh, but that became iconic because it represented so much more than just that man cackling. You know, it was how he embraced everything in his life—it was with that optimism, with that passion, with that spirit of life that came out in that laughter,” said Hannick.
Many saw Schulte as one who spread joy to others, whether that be through his contributions to the fine arts, teaching at SLUH, or alumni gatherings. Schulte was known for being a presence that connected people—his connections with alumni that graduated so many years ago remained until the end of his life.
“Through Joe, our family became united,” said former president Paul Sheridan, S.J. “He was a common bridge to bring the whole family of SLUH together—through his stories, through his activities, with graduates, through activities each day after school.”
Schulte also hung onto phrases that stuck with people: “Keep smiling” and “Relax and enjoy life” are two that reveal his optimism about the world and what SLUH is to others.
“His humor and his optimism—Mr. Schulte’s laugh is something known to many people, but I think it’s also a good metaphor for a way in which he was a positive person,” Laughlin said.
The laugh that characterized Schulte gave people a taste of the SLUH community: out of context, the laugh was a high-pitched cackle that many chuckled about, but in knowing who Schulte was and what he stood for, the laugh took a deeper meaning, as described by one of his closest companions at SLUH, Kathryn Whitaker.
“That laugh that everybody talks about—it’s tempting to characterize him with that laugh, and I’d hate for him to be reduced to kind of a silly, over-the-top laugh,” Whitaker said. “But thinking about it with more subtlety, it’s a laugh of joy. It’s such a giddy, high-toned laugh that seemed to symbolize just how much joy he had in life and being at St. Louis U. High because he didn’t want to be anywhere else.”