A man of many pursuits

Rick Schroder in sign language class at UW-Eau ClaireBusiness grad a lifelong learner

Memories of a decade past come flooding back to alumnus Rick Schroder as he once again carries his backpack down the hallways of UW-Eau Claire.

Schroder has added many accomplishments to his resume since graduating from UW-Eau Claire almost 40 years ago. The 1977 College of Business graduate from Altoona has been a successful businessman, entrepreneur, mentor, philanthropist, artist and even a student once again, returning to UW-Eau Claire in fall 2013 to take American Sign Language classes.

Schroder, who received the 2006 Alumni Association President’s Award, recognizing outstanding professional or personal achievements and service to UW-Eau Claire, has contributed greatly to the high-tech business industry, and his continuous support of the university shows that through it all, he is still a Blugold.

Schroeder2Being a Blugold

Schroder, a believer in lifelong learning, decided to enroll in UW-Eau Claire’s American Sign Language classes to gain the skills and insights he’ll need in the development of a technology course he’ll begin teaching in the fall at Seattle University, where he currently serves as a student mentor in the Albers School of Business and Economics. The course is designed for students who have partial hearing loss or are deaf.

“I didn’t need to take the sign language classes to teach the technology course at Seattle University,” Schroder said. “But I’m a person who always wants to know the analytical foundation of what I’m doing. If I’m going to teach the course based on a combination of what Seattle University, Microsoft and I want to put together, then I want to be able to have a basic understanding of what the students in my class are experiencing. I want to know by their facial expression and the way they sign to the interpreter just what they’re trying to say. I may not understand exactly what they’re saying, but their facial expressions and body language, which are all a part of sign language, will give me a clue if I’m saying something too fast or in the wrong way so I can correct it.”

To travel so far from home to pursue an interest that will benefit people in their education is admirable and really epitomizes what it means to be a Blugold, said Kimera Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation and executive director of university advancement.

“As a Blugold, Rick used his education at UW-Eau Claire to pursue so many different interests,” Way said. “He has embraced the notion that there is a world much greater than just us and has looked for ways to make a difference. Rick left Seattle and returned to UW-Eau Claire to continue his learning and help prepare himself to be a better teacher. If any one alumnus with whom I’ve worked with were going to do something like that, it would be Rick Schroder. With Rick you just learn to expect the unexpected.”

Supporting the Blugold tradition

In 2004 Schroder and his wife, Evelyn Zabo, began working with Way on establishing numerous scholarships and funds to assist UW-Eau Claire students and help them reach their academic goals. They also have made gifts to the Hobbs Ice Arena renovation and sponsored lockers in both the men’s and women’s locker rooms.

“What we have loved about Rick and Evelyn’s philanthropy is that it is so broad,” Way said. “The areas they fund are tied to very personal reasons and experiences, which makes their support all the more meaningful.”

Currently, Schroder and Zabo support four scholarship funds through the UW-Eau Claire Foundation:

  • The Rick Schroder and Evelyn Zabo Business Scholarship: Two scholarships are awarded each year for College of Business students involved in the Beta Upsilon Sigma business fraternity.
  • The Patches Scholarship Fund: A scholarship awarded annually to a nontraditional student. The fund was established in honor of Schroder’s brother, who passed away in 2007 from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Tom Schroder, a family therapist in Providence, R.I., was a standout athlete and former teacher whose dog, Patches, was his constant companion and friend. Schroder wanted to honor his brother’s memory with a scholarship to help others achieve their goals despite hardships in their lives.
  • Information Systems Laptop Program: Two laptop funds established through the information systems department help students purchase required laptop computers that meet College of Business computing requirements.
  • The Evelyn and Walli Zabo Fellowship Fund: Established in honor of Evelyn Zabo’s 50th birthday and her mother, Walli, the fund provides one full in-state tuition scholarship for an outstanding music and theatre arts major annually.
The Power of Possible: Giving Back

Junior Laurie Craig, a music major specializing in flute performance from La Crescent, Minn., is the 2013-14 recipient of the Evelyn and Walli Zabo Fellowship. She was nominated for the fellowship by members of an advisory committee from the department of music and theatre arts.

“I was in shock when I found out I had been selected to receive this award,” Craig said. “I had to read the letter about 20 times before I actually believed it. Receiving this fellowship has allowed me to continue my education for another year, and it came at the perfect time. I was on the verge of having to put college on the back burner due to a lack of money for tuition and expenses. Words can’t even start to explain how appreciative I am for Mr. Schroder and Ms. Zabo’s generosity. I am beyond blessed to have them in my life.”

Craig is just one of the many students who have benefited from Schroder and Zabos’ belief in education. Since creating their first scholarship, they have helped support 60 students in achieving academic success, Way said.

“What I appreciate most about Rick and Evelyn are their big hearts,” Way said. “We are grateful for the opportunity to work with them and help be a conduit to facilitate their vision for their philanthropy. They encourage us all to look higher and do better. I have been enriched personally and professionally from knowing and working with Rick and Evelyn.”

Old west illustration by Rick SchroderArtistic expression

Schroder’s interests extend into the art world as well. He has been an artist since he was a child and began creating hand-drawn thank-you cards for business clients in 2010.

“I got the idea to create scenes from the Old West from one of my clients who loved its history,” Schroder said. “The first card I created was of John Colter.”

Schroder started sending the cards out to people he wanted to thank for their business. It also became a way for him to communicate with a contact who said no, “Because in business, a no is always a maybe,” he said.

“It was a way for them to recognize that someone went out of their way to send a special card,” Schroder said. “Quite a few times I ended up getting new clients because the card opened the door. My clients like the idea of the drawing and the history written on the back and are just amazed that I drew it in the first place.”

Besides his use of Colter, Schroder has created cards based on two other Old West figures: John Freemont and Kit Carson. Schroder reads about the historical figures and then draws scenes based on their experiences.

Industry leader

Schroder has a long history in the high-tech business industry. He is an accomplished information management executive whose career has focused on consulting experience in technology implementation. He ventured into entrepreneurship with a partner after “retiring” in 1998 at age 50, starting Trident Group Inc., a Seattle-based company that builds energy-efficient smart homes. The homes use geothermal heating and air conditioning and intelligent technological devices to run their various systems.

“After I retired, my wife, Evelyn, said she didn’t want me to stay around the house,” Schroder said. “So, I started a company.”

Schroder designs the smart homes from the ground up and from the inside out. Each home is set up with in-wall wiring and/or wireless systems needed to run the home, allowing the customized computer functions to run the house based on a customer’s specifications. Smart home owners can operate appliances and features in the home from a remote location via a cellphone or computer.

“Some of our clients request the installation of smart refrigerators, ovens, microwaves, washers and dryers, bathtubs, fireplaces, etc., that they can access when they’re away from the home,” Schroder said. “For example, if you are coming home and you want the fireplace running, dinner cooking and the bathtub filling as you arrive, you can arrange all of these functions from wherever you are so they’re ready when you get home.”

J. Roger Selin, UW-Eau Claire professor emeritus of accounting, has kept in contact with his former student and said it always gives him a good feeling to see students go out into the world and become successful.

“Rick was always very good at making quick decisions,” Selin said. “He was always ready to jump into the next project, so it doesn’t surprise me that he went out and just started a new business.”

Selin encouraged Schroder to return to UW-Eau Claire to share his story and business advice with current students as a guest lecturer in business, entrepreneurship and marketing classes, and to Beta Upsilon Sigma, a professional student group for which Schroder served as president while a student. Eager to help his fellow Blugolds, Schroder made his first guest lecture in 2004 and has been consistently returning to campus ever since. He also is a member of the UW-Eau Claire Alumni Association and Foundation boards.

“Coming back to UW-Eau Claire is a unique privilege for me,” Schroder said. “I encourage all alumni to come back and talk to students about their experiences in the world. It doesn’t matter what area you’re in; students just want to hear what you’ve done and how you’ve done it. They need to see somebody who went through the process, understands what they’re going through and can help them if they need it. I think that’s really important.”